Beryl Markham nee Clutterbuck, meet Irene Parilee Johns

(posted September 17, 2008 on separate blog; reposted here with edits for journaling Irene purposes July 23, 2009.  ld)

Beryl Clutterbuck was born in 1902, three years after Irene Lowe.  Both women made perilous choices that could have resulted in Atlantic Ocean related deaths — Beryl by crashing her Vega Gull during her solo flight from England to North America, and Irene by a bad entry into the Atlantic after having been shot from the human cannonball cannon off the Atlantic City Steel Pier in New Jersey.
 Beryl Markham has a book written as if by her but actually by her third husband, writer and journalist Raoul Schumacher.  West With The Night was published in 1942.  This, by Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Max Perkins, is found on the back cover:  “Did you read Beryl Markham’s book, West with the Night?  I knew her fairly well in Africa and never would have suspected that she could and would put pen to paper except to write in her flyer’s log book.  As it is, she has written so well, and marvelously well, that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.  I felt that I was simply a carpenter with words, picking up whatever was furnished on the job and nailing them together and sometimes making an okay pig pen.  But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers.  The only parts of it that I know about personally, on account of having been there at the time and heard the other people’s stories, are absolutely true. . . . I wish you would get it and read it because it is really a bloody wonderful book.”
 Irene Lowe has no book.  And unlike Ernest Hemingway, I have never ‘been there’ — not in the “time” of the writing, nor the place.  Oh, I have been to the Steel Pier Museum at the north end of the boardwalk in Atlantic City, but the Steel Pier itself is no more than a few black marks rising out of the ocean in crooked ways.  The only connection to the “absolutely true” of Irene’s life story that I can vouch for are the photos and write ups in newspaper clippings and the recollections of an aging cousin who, in the end, identified Irene’s lifeless body for detectives in 1930’s New York City.
Beryl Markham’s non-fiction autobiography is based upon facts, written first-hand.  The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights is fiction, written far-removed from first-hand, with an assemblage of invented characters, settings, and events meant to reflect what may have been.   Meant to reveal what it takes to step out into the world, to be a dare-devil, to take on the elements whether those “elements” are cultural and society-imposed or self-made boundaries we as humans tend to build around ourselves, The True Life Adventures of Irene in White Tights explores choices made both then, in the first thirty years of the 20th century, and now.

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