Saturday, April 30, 2011

Boswell the Biographer, by George Mallory

Boswell the Biographer, by George Leigh Mallory has nothing to do with climbing Mount Everest. I had my doubts, but I saw it in Salkeld's and Boyle's Climbing Everest: The Bibliography with something to effect of "Mallory interest" as an explanation of its inclusion, so I decided to give it a chance. The book was published in 1912 while Mallory was a teacher at Charterhouse, and I thought I might at least glean some biographical details about Mallory. Mallory stays on topic, however, and reveals nothing of himself beyond some thanks to friends for encouragement to write the book in his preface.

The book is still somewhat interesting. It isn't a biography of Boswell, but a defense of his character. Boswell is famous for his Life of Samuel Johnson, the first modern biography, in which the author includes personal traits, conversations, and familiar details excluded in biographies of the time. Boswell was a passionate, though flippant, character who never quite got his life together. (Perhaps there is a tenuous Mallory parallel here...) Mallory argues that he struggled against the influences that could have easily dragged him into mediocrity, and that he possessed an inborn drive that helped him to rise above himself into greatness. (Also something to think about...). As far as books about Boswell go, this one might have been just a little bit early. Ten years after its publication, the bulk of Boswell's papers, including his journals, were discovered in Dublin, giving deep insights into the character of the man. I'm sure Mallory could have had a field day going through them! Next post, I'll be bringing you the biggest book yet published on the biggest mountain.

1 comment:

  1. If you want to read a literary biography with some personal details about George Mallory, try Robert Graves' autobiography, "Goodbye to All That." Graves was a student of Mallory's at Charterhouse, and Mallory was clearly both a memorable teacher and close friend.