Saturday, February 9, 2013

Because It's There, by Dudley Green

Dudley Green puts together a masterwork in his Because It's There: The Life of George Mallory. This book is a reworking and expansion of his 1991 Mallory of Everest, spurned by the discovery of Mallory's body in 1999 and a return of interest in Mallory's story. Green quotes first-person sources at length, and draws together a range of perspectives to bring back the spirit and drive of the man of Everest. Refreshingly, Green gives fair space to Mallory's life before Everest, and I've learned a lot about him that other biographers generally ignore, such as his passion for education reform and his devotion to the League of Nations. I especially enjoyed reading details of Mallory's tour of the northeast United States, since I knew little about the tour besides his famous quote to the New York Times. 

He faces some stiff competition with Peter and Leni Gillman's The Wildest Dream, published in 2001. (Green's book came out in 2005.) Green writes a thorough traditional biography, focusing on his career and his climbs. I appreciate the details he provides on Mallory's relationship with Geoffrey Winthrop Young, as well as his climbs in the Alps. The Gillmans' work has a more contemporary style, focusing on Mallory's personal relationships, including his family and friends. Green completely glosses over icky or potentially too personal parts of Mallory's life that the Gillmans are perfectly happy to flesh out, such as his potential homosexuality and his relationship with Cottie Sanders. Who's to say, however, that such should be a man's legacy?

I liked going back through this book now that I've had a more thorough Everest education. There were many little details and connections that Green points out that make the book interesting even for the avid Everest reader, such as the name "Everest" sticking to the world's tallest mountain partly due to the 1867 Indian Mutiny that put an end to debate for a while, the grumpy Hinks putting a good word in for Mallory before interviewing for his Cambridge job, or Irvine slowing switching over to calling Mallory "George" in his diaries (see The Irvine Diaries). One especially good morsel is from a letter to Mallory from Young, his climbing mentor, about not taking his wife climbing on their honeymoon, that has other implications: "your weakness, if any, is that you do let yourself get carried away on occasions in the mountains. . . . I think that it is your failing, the consequence of your combination of extraordinary physical brilliance in climbing and of power of mental absorption in it, that you do not, or at least have not, held back from allowing yourself to sweep weaker brethren, carried away by their belief in you, to take risks or exertions that they were not fit for, and which had the crisis come, neither you nor any man climbing could have the margin to cover for both."

This post is a revision and expansion of an earlier entry, found here.

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