In 1935, Graham Greene hiked three hundred and fifty miles for four weeks through the then unmapped interior of Liberia. As he explains in the book, he then published about the experience Travel without maps (1936) he was not interested in the Africa that white men were already familiar with; Instead, he was looking for “a quality of darkness … the inexplicable”. In short, a journey into his own heart of darkness to match that of Conrad’s famous novel. As such, he knew that his memories – “memories mostly of rats, of frustration and a deeper boredom on the long forest path than ever before,” as he recalls Escape routes (1980), his second volume of the autobiography – was not enough. What he wrote instead was an account of this “slow footache journey” parallel to a psychological excursion deep into the niches of his own mind. More ironically, in 1938 his traveling companion published her own record of her expedition, and it was precisely this type of report – what he had considered “the triviality of a personal diary” – that Graham had recorded himself in avoiding such pain.
Even if you’ve read Travel without mapsYou might have trouble remembering Graham’s fellow travelers. Understandable, since she only mentioned a few times and only ever in passing. It’s easy to forget that it’s even there. But she was: his cousin, 23-year-old Barbara Greene, who had agreed to join him at a family wedding after too many glasses of champagne. “Liberia, wherever it was, sounded carefree,” she recalls amiably. “Liberia! The more I told myself, the more I liked it. Life was good and very happy. Yes, of course I would go to Liberia.” When I found out what I was getting into, it was too late to turn back. “
Originally published as Land benightedIt’s the later edition, released in 1981 with the catchier title Too late to turn back and a new foreword by the author and an introduction by renowned travel writer Paul Theroux – this is probably better known. Even so, it has been out of print for nearly forty years, which most likely wouldn’t upset Graham: Although Barbara “turned out to be as good a companion as circumstances allowed,” she admitted that she “let him down” Escape routeswas writing her book.
Fans of Graham’s work will no doubt claim that Barbara’s book is the less impressive of the two – the poor relative if you spoil me – but I’m not quite so sure. Too late to turn back has its own merits and charms, and Barbara’s writing is not devoid of flair. Hadn’t Graham documented the trip himself – if he had just been an ordinary Englishman abroad -?Too late to turn back could have stood absolutely alone as an insightful and informative report on this tour through unknown territory. The icing on the cake is that it also offers intimate observation of one of the most famous British writers of the 20th century. As Theroux wrote in 1981, “What seemed trivial or unimportant Too late to turn back The thirties is now – over forty years later – like a treasure. What if Waugh had such a companion in Abyssinia or Peter Fleming’s cousin had accompanied him to Manchuria? What if Kinglake, Doughty, or Waterton had a reliable testimony to their misery and splendor? We wouldn’t have thought less of these men, but we would have known a lot more about them. “
Although Graham and Barbara were first cousins, they weren’t particularly close. As she kindly stated in the preface to the 1981 edition of her book, “He tried to convince someone, anyone, to go with him, and only after everyone else refused did he ask me.” As in the actual book, she is extremely reserved and recalls that both of them had regrets the morning after they made their big plans and their champagne hangover that was about to set in: “Graham because his heart sank at the thought of doing it to be responsible for a young girl he barely knew. “That Barbara turned out to be a more spirited and courteous companion than her cousin could have hoped for must have been a welcome surprise, but first there is a certain caution on both sides.
When she arrives in Sierra Leone’s Freetown, she writes down her general impressions of Graham in her diary. “His brain scared me,” she begins. “It was sharp and clear and cruel. I admired him as unsentimental, but “always remember to rely on yourself,” I remarked. “If you’re in a sticky place, he’ll be so interested in recording your reactions that he’ll likely forget to save you.” Escape routes Graham immediately admits that he was all the more surprised by Barbara’s book since he “hadn’t even noticed that she was taking notes,” so focused was he alone.
“For some reason he had a constantly trembling hand, so I hoped we wouldn’t encounter any wild animals on our trip,” writes Barbara. She continues:
I had never shot anything in my life and my cousin would no doubt miss anything he went for. Physically, he didn’t look strong. It looked a bit vague and impractical, and later I was always amazed at its efficiency and the care he put into every detail. Aside from the three or four people he really loved, I felt that the rest of humanity was like a bunch of insects to him that he liked to study, as a scientist could examine its specimens coldly and clearly. He was always polite. He had a remarkable sense of humor and thought some things were too sacred to be laughed at. I think I had a very conventional little mind at the time, because I remember it kept tearing down ideas that I had always believed in and I had to rebuild them. It was stimulating and exciting, and I wrote that he was the best companion one could have on a trip of this kind. I learned a lot more than he thought.
Such behind-the-scenes glimpses of Graham’s state of mind go further, often in contrast to her own more airy demeanor. For example, she finds that while she was grabbing the entertaining stories of Saki and Somerset Maugham, he was dragging The anatomy of melancholy through the jungle. But it’s also a wonderful source for more lighthearted treats. Make it a habit to reset your clocks – which kept stopping – to the cocktail hour: “I don’t think it’s too early to have a drink, do I? Let’s set our clocks at six.” I would like to find out exactly how much whiskey you have packed, since both books literally slosh with the stuff.) Or the joy with which they indulge in spoons of golden syrup – after suddenly “developing an amazing love for sweet things” – As their rations dwindle, Graham dreams of steak and kidney pudding all the time. And although their companionship is remarkably calm, Barbara is strangely fixated on Graham’s socks, which, not held up by garters, are annoying in “little round folds like one old accordion “fall around his ankles. She later learns that she is just as worried about her terrible hiking shorts, whose flattering shape and cut are” almost more than he could take. “
Seriously, it also records the way Graham interacts with the local men. Although it has been said by various whites in Freetown that the locals will respect nothing but “a screaming voice and a heavy hand”, Barbara reports that instead Graham “treated them as if they were white men from our own country”. (Given the day’s deeply ingrained racism, I doubt this is entirely correct – not least because she then describes him as a “benevolent father” to them – but he would seem far less draconian than some.) Most valuable however, Barbara’s memory of how much Graham gets sick towards the end of the trip. The twitching nerve she notices above his right eye when he gets sick starts running like the Bludgers, his face is gray and at least for a while it seems to be propelling itself by “willpower” alone. His ultimate breakdown – which he glossed over Travel without mapsWith the help of the dismissive section entitled “A Touch of Fever”, Barbara is absolutely convinced that he is dying: “I didn’t doubt it for a minute … He already looked like a dead man.” Struggling with extreme exhaustion herself, she can only focus on the “practical side of it” and focus on the particular problem of not having candles to burn in the event of the death of her Catholic cousin. “I couldn’t remember why I should light candles,” she writes, “but I had a vague feeling that his soul would not find peace if I couldn’t do that for him. I was troubled by this thought all night. It seemed extremely important. “
This episode summarizes Barbara’s character and demeanor in several ways. Overall, the reviewers praised her “courage” and her sense of adventure. Your book therefore probably appealed to readers who had devoured E. Arnot Robertson’s bestselling novel Four scared people (1931), another story about the wild and exciting adventures of two young English cousins (which Barbara happened to read while traveling to Africa). In this book, Judy Corder, a 26-year-old doctor, her cousin Stewart, and two other English passengers flee the boat on which they are traveling to Singapore because of a Malay bubonic plague outbreak, until they are instead faced with the dangers of the jungle. Barbara warns readers that despite all the rumors of wild animals and cannibals associated with Liberia at the time, those hoping for a “roaring lion adventure” may be disappointed as they and Graham’s capers “tend to be amusing.” than were scary “. and good luck has followed in our footsteps most of the time. “
She may not have associated an outing with rival Judy’s – which includes deadly snakebites, tropical storms, and natives armed with poison arrows – but Barbara can write nonetheless, and what lacks the thrill of her story she makes up for in the sharpness of her observations . If Graham’s book is a journey into the dark inside of his mind, Barbara’s is the lighter counterbalance. Her descriptions are no longer based only on the physical experiences of the cousins, but she also brings a completely different perspective into the process. For example, she describes a particularly hard incline and compares herself to “a poor creature in a Walt Disney film who takes a heartbreakingly cruel path up a winding, winding road to the evil castle high up on the mountainside”. It’s a picture that works pretty well, perhaps precisely because you can’t imagine reading it in Graham’s report.
Barbara’s streak of adventure lasted long after leaving the Liberian jungle. Shortly after her return to England, she followed another cousin, Graham’s brother Hugh, abroad to Berlin, where he was a foreign correspondent. There she fell in love with a German diplomat, Count Rudolf Strachwitz. Increasing political tensions failed because of their marriage plans, but Barbara stood her ground and stayed in Germany rather than fleeing to the safety of Britain during World War II. According to her obituary in the Guardian, which ran in 1991 when she died at the age of eighty-four, “a large circle of loyal friends (many of whom later became involved in the July 20 conspiracy to assassinate Hitler) did much to protect her, but their lives was precarious. ” Her every move was watched by the Gestapo – her suspicions were reinforced by her association with Bishop Preysing, an outspoken critic of Nazism, from whom she received instructions after her conversion to Catholicism (again in Graham’s footsteps) The only work who she could find was a cleaning lady.
You and Rudolf managed to get married in the spring of 1943; She became Countess Strachwitz, but he lost his job in the Foreign Office. He was then called up and left Barbara pregnant and alone in Berlin when the Russian army advanced into the city. Like many others, she fled west; She suffered a miscarriage in the process. While Rudolf was captured by the Americans, she sought refuge in Liechtenstein (Prince Franz Joseph II’s sister was married to Rudolf’s younger brother), and her stay there later inspired her second book: Liechtenstein: Valley of Peace (1967), a warm and understanding sketch of the tiny country and its people.
For a long time neither husband nor wife knew whether the other was still alive, but they were finally reunited in 1946, and two years later they emigrated to Argentina, where Rudolf got a job as an economics teacher (a subject in which he was doing his doctorate). at the University of Mendoza. They had two children and moved to Berchtesgaden, the picturesque town in the Bavarian Alps that was once Hitler’s notorious Eagle’s Nest retreat on the occasion of Rudolf’s resignation, and Barbara published her third book, an anthology of prayers. When Rudolf died in 1969, she moved to Gozo, a small island in the Maltese archipelago in the Mediterranean, where she devoted much of her time to caring for disabled people. Despite such an eventful life, frustrating Too late to turn back was the only volume of memoirs she published – fitting perhaps since then Guardian Obituary ends: “She refused to write her autobiography. She lived for today and tomorrow, but never for yesterday. “
Lucy Scholes is a critic who lives in London. She writes for them NYR daily, the Financial Times, The New York Times Book Review, and Literary centeramong other publications. Read previous installments of Re-Covered.