Reviews of Elspeth Huxley Biography
"C.S. Nicholls offers a robust account of who's who in Huxley's novels."
This first biography of British writer and conservationist Huxley (1907-1997), author of several novels (The Flame Trees of Thika), memoirs and travel pieces, is lively and well researched. Leaving Huxley in England, her parents moved to Kenya in 1912, where, as members of Britain's white settler community, they struggled to run a coffee plantation. Huxley was sent for the next year, and she spent her childhood and adolescence hunting, playing polo, going on safaris and participating in other such colonial activities. Huxley left Africa in 1925 to attend college in England and the U.S., but returned periodically to visit her parents and do research. Nicholls plumbs Huxley's personal and published papers for detail, creating skillful illustrations of character and setting. Describing an elderly Huxley, she writes: "Without vanity, she wore clothes of muted colours, often tweeds, and liked brown jerseys. She usually wore trousers rather then dresses and her hair, for which she cared little, was cut short in a pudding-basin shape." Still, when it comes to considering Huxley's work in a larger, social context, Nicholls is both an apologist and a rationalist. She glosses over thorny issues of race and colonialism, concluding that while Huxley has been criticized for her lack of social awareness, she should be congratulated for her honesty and ability to change her views with the times: "she knew that the Empire would soon be destroyed by those it was supposed to be helping, and by a British government that found it an expensive anachronism in a new liberal age." In the end, this is a solid exploration of a deserving and challenging subject. (July)
"[An] accomplished biography...Nicholls probes with great sensitivity Huxley's literary and emotional attachment to Africa...and her complex and evolving views towards it and British rule there."
"The biography is extremely strong when the author paints an insightful and propitious picture that enables readers to better understand bygone eras. The book is well written and will keep readers interested in a proficient, but not popular, defender of the crown."
"A sturdy biography...the first such work devoted to [Huxley]. Nicholls gives a good account of Huxley’s life and work...A worthwhile glimpse into European colonialism and its literary chroniclers."
“There is no doubt that this is a complete portrait of a brave and remarkable woman.”