Monday, April 5, 2010

Lady Dorothy's latest journey: San Jose, California, to Ocala, Florida

Having enjoyed a lovely Easter Sunday, I'm now savoring my Spring Break from school, a week of relaxation that coincides with the return of Major League Baseball. As I sat and watched Barack Obama throw out the ceremonial Opening Day first pitch in this afternoon's game between the Washington Nationals and my beloved Philadelphia Phillies [The Phils crushed them, 11 to 1], I heard a thump near the front door through my open window.

I tore quickly through the quirky wrapping of the package that had just arrived from San Jose, California, and found in it the beautiful, if ever-so-gently worn, first edition copy of The Road to Timbuktu by Lady Dorothy Mills [Duckworth and Co.: London, 1924] that I'd ordered last week. Much like seeing Maggie Smith today, this aged volume is quite impressive and still conjures up all of the wonders of how extremely attractive it must have been in its youth!

Lady Dorothy, you may recall from an earlier post, was sister-in-law to George Mills, having married his half-brother, Arthur Frederick Hobart Mills, in 1916.

Arthur was described at the time as being "a handsome and well connected man but with little money" as well as Lady Dorothy's cousin—something I'm still trying to verify. Born on 12 July, 1887, Arthur's mother was Lady Catherine Mary Valentia Hobart-Hampden, who held the rank of daughter of an Earl, and his father, Revd. Barton R. V. Mills became the Vicar of Poughill, Cornwall that same year.

Arthur attended Wellington College's Hardinge House from 1900 through 1903, and then went to Sandhurst before being "gazetted" into the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry. It likely occurred when the Territorial Force was formed on April 1, 1908, as a result of the Territorial and Reserve Forces Act of 1907. He probably was assigned to the 5th Battalion of the 214th Infantry Brigade.

Mills served in China, France, and Palestine and wrote two books on the subject, one of which is still in print today. He married Lady Dorothy Rachel Melissa Walpole, daughter of Robert Horace Walpole, the last Earl of Horford, and Louise Melissa Corbin, an American who was born in Helena, Montana, but who had spent a great deal of her youth in the spas of Europe.

Lady Dorothy had been educated in Paris and traveled extensively as a youth. To "help the family finances" after her marriage, she took to "magazine journalism and writing romantic novels". Her first novel, Card Houses [Eveleigh Nash & Co.: London, 1916] was published the same year as her nuptials. Husband Arthur published With My Regiment from the Aisne to La Basée in 1915 and Hospital Days in 1916 as well, so there was now some money coming into the household, allowing Lady Dorothy to volunteer during the First World War.

In 1921, she then published another wry and well-regarded novel entitled The Laughter of Fools [Duckworth & Co.: London, 1920], which was favorably reviewed in Punch. First published in April, it was already being reprinted just one month later.

In July, 1922, newspapers across the United Kingdom and its colonies carried the following report: "Lady Dorothy Mills, daughter of the Earl of Orford, has announced that she will lead an expedition into the mysterious interior of the Sahara Desert" under the headline TRACING A TRIBE: An Expedition to the Sahara.

In that same year, the journal Current History [April-September, 1922] reported: "Lady Dorothy Mills, daughter of the Earl of Orford and granddaughter of D.C. Corbin of New York, is on an expedition to the remote regions of the southeastern Sahara to discover the habits of mysterious white cave men [troglodytes], first reported by Captain de St. Maurice last year."

She also managed to publish another novel, The Tent of Blue, in 1922.

Depending on the source, in 1923 Mills became either the first white woman or the first Englishwoman [or both] to reach Timbuktu, having traveled to the remote outpost with only local porters and guides to assist her.

Her next novel, The Road, is published in 1923 as well.

In 1924, husband Arthur published his well-received novel, The Broadway Madonna, after releasing Ursula Vanet, Pillars of Salt, and The Primrose Path in 1921, 1922, and 1923 respectively.

And in 1924, Lady Dorothy published yet another novel, The Arms of the Sun, in 1924, but the tour de force at that point in her young career was the 1924 release of The Road to Timbuktu. It really "put her on the map," so to speak—the pun being clearly intended!

And here a copy of that very text sits, right beside me, just begging to be read!

More on this undertaking, and Arthur and Lady Dorothy Mills—and there's so much more—as events warrant…

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