Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mr. Pickwick Ships Me Lady Dorothy from Down Under

Several weeks ago I ordered A Different Drummer: Chapters in Autobiography, the ostensible autobiography written by Lady Dorothy Mills as she recovered from a terrible car accident in 1929.

The book arrived from Australia just before I departed for Michigan and I'm in the middle of reading it right now. Here's the lowdown on my purchase:

Mr Pickwick's Fine Old Books has confirmed your order.
Booknumber: 13717 Author: MILLS, DOROTHY Title: A Different Drummer: Chapters in Autobiography Description: Duckworth, 1930. First Edition, Hardcover (Original Cloth). Very Good Condition/No Dust Jacket. Size: Octavo (standard book size). Text body is clean, and free from previous owner annotation, underlining and highlighting. Binding is tight, covers and spine fully intact. Slight foxing front/rear pages, but body of book mostly clean and unfoxed. Edges slightly foxed.

Well, thanks to Mr. Pickwick, I now know more about the life of Lady Dorothy, sister-in-law of George Mills, than before—but not much more!

The title, A Different Drummer, referred, I assumed, to Lady Dorothy's feminist proclivity to travel the world without a man by her side, leaving husband Arthur Frederick Hobart Mills at home by the hearth while she teetered atop the humps of grunting camels, scratched her swollen, mosquito-ravaged flesh under the canopies of ancient canoes [seen at right, from another of her books, Through Liberia], and slept in sheetless beds rife with vermin.

The subtitle, Chapters in Autobiography, led me to believe that the text would be predominantly autobiographical. Strangely, it's only as autobiographical as was The Road to Timbuktu, a book of hers that I read a month or two ago: This book primarily catalogues Lady Dorothy's thoughts about and reactions to her adventures just as Timbuktu did.

The difference here is that it lacks any of her photographic illustrations, and seems to be a compendium of "out-takes," or tales perhaps previously considered by her publisher to have been not-quite-ready-for-prime-time. Many of the yarns she spins are mystical [or at least far from empirical], some are lurid and/or gruesome, and some simply would be, anthropologically speaking, folklore retold. Some of these stories she may have earmarked earlier for eventual publication in American newspapers; some likely ended up there in one form or another anyway. [Pictured below left is a dramatic illustration, possibly by the legendary Frank Frazetta, from a Lady Dorothy adventure that ran in the 23 February 1936 edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel.]

As the tales she tells come from across her many travels, the only thing in common among them is that, in this text so far, they were all told to her. I'm not sure, however, that by merely mentioning that a particular story gave her gooseflesh, made her knees tremble with fear, or helped define for her some aspect of the "Battle of the Sexes" makes the bulk of this book autobiographical!

Still, at the very beginning and at the end of the tome there are some oblique references that give insight into the family of her youth, her early relationship with Arthur Mills, and her growth from a part-time reporter into a novelist, adventurer, and travel writer. Don't blink, though, or you might miss them!

There are also a meager amount of details about her accident and recovery. She does, however, lavish many detailed paragraphs on her wedding!

On the whole, it really is some interesting stuff, although there's notmuch of it, and it certainly will give us some insight about the family into which Dorothy Walpole was marrying, and the circumstances she subsequently encountered. Still, that's all for another day!

As always, if you've read the book or have any information about Lady Dorothy or anyone else in the Mills family, please don't hesitate to let me know!

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