Elspeth Huxley, who died in 1997, is chiefly remembered for her lyrical and evocative memoir The Flame Trees of Thika (1959). Yet this was only one of the thirty books she wrote, and it took just a few months of her remarkably active life to compose.
A woman of compelling personality and exceptional energy, Elspeth Huxley was not only a celebrated writer, but also a farmer, broadcaster, journalist, conservationist, political thinker, magistrate, and government adviser. She was a vivid chronicler of colonial Kenya, and became increasingly recognized as an observer and interpreter of African affairs over a period of profound change. Initially a staunch defender of the white settlers, she would later come to support moves toward African independence.
After a childhood spent in East Africa and wartime Britain, Elspeth married a grandson of Thomas Huxley and cousin of Aldous Huxley, whom she knew well. Her wide circle also later included George and Joy Adamson, the Leakeys, and Peter Scott (whose biography she wrote). Whatever their subject, her books reveal the adventurousness, warmth, perception, and occasional astringency that made up her own personality; they are also notable for their acute observation and great social range, encompassing the lives of Kenya’s poor white farmers, the frivolous Happy Valley set, and Africans alike.
For this, the first biography of Elspeth Huxley, C. S. Nicholls has made extensive use of her papers and letters---including those to and from Elspeth’s formidable mother Nellie and her hapless father Jos. Elspeth Huxley: A Biography is not merely a fascinating portrait of an extraordinary woman, but an absorbing account of an entire era of colonial and British history.
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“Delicious stories...I recommend this excellent biography to anybody who cares for Huxley's books and for Kenya.”---Aiden Hartley, Literary Review [U.K.]
“C. S. Nicholls interweaves this personal tale with the intriguing social and political theory of colonial Kenya...accomplished.”---Sunday Times [U.K.]
“Well organized and thoroughly researched.”---Daily Telegraph [U.K.]
“[Nicholls] is a wonderfully informed authority about the externals of life---the dates, the events, the who, and where of it all...scrupulous.”---New Statesman [U.K.]
Christine Nicholls grew up in East Africa and knew many of the people in Elspeth Huxley's circle. She was coeditor and then sole editor of The Dictionary of Natural Biography for twenty years, and also edited The Hutchinson Encyclopedia of Biography. Her other books include The Swahili Coast, Cataract, Power: A Political History of the Twentieth Century, a biography of David Livingstone and the official history of St. Antony’s College, Oxford. She lives in Oxford.
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