STANLEY: The Making of an African Explorer by Frank McLynn

STANLEY: The Making of an African Explorer

Email this review


Turgid, obsessively detailed portrait of the news correspondent/author/explorer who in 1869 was sent to Africa by New York Herald publisher James Gordon Bennett to find the missing English missionary/explorer David Livingstone and succeeded. Born a Welsh bastard (though he generally claimed to be an American), Stanley went on to become one of the most celebrated men of the 19th century. A man of immense determination and great courage, probably a repressed homosexual and certainly a sadomasochist, a paranoid and a mythomaniac (even the name ""Henry Morton Stanley"" was false; he was born ""John Rowlands""), Stanley is a tempting subject for biographers. Unfortunately, McLynn proves not to be the man for the job. (John Bierman's Dark Safari, reviewed above, is a far livelier, more complete and balanced rendering of the story.) McLynn piles detail on detail without regard for narrative pace, bogging down in a morass of repetitive incidents as he traces Stanley's progress across central Africa in a day-by-day, sometimes hour-by-hour format. Especially frustrating is McLynn's ending his narrative with Stanley's arrival on the west coast of Africa after his 1874-77 transversal of that continent. Since the explorer lived until 1904, McLynn leaves many unanswered questions and totally ignores the important (and fascinating) Emin expedition, Stanley's late-in-life marriage, and his eventual knighthood. (There is no indication that a second volume is planned.) Another problem is that McLynn speculates on Stanley's psychological orientation in the hoariest of clichÉs. The old ""Madonna/whore"" dichotomy is trotted out when explaining Stanley's inability to relate sexually to women. And without much evidence, Stanley's supposed repressed homosexuality is attributed to conjectured sexual experiences undergone at the workhouse to which Stanley was relegated when he was six. Disappointing in its plodding detailing of facts and the superficiality of its psychological speculations.

Pub Date: Oct. 30th, 1990
ISBN: 0712605657
Publisher: Scarborough House