Beautifully rendered biography of the last of the great Victorian gentlemen-adventurers, by accomplished English author Wheeler (Cherry, 2002, etc.).
A charismatic personality of the first order, and with impeccable lineage to boot, Denys Finch Hatton (1887–1931) gained importance as one of the first-rank white hunters in British East Africa during the 1920s, as well as the lover of authors Karen Blixen (aka Isak Dinesen) and Beryl Markham, among others. Known and loved by many, Finch Hatton tended to be “buried under his own reputation,” and Wheeler attempts to unearth the true character beneath the layers of legend. Son of the 13th Earl of Winchilsea and descendant of speculators and adventurers, the boy grew up in London and on the Haverholme estate in Lincolnshire and attended Eton during an idyllic period when he consolidated his friendships with golden Edwardian youths, some of whom subsequently perished in the trenches of World War I. A romantic anarchist bored with politics, enamored with flight and attracted to bohemian women, Finch Hatton found an escape route to British East Africa and maneuvered his way into forming a trading company. With the outbreak of World War I, and the enemy holding the shared border of German East Africa, he served as aide-de-camp under Reginald Hoskins—and here Wheeler does a masterful job of bringing to light a little-known aspect of the war in Africa. Later, he would make his livelihood as a white hunter hired by rich notables like the Prince of Wales, though Wheeler emphasizes his love of the land and his attempts by the late 1920s to prevent indiscriminate slaughter. Finch Hatton's dozen-year love affair with Baroness Blixen—who struggled to keep her coffee farm in the Ngong Hills, and to deal with syphilis and divorce—dominates the last half of the book.
A tremendous portrayal of this transitional paradigm to modernism.