Too Close to the Sun

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-07-14
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
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Denys Finch Hatton was adored by women and idolized by men. A champion of Africa, legendary for his good looks, his charm, and his prowess as a soldier, lover, and hunter, Finch Hatton inspired Karen Blixen to write the unforgettable stories inOut of Africa. Now esteemed British biographer Sara Wheeler tells the truth about this extraordinarily charismatic adventurer. Born to an old aristocratic family that had gambled away most of its fortune, Finch Hatton grew up in a world of effortless elegance and boundless power. Tall and graceful, with the soul of a poet and an athlete's relaxed masculinity, he became a hero without trying at Eton and Oxford. In 1910, searching for novelty and danger, Finch Hatton arrived in British East Africa and fell in lovewith a continent, with a landscape, with a way of life that was about to change forever. Wheeler brilliantly conjures the mystical beauty of Kenya at a time when teeming herds of wild animals roamed unmolested across pristine savannah. No one was more deeply attuned to this beauty than Finch Hattonand no one more bitterly mourned its passing when the outbreak of World War I engulfed the region in a protracted, bloody guerrilla conflict. Finch Hatton was serving as a captain in the Allied forces when he met Karen Blixen in Nairobi and embarked on one of the great love affairs of the twentieth century. With delicacy and grace, Wheeler teases out truth from fiction in the liaison that Blixen herself immortalized inOut of Africa. Intellectual equals, bound by their love for the continent and their inimitable sense of style, Finch Hatton and Blixen were genuine pioneers in a land that was quickly being transformed by violence, greed, and bigotry. Ever restless, Finch Hatton wandered into a career as a big-game hunter and became an expert bush pilot; his passion that led to his affair with the notoriously unconventional aviatrix Beryl Markham. But Markham was no more able to hold him than Blixen had been. Mesmerized all his life by the allure of freedom and danger, Finch Hatton was, writes Wheeler, "the open road made flesh." In painting a portrait of an irresistible man, Sara Wheeler has beautifully captured the heady glamour of the vanished paradise of colonial East Africa. InToo Close to the Sunshe has crafted a book that is as ravishing as its subject. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography

Like Denys Finch Hatton, Sara Wheeler was educated at Brasenose College, Oxford. Her books include Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica; Travels in a Thin Country; and Cherry: A Life of Apsley Cherry-Garrard, all available from the Modern Library. When not traveling, Wheeler lives with her family in London.

From the Hardcover edition.


Chapter One


I saw him first fingering a pistol in a Nairobi  gun-shop, with the casual interest that men of action will show for such toys, and well I liked the look of his scholarly appearance, which had also about it the  suggestion of an adventurous wanderer, of a man who had watched a hundred desert suns splash with gilt the white-walled cities of Somaliland. —llewelyn powys, Black Laughter, 1925 When he heard that denys finch hatton had been killed on  the plains of Africa, Alan Parsons reflected that his friend had been “like one of his forefathers of Elizabethan days—a man of action and a man of poetry.” It was the first Sir Christopher Hatton who had raised the family to the sunlit uplands of the English aristocracy, and they languished there through the pleasant centuries while their nation prospered. Denys inherited the charm of his Elizabethan ancestor, but not his taste for the gilded baits of conventional success. A Northamptonshire man, ruffed and sharp-bearded, Sir Christopher had worked his way into court and dazzled Queen Elizabeth with his dancing. She showered him with money and honors until he was Lord Chancellor. At thirty-five, he was able to purchase Kirby Hall in East Northamptonshire, one of the great Elizabethan houses, a model of proportion replete with cupolas, pergolas, and ninety-two fireplaces. But Sir Christopher had many mansions, and for five years he was too busy to visit Kirby. By the time Denys was born three centuries later, the family was heading in the other direction (down), as his uncle George, the eleventh Earl of Winchilsea, had gambled away several fortunes. After disposing of most of the family paintings, he sold the lead from the roof of Kirby Hall. His widowed stepmother, meanwhile, was quietly bringing up three sons and a daughter at Haverholme Priory in Lincolnshire. Frances “Fanny” Rice became the tenth earl’s third wife in 1849; their second son, Henry Stormont, was Denys’s father. At Haverholme, Henry and his siblings grew to love the pared-down landscape and the winds that sped across the flatlands freighted with the chill of the North Sea. The three boys went out with their uncles, shooting partridge in the gravel pits, pigeons in Evedon Wood, and rabbits everywhere. They caught pike up and down the Slea and dace in the section between Haverholme Lock and Cobbler’s Lock, and played golf and cricket in the park. (In the untroubled 1860s, the Priory had its own cricket team.) After boarding school Henry went up to Balliol, the Oxford college favored by the ancestral earls. At nineteen, his hollow-cheeked Renaissance face was framed by sideburns the color of sweet sherry. His nose was long and sharp, his eyes deep-set, and a prehensile mustache dipped and clung to his chin below his lower lip. Finch Hattons were speculators and adventurers. By the 1870s, young men from the landed gentry had started heading south to Australia—many were hired as jackaroos on the cattle stations—and after a year Henry gave up on Balliol and steamed to the subtropical northern tip of Queensland. He rode a horse down to Mackay, a huddle of shacks quietly sweltering among the sugar plantations 150 miles north of the Tropic of Capricorn. There he joined a maternal uncle who had sailed to Australia six years earlier. Knowing little of sugar, the pair determined to set themselves up as stockmen, and reconnaissance took them to the well-watered cattle country around Mount Spencer, forty-five miles inland. They purchased four hundred square miles of bush, at first sleeping on canvas stretchers in a hut overlooking a lagoon. Henry had a table for his tin basin and a fragment of looking glass balanced on a pair of nails driven into a post. At night, he read in the sallow glow of a fat-filled jam tin wicked with a twist of tweed from his trousers. The lure of the frontier was in the blood,

Excerpted from Too Close to the Sun: The Audacious Life and Times of Denys Finch Hatton by Sara Wheeler
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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