Everest Dream

A biographical novel about the true story of Everest pioneer George Leigh Mallory's first biographer and sweetheart, Mary Anne 'Cottie' Sanders O'Malley (who wrote under the pen name of Ann Bridge), her unpublished biography, and what really happened on that fateful day in June 1924, when Mallory and Irvine vanished on Everest.


Left to Right: Jack Sanders, Cottie Sanders, George Mallory. Pen-y-Pass, 1911

For George and Sandy

Ascensiones in corde suo disposuit
– Psalm 84

Brothers til death, and a windswept grave. Joy of the journey’s ending: Ye who have climbed to the great white veil, Heard ye the chant? Saw ye the Grail? – Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, 1909

As Ann Bridge, Mary Anne Sanders O’Malley wrote about adventures culled from her real life as the wife of a British diplomat and even revealed the secrets of that life in her controversial book about the Francs Case, Permission to Resign. Among many other subjects, she had always been interested in the paranormal, as well as in archaeology and mountaineering. In 1972 she published a little book of her paranormal experiences, those which both occurred to her and were related by close friends. Therein was the merest glimpse of the book that she wrote long before Peking Picnic, which made her famous in 1932.

This was a memoir of George Leigh Mallory, written at his widow Ruth’s request the year of the ill-fated Everest expedition in which Mallory and Irvine were lost. Mary Anne maintained in Moments of Knowing that it would have embarrassed her family were she to publish the tales of her youth with such illustrious men in mountaineering as Sir Francis Younghusband, Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, and most especially George Mallory, but her true reasons were somewhat more complex, as the following will show. Her reminiscence of George has languished unpublished in its original form, but Sir David Pye used parts in his splendid 1927 memoir, as did David Robertson in his biography; without Mary Anne’s help, these books would never have been written.

Since the discovery of the body of George Mallory near the summit of Everest in May 1999, many very fine books have been published on the Everest expeditions, and on George himself. In all of these ‘Cottie’ Sanders remains an elusive figure, described variously and tersely as a ‘climbing friend’ or a ‘casual sweetheart’. In the course of reading all things Mallory, I became fascinated by a single compelling photograph of them taken by Geoffrey Young in Wales in 1911, and by the hints in Mary Anne’s own books. The depth of their friendship, which lasted all of Mallory’s life, has never been plumbed. She called him the first friend she ever made on her own – a sentiment echoed by many others, including Robert Graves. For her part, Mary Anne alone of all his ‘climbing friends’ shared George’s mystical love of the mountains, and they carried between them a spiritual understanding that endured all the vicissitudes of their lives. Her place as George’s first biographer springs from that understanding.


At 10:42 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like a caption on the picture identifying the three people.

At 10:43 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to see a caption on the picture naming the three people.

At 10:35 am, Blogger Katie Scarlett said...

Kelly: I have contacted you before about your fine fictionalization, but wanted to ask about your mention of Mary Anne Sanders O'Malley being Mallory's first biographer. Did she indeed produce a manuscript, and if so, do you know where it is? I checked today with the RGS Foley Reading Room, but they have no knowledge of it and suggested I contact the family. Thanks, Kate Fox

At 10:46 am, Blogger Kelly Joyce Neff said...

Hi Kate! Thank you for your kind remarks. The manuscript is at the Ransom centre at the University of Texas at Austin,

At 11:50 pm, Anonymous lynda said...

Hi Kelly,
Is what you have written based on truth? I always understood he was a devoted and loving husband. Did he really have a child with Cottie?

At 7:25 am, Blogger Kelly Joyce Neff said...

Hi Lynda,
Thank you for your query. Yes it is indeed based on truth.
George was indeed a loving and devoted husband.
There is however internal evidence in both their lives about Kate [Grania as she was known early in life].
Mary Anne and Ruth were 'lifelong friends' inasmuch as Mary Anne was capable of that with anyone (she could be quite waspish even with people that she loved well); I have no doubt that neither she nor George would ever have said anything about it to Ruth. He never told her about l'affair James et al, knowing it was beyond her capacity to understand. Ruth was a religious person, gentle and rather conventional. I do not say this as a criticism.


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