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first biographer and sweetheart, Mary Anne 'Cottie' Sanders O'Malley (who wrote under the pen name of Ann Bridge), her unpublished biography, and what really happened on that fateful day in June 1924, when Mallory and Irvine vanished on Everest.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 Her reminiscence of George has languished unpublished in its original form, but Sir David Pye used parts in his splendid 1927 memoir, as did David Robertson in his biography; without Mary Anne’s help, these books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 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

At 10:43 a.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

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

At 10:35 a.m., 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 a.m., 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 p.m., 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 a.m., 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.

At 7:01 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

This story is supposedly true but how is it possible that an 85 year old can remember her long ago conversations verbatim? It doesn't seem possible no matter how smart she was due to age and forgetfulness.
I loved this piece because I felt it was really well written but am saddened when I got to Chapter 14. If things happened verbatim...such a betrayal to his marriage and family. The hardest part of this story for me was, after "the deed", they both felt totally ok with it. "at peace and understanding" as Cottie puts it. WOW, that's cold. I hope this part of the conversation was made up. If not it seems like such blatant arrogance. He loathes hypocrisy and injustice in others and yet... Kind of hard to recon that. This paints him as a total “dick” head. Although, this was her take on what happened, one can only imagine what was going on in his mind. Hopefully it wasn’t as easy for him as it appears to be for Cottie. She was a friend of Ruth so what a double betrayal. As stated, I do find parts of this story hard to believe because of the word for word conversations many decades after the events. It states that she had a lot of dreams and put a lot of stock into them so I’m wondering if maybe some of this was written while she was in a dream state of mind. Anyone else's thoughts about this?

At 10:16 a.m., Blogger Kelly Joyce Neff said...

Anonymous above is Sara Graham (saragraham1960@gmail.com), who wrote to me privately, asking that I turn on anonymous comments so that she could 'start a discussion'. Having dealt with George fangirls before, I did this with considerable hesitation, trusting in her goodwill and good intentions as to actually discuss the history of the subject, not my or Cottie's veracity.

As the world can now see, my caution was well-placed. This is what comes of allowing knickers-throwing fangirls to publish on my blog.

For the record, Mary Anne O'Malley (Cottie) WAS mentally sharp as a tack until the day she died. She also kept a journal from the age of ten, recording everything and kept the letters from George and everyone else. These she used in her unpublished biography of GLM which was used by David Pye and Donald Robertson, as I stated in the prologue.

As for 'the deed' in Chapter 14, if Miss Graham had bothered to pay attention to the previous experiences of GLM with the Bloomsbury Group, with the Cambridge Apostles, with Geoffrey Winthrop Young, she'd have noticed that George's morality was very unconventional. He was NOT the perfect Victorian husband, nor did he ever pretend to be. He despised 'plaster madonnas' and endless boring conversation about the shopping lists and other domestic necessities. Those are HIS words, not Mary Anne's.

As for hypocrisy, he did not tell Ruth at all about his being bisexual because she was a conventionally religious person and would have freaked out. He had already lost Mary Anne because of this and did not want to muck up a relationship a second time.

For what it's worth, George was actually rather A-SEXUAL, in that he enjoyed the BEAUTY of people, all people, and THIS RUTH KNEW; as is evidenced by his comment to her in a letter during the war, that 'today I saw a beautiful young man...' and went on to describe him in detail, commenting that he looked like Rupert [Brooke, with whom he had been enamoured in college].

George and Mary Anne's 'easy' acceptance of her being pregnant was highly practical. They were both married to other people. Abortion was very dangerous in those days, and divorce even worse, as everything was dragged through the newspapers as well as the courts, and became a public spectacle. Is Miss Graham really suggesting that the Hero of Everest and a well-known Diplomat in the Foreign Office give up everything and become beggars and pariahs for the sake of 'honesty'?

This sort of arrangement was very common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, before easy abortions and easy divorce. It is very wrong to view people in past in a modern context. We must view them in their own context, putting aside our modern sensibilities and judgements.

As far as Ruth and Mary Anne being lifelong friends; they were. Genuinely. Ruth knew that George loved Mary Anne, and that she 'knew him better than anyone' as she said to Mary Anne in her letter requesting that Mary Anne write a biography. This was a tacit acknowledgement, and all that was necessary. It is hubris of the highest degree for Miss Graham or anyone else to judge them, George, Ruth, Owen, and Mary Anne, as no one else is in the relationship.
"Anyone else's thoughts about this?"

At 3:54 p.m., Anonymous Anonymous said...

It wasn't my intention to upset you. I wasn't questioning your take on all of this either. I was just commenting on what was written in the story. But by you saying his morals were unconventional, just what does that mean exactly, to me it sounds like what ever worked or was convenient to him. Reading your comment earlier to someone else you said he was a loving and devoted husband. How is that? He was unfaithful and basically abandoned his family for his selfish ambitions. Hey Im just commenting on your own writing.
and im happy to sign my name. You told me to sign in annoymously.

sara graham

At 5:36 p.m., Blogger Kelly Joyce Neff said...

I really do get tired of the same round of criticism of George from fangirls.

He DID love Ruth. She was his Pre-Raphaelite darling. But his idea of love was not possessive, nor was it Prince Albert. He disliked domesticity and certainly was never domesticated.

If anyone expects him to be the pipe and slippers by the fire model husband, home at five, with no friends or outside interests except the little wifey, they will be disappointed.

A brilliant writer, lecturer, climber and explorer was what he WAS and what he went into that life to DO and BE for his part in the world play.

If anyone disapproves of mountaineering, then they shouldn't read books about mountaineers.


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