Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Any suspicion of effeminacy was completely banished

“Mon Dieu! George Mallory!” - Lytton Strachey

His tutor at Cambridge A.C. Benson* described his face thus: “Its shape, its delicately cut features, especially the rather large, heavily lashed, thoughtful eyes, were extraordinarily suggestive of a Botticelli Madonna, even when he had ceased to be a boy - although any suspicion of effeminacy was completely banished by obvious proofs of physical energy and strength.”

During the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition, the intrepid George Mallory famously disappeared somewhere high on the North-East ridge during an attempt to make the first ascent of the world's highest mountain. His ultimate fate was unknown for 75 years, until his body was discovered in May 1999. Whether Mallory and his climbing partner Irvine reached the summit before they died remains a subject of speculation.

Prior to this feat of derring-do, however, Mr Mallory had created quite a stir among the artistic community at Cambridge (led by Rupert Brooke; Virginia Woolf called them "the Neo-Pagans"), some of whom went on to become known as "The Bloomsbury Set":
"Mallory's muscular beauty attracted both men and women. Duncan Grant painted him a number of times, as did the French artist Simon Bussy. The extent of Mallory's homosexuality is much discussed."
According to many sources, he had relationships with James Strachey [brother of Lytton] and with Duncan Grant (who took the portfolio of nude photographs of George). Regardless, after leaving Cambridge he married (Ruth) and fathered three children. It is said he carried a photograph of his wife to the summit of Everest, but it has never been found.

On being asked why he wanted to conquer Everest, Mallory famously said “Because it's there.”

George Herbert Leigh Mallory (18th June 1886 – 8th or 9th June 1924)

[* Arthur Benson was one of the three gay Benson brothers (the others being the cleric and scholar R.H Benson, and E.F. Benson of Mapp and Lucia fame); he famously composed Land of Hope and Glory.]

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