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Menlove: The Life of John Menlove Edwards

By Jim Perrin

Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1985. (Distributed in the United States by David & Charles, Inc., North Pomfret, Vermont.) 344 pages, photographs.
Second edition: Ernest Press, 1993

Winner of the Boardman Tasker Award 1985


“Readers of climbing literature will be familiar with the writings of John Menlove Edwards, and climbers fortunate enough to have enjoyed one of his routes in Wales can appreciate his status as one of Britain's leading climbers in the 30's and 40's Yet, there has always been an enigmatic quality about Menlove's character that couldn't be resolved simply by reading and climbing his legacy of literature and routes.
Jim Perrin's biography, Menlove: The Life of John Menlove Edwards, clarifies and personifies Menlove in a carefully researched, brightly written piece of scholarship that for the first time fully describes the tragic and yet noble life of this great climber.
Briefly, Menlove established himself as one of Britain's leading climbers in the 30's and 40's with many important and difficult first ascents in North Wales. (…). A talented, if difficult at times, writer, Menlove authored several guide books, essays and stories, and poems that are still important contributions to mountaineering literature. Professionally, Menlove was a psychiatrist, and by all accounts an excellent clinical practitioner. Setbacks caused by World War II and his desire to research ideas beyond the accepted province of his profession limited and frustrated him and his career.
Menlove's personal life also caused him great pains. He was a homosexual at a time when homosexuality was a criminal act in Britain, and he was morally opposed to World War II and registered as a conscientious objector in a country suffering from daily bombing and the imminent threat of Nazi invasion. Neither of these facets of Menlove's character was easily accepted by his peers or society in general. The cumulative effect of isolation and depression over his professional and social lives took their toll: Menlove committed suicide in 1958. (…)
Because of the sensitivity of relating events taking place many years ago that might have caused persons still living some embarrassment, Menlove's life has, until now, not been fully chronicled. A previous biography, Samson, in effect obscured rather than clarified some important events and relationships in Menlove's life. Perrin's exhaustive research (he has, by his own estimation, worked on this biography for over ten years) and sensible approach to his subject yield first class biographical results. Perrin conveys to the reader a full and sensitive treatment of Menlove, while tactfully - and correctly avoiding prurient sensationalism. (…)
The task that Perrin sets out to accomplish in this biography is twofold. First, to detail the events of Menlove's life accurately and in a historical sense. This he performs quite well. The second is to explain the enigma that was Menlove. Perrin accomplishes this difficult task throughout the book, carefully building his case and supporting it thoroughly. Perrin's solution is that Menlove's upbringing and schooling led him to form a personal moral code and to keep its integrity intact, despite "terrible personal cost." Menlove's Christian background, simplified as a basic "Do unto others" credo, made him a profound believer in seeking the understanding and compassion, and above all, the tolerance, of others. Menlove also believed that he should be allowed to live his life unencumbered by the rigid, restrictive societal rules that dictated acceptance of a "norm" and rejection of any behaviours outside that norm, so long as he did nothing to antagonize, embarrass, or otherwise harm others around him. A live and let live approach, promoting mutual understanding and acceptance. Menlove was finally broken because he "stood out for that in which he believed" and ultimately was unable to conform to or join with a society incompatible with his own morality.”
Stuart Pregnall, “Climbing” 1985, December, No. 93, p. 67-69


“It should be said at once that Jim Perrin's new life, Menlove, is not just another book which climbers will want to have on their shelves, although it must come very high in that category. It is a remarkable biography, which deserves to be read by a public of whom many may even want to skip all the climbing bits. This is a study of Menlove Edwards' life as a whole, written over a period of more than ten years and only after the most meticulous collection and sifting of what must be almost all the surviving documentary evidence. Thus, although Edwards' climbing is not the central feature of the book, Perrin gives us much the fullest and best documented account of it; and similarly, while both the prose and the verse writings are cited primarily as biographical evidence, yet Perrin's critical comments on these pieces, when they occur, are usually more balanced and certainly more intelligible than the comments made in Noyce and Sutton's earlier biography, Samson. (…)
By any standards, this is biography at its best, and something rather exceptional in climbing literature.”
David Cox, “Mountain” 1985, March/April,  No. 102, p. 40-41



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