I love finding things in books: clippings, letters, notes, pressed flowers.
I ordered from Amazon a copy of Ethel Mannin’s South to Samarkand (1936). In the front of the book were three carefully folding clippings: a review of Ethel Mannin’s Rebels’ Ride from June 4 1964 (“This rebels’ ride is an uneven one, with some drab stretches, especially when Miss Mannin – against all her declared intentions – begins to moralize about the world in general”) and her Practitioners of Love from March 24 1969 (“There is of course the argument that women who adventure in love tend to finish their lives unloved and alone. But then so do the virtuous, as often as not”). Also a travel-writing piece from 1971: Samarkand on £4 a day.
What I love best about this book, though, is Ethel Mannin’s preface:
“The comments and opinions expressed in the book are those of the author; Miss Donia Nachshen, the artist who accompanies the author on the journey, is not to be associated with them. Although it was originally intended that Miss Nachshen should illustrate this book, after reading the manuscript seh felt she could not co-operate in a book whose attitude to, and criticisms of, the U.S.S.R. she regards as in many instances mistaken and misleading, despite the author’s claim of impartiality; the sketches made on the journey have not, therefore, been included. This is all the more unfortunate as of the nuerous photographs taken by Miss Nachshen on the journey and left behind by the author to be developed in Moscow – since it is forbidden to bring undeveloped films out of the country – only five prints resulted, and none of them worth inclusions in the book.”
The book then begins on page 15. By page 16 Ms Mannin is already philosophising about life and her beliefs rather than steering us towards Samarkand: “I have always believed in the driving-force of wanting a thing enough, and in my own experience it has always held. I have observed that the trouble with a great many people who complain that life does not yield them what they want is that they have no clear idea of what itis they want…”
Finally, off she goes, without permits, quoting her hero (and mine) Ella Maillart: ‘real strength, real courage, and the only genius in this huge ant-heap of ours lies in going where one wishes, when one wishes, and as rapidly as one wishes.’
Women on the run.