Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Coming Up: Terry Gifford's In Search of Elizabeth Coxhead

Elizabeth Coxhead leading Oliverson's Variation,Gimmer Crag,Langdale.

" In his review of One Step in the Clouds, Harold Drasdo makes a telling comment on Elizabeth Coxhead's novel One Green Bottle (which is included in that bulging omnibus): `Coxhead has that indulgent affection for her heroine that we sometimes see in the great novelists (especially perhaps in the women)'. I hardly think you could call the ending of the novel indulgent, but the exciting, frustrating, moving thing about what Jack Longland called 'by far the best novel about climbing that I have read', is that Elizabeth Coxhead cares about her central character, Cathy Canning, the girl from the backstreets of Birk­enhead who wants to break out of the demoralisation of poverty and the sexual repression of both men and women. Elizabeth Coxhead, I have been discovering, was a person who cared, with enthusiasm and intelligence, in a remarkable range of dimen­sions and ultimately with her own life.
So who was Elizabeth Coxhead? Since she died in 1979 at the age of 70 I did not expect to get much impression of her early climbing. But I found that she had written a chapter called `First Mountain' for a collection of essays edited by Max Robertson  under the title 'Mountain Panorama', published in 1955.
In it she describes the difficulties of getting started in the early 1930s: " The established climbing clubs froze out the ill-connected female with a glance. Inquiring at Wasdale-head. I learned that if I made my way to the foot of Pillar Rock I might there fall in with a noted Lakeland guide. It was true. He already had five clients with him, and they were roping up for the Old North. With real kindness they included me, but naturally the did not change their plan !'.

This Friday,Terry Gifford offers an insight into the world of Elizabeth Coxhead, the author of the classic 1950's climbing novel 'One Green Bottle' . A rare radical female contemporary voice in mountaineering literature.