Saturday, July 02, 2016

Elise McCune: Land Beneath the Wind by Agnes Newton Keith

I am reading  Land Below the Wind.  It was given to me as a gift by an intrepid traveller who recently returned from Sabah, Borneo and visited Agnes Keith House.

What I like about the story of Agnes Keith is the mystery that involves her daughter, Jean.

It seems that Jean may have been the daughter of her husband by a previous marriage or by a liaison.

In a recent study of Sabah society in colonial days we find this gloss on “liaisons with local women:”

During the period of Chartered Company rule in Sabah it was not uncommon for European administrators to form liaisons with local women. Such a practice occurred throughout the British Empire, though with local variants. Need of companionship saw this practice being condoned by most colonial administrations including the Chartered Company, albeit unofficially. Strictly speaking, it was considered improper, thus little written information is available for a proper treatment of the subject. The Chartered Company’s fortnightly newspaper, the British North Borneo Herald, for instance, is almost silent on this matter. …

Even the husband of the celebrated author Agnes Keith is known to have had a local girl before he married Agnes. …

Agnes Newton Keith (July 4, 1901 – March 30, 1982) was an American author best known for her three autobiographical accounts of life in North Borneo (now Sabah) before, during, and after the Second World War.

The second of these, Three Came Home, tells of her time in Japanese POW and civilian internee camps in North Borneo and Sarawak, and was made into a film of the same name in 1950. She published seven books in all.