The Jungle and the Damned

The Jungle and the Damned

The Jungle and the Damned

The Jungle and the Damned


Hassoldt Davis (1907-1959) was an adventurer and travel writer whose work Ernest Hemingway once described as "fantastic ... magnificent". With his intrepid new wife, filmmaker Ruth Staudinger, Davis sets off on an improbable honeymoon, first to Devil's Island, and then down an unexplored river in the interior of French Guiana. The result is a swashbuckling saga that deserves a place on any adventure bookshelf.


"I was home again, in the dank discomfort which I loved." So writes Hassoldt Davis of French Guiana at the outset of The Jungle and the Damned.

Like many other celebrants of discomfort, whether of the dank, dry, or hypothermic variety, Davis grew up in relatively cushy circumstances. His father, a greeting card magnate, provided his family with all the amenities, including an estate in the fashionable Boston suburb of Wellesley Hills and a roomy summer house on Maine's Penobscot Bay. Young Bill (he used Hassoldt, his mother's maiden name, as a kind of nom de plume) tried to escape such amenities from the beginning. The very beginning--at birth he refused to breathe, whereupon a nurse anointed him with alcohol, and he bawled with life.

Books offered him a world quite different from both his family's world and the gray puritanical world of early twentieth-century New England. Especially Tarzan books. He became so obsessed with Edgar Rice Burroughs's arboreal hero that he even tried to look like him; he took a Charles Atlas physical-culture course and did in fact win a magazine prize for being "The Best Developed Boy in America." This wasn't enough though. At the age of thirteen, he packed a slingshot, maps, and a compass, and set off for Africa. He got no closer to the Dark Continent than Tremont Street in downtown Boston. Even so, he established a paradigm for his subsequent travels: shoot for the proverbial moon, for the risky, the distant, and the exotic, rather than the cozy world next door.

Romantic interests inevitably replaced his urge to swing from tree to tree. When he was nineteen, he traveled to Paris and promptly took up with an artist's model named Dodo. His father wouldn't have approved of Dodo. So much the better. Meanwhile, Davis was writing a novel about l'amour and taking artistic photographs of prostitutes. The bohemian idyll ended when he joined a . . .

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