Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Daphne Du Maurier and her Sisters by Jane Dunn (2014)

Daphne du Maurier (1907 to 1989, UK) was a fantastically sucessful writer.  Her most famous works are Rebecca, My Cousin Rachael, The Jamaica Inn and the short story "The Birds".  Alfred Hitchcock turned several of her works into movies as did other American and British producers.  

Daphne Maurier and her Sisters by Jane Dunn tells the story very well of how Daphne became a famous writer.  Daphne had two sisters, Angela (1904 to 2002) and Jeanne (1911 to 1996), her father was a very highly regarded theatrical director, producer and actor.  Her mother was a former stage actress renowned for her beauty.  The book is a brilliant account of how their theatrical upbringing  influenced their destinies.  Angela was also a novelist and Jeanne was a painter.  Daphne's sisters were both involved in long term romantic relationships with other women.  Daphne also had some romantic ties with other women.  Dunn tells us the theatrical enviorment in which the girls were raised was much more sexually liberal than British society of the period.  A close family friend was J. M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan.  Dunn tells us that Gerald du Maurier, their father, perfectly fit the image of a man who refuses to grow up, basking in the adoration of fans, his daughters and numerous actresses with whom he had extra-marital romances.  He told his daughters about them and they all laughed at the expense of "Daddy's actresses".  The English theatrical world was very gossipy and full of larger than life characters and gorgeous women.  Gerald valued women, he would have called them girls, based on their looks and how much they worshipped him.  This extended to his daughters.  Their mother was an emotionally remote woman.  Dunn suggests that the lesbian relationships, especially of the sisters, were fueled by their mother's failure to provide them full maternal love.  As children their day to day care was by servants.  

     From the right, Jeanne, Angela, and Daphne.  

I really liked this book and learned a lot from it.   The girls lived through two world wars.  I did not know that British women were conscripted by the government for farm and factory work.  Because of their wealth the sisters partially but not entirely avoided this.  Daphne married a handsome young man, with whom she had three children, who became a major general in the British Air Force during the war and was close after the war to the royal family.

Daphne was very generous with her earnings, even then film rights brought in a lot of money, helping her less sucessful sisters.  She was devastated to discover her husband had maintained a long term affair with a female aid.

The true love of Daphne's life was a huge centuries old gothic mansion on tne sea coast of Cornwell, it is the model for Manderlay in Rebecca.    She and her children, her husband was normally on the continent or Lindon on military business, lived there for twenty two years.

        Daphne and her daughters 

Dunn shows us how events in her life influenced her books.  Much of the cream of the theatrical world are talked about.  

We learn a lot about the business side of being a sucessful writer in the period.  Daphne was very close to Ellen Doubleday.  We follow the sisters from infancy to old age.  The girls were very different in some ways but in others we can see deep similarities.  They were very close but one can feel Daphne as overshadowing her sisters.  

Part of the reason i enjoyed this book is I, like Gerald, have three daughters, each one very individual.  

     From the book.  I really like this picture!

Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters by Jane Dunn is a very good literary biography as well as a social history work of value.  I enjoyed it a lot and highly recommend it.

Mel u


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

What a fascinating post and photos. I've enjoyed several books by the author and hope to read them all someday.

Jillian said...

So fascinating. Thanks for sharing these. Maybe it's a sign for me to learn more about her. She's such a great writer.

Mel u said...

Jillian. I love her very atmospheric work. I just read four of her short stories and really enjoyed them nearly as much as Rebecca. Thanks very much for your comment

Mel u said...

Diane Bibliophile by the Sea. Reading all of the work of Daphne du Maurier would be a great reading project. Thanks for your comment