Tag Archives: Discovering Daphne

Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – Discovering Daphne Readalong #4

4 stars 4/5

Thanks to Simon lending me his library copy of Don’t Look Now and Other Stories on Monday (after I was able to hunt out my own last weekend), I am able to conclude Discovering Daphne! This copy might have travelled some 200 miles from its home in Manchester, but within the pages of this short story collection I travelled much further, from Venice to Israel, Crete to Ireland.

Don't Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier

Penguin Modern Classics, 2006 paperback edition (first published as a collection in 1971), 272 pages - loan

Don’t Look Now is the first story, and the most famous (made into a film with Donald Sutherland and Julie Christy in the 1970s), was a re-read for me, yet it lost nothing in the telling. I decided on a whim to read all the stories in a muddled-up order instead of one after the other, which I usually do.  I feel it was rather apt to finish Discovering Daphne with the spooky Don’t Look Now on Halloween! Daphne du Maurier is a mistress of atmosphere and as she does in Rebecca where she takes the reader through the gardens of Manderley, she conjures the labyrinthine streets of Venice, romantic by day, haunting and oppressive by night. A couple are on holiday in this beautiful city, there trying to forget the loss of their little girl and mend their relationship, but the story takes a turn for the unusual when they bump into two strange old ladies. Don’t Look Now is probably my favourite short story, or at least it’s my favourite short spooky story. Luckily I hadn’t seen the film the first time I read this (although I have now and I have to admit it’s rather dated but creepy in the way that 70’s horror movies almost inherently are), so I was quite taken aback by the nasty little twist at the end and I found it almost as suspenseful the second time around. This is a brilliant, chilling tale.

Not After Midnight is about a schoolmaster who takes a holiday in Crete. Looking forward to enjoying painting the Mediterranean seascape, he finds that his peace and quiet is shattered by an over-loud American man, named Stoll who is staying at the same hotel with his long-suffering wife. As the story develops, the schoolmaster has a disconcerting feeling that something is not right on his idyllic island. When I first picked up this collection of stories and read Not After Midnight perhaps I was just not in the right mood because I found it a bit dull, but for some reason the second time around it really unsettled me. I think I missed the little hints of what was to come when I read it before and this time I was really absorbed. It is a strange little tale and perhaps would lose something for a reader with no understanding of Greek myth but I really enjoyed it.

In A Border Line Case a young aspiring actress, goes on a journey to Ireland to find an old friend of her recently deceased father. While on the Emerald Isle she is practically kidnapped by the locals and spends an unusual night with her father’s old comrade. I don’t want to give anything away but suffice to say this is one of the more shocking tales in the series! I’m not quite sure whether to think it’s a little too bizarre or just brilliantly nasty.

I enjoyed the descriptions of Jerusalem in The Way of the Cross but wasn’t really gripped by the storyline. All the characters were horrible apart from poor hormonal Mrs Foster and pathetic Miss Dean. This doesn’t normally put me off but I think that perhaps there were just too many different personalities in a short story for me to really be invested in what was happening with them.

The Breakthrough was a curious experimental piece – a mix of the spiritual and scientific (something that du Maurier also plays with in The House on the Strand.) It wasn’t quite my cup of tea and I also wasn’t convinced by how quickly the main character came to believe in the research that he was doing, but it is original and I liked the idea that something amazing could be discovered unbeknown to the rest of civilisation in a little backwater somewhere.

Although some stories in this collection stand out much more for me than others, overall I think it’s a perfect way to dip into du Maurier’s work. It is also interesting to read because it was written much later than her better known novels, so feels quite modern. If you like a good scary story then it’s worth buying for Don’t Look Now and some of the others in the collection are just as dark if not more so. My advice is to make you’ve got a nice cup of tea to take away the chills after reading this one.

The Guardian also chose Don’t Look Now as a reading choice for October – you might enjoy heading over to read the comments and commentary here, or read this excellent review by Simon, my lovely Discovering Daphne co-host.

Did you join in with the Don’t Look Now readalong or have you perhaps been tempted to pick up a copy?

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier – Discovering Daphne readalong #5

5 stars5/5

I’ve been pretty busy lately and left my reading of the fifth Discovering Daphne choice rather late, but I’m rather glad now that I did as my tardiness resulted in me sitting down to read it in a couple of long reading sessions. When my mind is bothered by the to and fro of everyday life there is something really wonderful about holing myself up with a book, and what better novel to consume within thirty-six hours, than the utterly mesmerising Rebecca? I get a little anxious about re-reading much-loved books in case I find them lacking the second time around, but I needn’t have worried.

Avon press, 1971 paperback edition (first published in 1938), 380 pages - personal library

For those that don’t know the plot of this famous book, I’ll try to summarise without giving too much away. Rebecca is written from the point of view of a young un-named woman who while acting as a companion to a rather tactless and sycophantic American woman – Mrs Van Hopper – is introduced to Maximilian de Winter. Our protagonist who is hampered by a crushing sort of shyness and self-consciousness about her youth which she believes makes her terribly unsophisticated and unattractive, however Maxim de Winter is drawn to her in part because of her sweet and innocent nature. It seems that he is running away from some former life, seeking escape in this fresh young personality. When Mrs Van Hopper decides to leave Monte Carlo, where they are staying and go to her daughter in New York, Maxim makes a rather straightforward proposal to our narrator – that she should come and live with him as his second wife at Manderley, his grand estate in Cornwall back in England. The second Mrs de Winter is rapt by the beauty of Manderley and it’s wonderful gardens, yet from the moment that she sets foot in the house she feels ill at ease, not helped by the fact that the housekeeper Mrs Danvers who adored the first Mrs de Winter (Rebecca) looks down on her as an unwelcome intruder and unworthy second mistress to the great house.

Rebecca is a beautiful and disturbing novel about jealousy, hatred and obsession. The narrator, in her innocence should almost be irritating, yet because as a reader I was let into every little moment of her experience, I understood her fears and her little fluttering moments of joy – I sympathised with her as a friend might do. One moment she is full of anticipation and the next minute her spirit is crushed. She adores Maxim and in seeking to understand his feelings for his dead wife her mind runs away with her into dark tunnels, not helped by the disconcerting and ever-present personality of Mrs Danvers who adds to the seeds of doubt in her mind. I had forgotten some of the specifics about how the story plays out so on re-reading the novel I actually felt for the first half of the novel almost sympathetic to Mrs Danvers. Perhaps I thought, she is just looking for the new Mrs de Winter to step up and take charge, but after the fancy-dress ball I had to concede that she was simply cruel and twisted. If I really give her the benefit of the doubt I can see how being in the thrall of Rebecca might have made her that way but it is from the young Mrs de Winter’s perspective that the story is told so it is her that I really feel for.

Antique print of Menabilly, Cornwall - the inspiration for Manderley (from antique-prints-maps.com)

Perspective… I do wonder, how Rebecca would be as a novel if it was told from the point of view of the other characters. How would Mrs Danvers tell the story? How would Rebecca herself describe her life and relationship with Maxim before her death. Normally, I can’t help but have a sneaky respect for the anti-hero in a novel but somehow this just wasn’t so for me when reading Rebecca, but it does make me wonder if had we had Rebecca’s own account (as you might in a Wilkie Collins novel), or the story of her cousin Favel, I might have felt differently. Even though I was mentally in support of the second Mrs de Winter, I have to admit that she is just as blinded by obsessive love for Maxim de Winter as Mrs Danvers is for Rebecca’s memory.

Apart from a fabulous and twisted plotline one of the things that I find so special in Rebecca it is the atmosphere that du Maurier creates. The way that she personifies Manderley, making it into a living and breathing thing. It is part of the narrator’s nightmares and her dreams. I revelled in the descriptions of the gardens and the beautiful images that du Maurier creates, yet, almost every sentence holds a counter-point, an edge of darkness:

“The daffodils were in bloom, stirring in the evening breeze, golden heads cupped upon lean stalks… Too early yet for blue bells, their heads were still hidden beneath last year’s leaves, but when they came dwarfing the more humble violent, they choked the very bracken in their woods, and with their colour made a challenge to the sky.”

The unusual blood red colour of the rhododendrons, associated so closely with Rebecca suggest passion, but also something uncomfortable and unnatural. When the narrator returns to Manderley in her dreams she sees the gardens engulfed by ‘malevolent ivy’ and a ‘half-breed plant’. Reading these sinister and voluptuous  descriptions I was completely drawn into the world of Manderley with our narrator and shared her simultaneous sense of attraction and fear of the place.

I could go on forever about this novel. It is just so beautiful and absorbing, and also utterly unsettling because du Maurier fixes on the dark human fears and emotions that concern us all. As our narrator treads the thin line between perception and reality, so do we as readers question what is reasonable, who is right, and are reminded how slight the divide between happiness and ruin can be. It was also fascinating to read this novel after sampling a wide variety of du Maurier’s works this month. I smiled to myself as I noticed common themes – stormy seas, classical references (the ominous satyr in the garden) and mad urges to drive off a cliff reminded me of The House on the Strand, however even though I notice these trademarks more and more now, I always feel as if I’m experiencing something different with du Maurier. Of all her novels, I think this is the one that really gets under my skin and even though Jamaica Inn will always be my first love, I have to admit that I think Rebecca is du Maurier’s masterpiece.

Do pop over to read Simon’s thoughts at Savidge Reads and tell us what you thought of Rebecca as once we’ve come out of our Manderley haze I’m sure that we’ll do a bit of a wash-up post with links to the Discovering Daphne posts from this month.

I’ll also be putting up my thoughts on the spooky Don’t Look Now and Other Stories tomorrow (belatedly, but rather aptly on Halloween don’t you think?).

Don’t look now, I’ve had a Discovering Daphne blip!

I contentedly spent the week thinking that I would dig out my copy of Don’t Look Now and Other Stories from the attic and tuck up with it over the weekend. After lots of rummaging I finally gave up but unfortunately it was too late to order on Amazon and my local Waterstones had every other Daphne du Maurier book but not that one!

Fortunately Savidge Reads is coming to my rescue and will be lending me his copy when I see him tomorrow so that I can belatedly post about it. I’ve already read Don’t Look Now (and loved it) when I was on a trip to Venice last year, but am looking forward to re-reading it at this spooky time of year and also the other stories which I didn’t get around to at the time but am now really curious about having read Simon’s review.

You can read his excellent overview of the collection here, and if you fancy reading my original post you can find it here.

The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier – Discovering Daphne Readalong #3

3.5 stars3.5/5

“Curiouser and curiouser”, said Alice famously, after descending the rabbit hole to Wonderland and drinking a mysterious draught from a flask. Unlike Alice, whose body becomes etiolated, in The House on the Strand it is our protagonist’s mind that is altered when he drinks a drug concocted by his professor-friend Magnus Lane, and ‘curious’ would be my take on this unusual novel.

Virago Press, 2003 paperback edition, 353 pages - personal library

Dick Young is temporarily staying in the house of his friend, a biophysicist in Kilmarth, Cornwall. He agrees to play guinea-pig in an experiment, testing a drug which appears to have the effect of transporting him back in time to the 14th century. Although Dick’s mind is transported his body remains in the present and as a result he traipses around the countryside oblivious to the existing surroundings until he inadvertently bumps into an obstruction. On each trip, he finds himself witnessing the lives of the people he finds there, in particular a woman named Lady Isolda Carminowe and a steward named Roger who he finds he is compelled to follow. Unfortunately for Dick, his wife Vita and her two sons come to join him in Cornwall from America, which he finds frustrating because it interrupts his visits to the past which he finds he is more and more addicted to. Vita becomes increasingly worried by Dick’s strange behaviour as he is drawn further into his medieval world.

I found The House on the Strand frustratingly slow-going for the first half of the book and I didn’t find myself wanting to pick it up much in the first few chapters. Firstly I was a bit unsure about the pseudo-scientific explanations that Marcus gives for why the drug takes Dick back in time (although in hindsight, this may have been deliberate on the part of du Maurier). Secondly, I couldn’t get to grips with the medieval characters for some reason – compared to the people in the modern day they just didn’t seem as real or as interesting. Again, perhaps this was for a good reason!

I did say on the phone to Savidge Reads today that I found it sad that Dick seemed to be missing out on enjoying the present because of his obsession with the characters from the past and that maybe du Maurier was making a point about this. Since reading Picardie’s Daphne, and a range of du Maurier’s writing I’ve started to see more recurring themes in her novels. At times I felt that Dick’s escapism was akin to du Maurier’s own sense of affinity with other worlds, but I also thought that at times she projected a part of herself onto Vita, the wife left bemused by her distracted husband. This goes to something else which I found interesting about The House on the Strand, which is that it is written from the perspective of a man, but this was initially quite ambiguous and I didn’t attribute the gender of the narrator as male until I had read a few pages in. Daphne du Maurier is said to have been a tomboy when she was younger and after her death it was revealed that she most likely had lesbian relationships (although she never openly admitted this) so perhaps it is not surprising then that she plays with gender and questions of sexuality. There are also strong hints at a homosexual undertone in  The House on the Strand – I’ll need to re-configure my Gaydar if Professor Lane is not supposed to be secretly in interested in Dick (no pun intended), and although it is not suggested that Dick is interested in the Professor sexually, he does feel very connected to him. To add to the mystery, although Dick seems to have next to no interest in sleeping with his wife, he does seem quite spellbound by Isolda! What a mixed-up character.

So, hopefully you can tell by now that I became more and more intrigued by The House on the Strand as it developed. I can’t say that I ever really got into the parts of the book that were set in the 1300s, but I really did enjoy the contemporary parts of the novel. It probably helped that I really curled up with the book properly today and became absorbed in it. It also helped that around page two-hundred, du Maurier starts to work her dark magic and embellishes the story with some nasty little twists and turns. Looking back, I’m not quite sure if I think The House on the Strand is a too flawed to be an example of Daphne du Maurier’s genius or whether some of the flaws that I perceived were actually intended (such as the spurious scientific ideas!). I’m happy to give her the benefit of the doubt, as even though I struggled at times with this book, yet again I’m impressed with her ability to experiment with such varied concepts in her writing and I know that I’ll be thinking about the story of The House on the Strand for years to come.

Mary Anne, by Daphne du Maurier – Discovering Daphne Readalong #2

4.5 stars4.5/5

I read Mary Anne a couple of months ago, and now sitting down to pull together my thoughts, my enthusiasm for this book hasn’t dampened. I was delighted by Mary Anne. I was surprised, because although I always expect wonderful writing from Daphne du Maurier, I anticipated a tough read because it looked from the cover like a dense historical novel. What I discovered instead was a book, packed with with witty lines, and a richly described period setting which creates the backdrop for the story of a fascinating protagonist based on du Maurier’s own great-great-grandmother.

Virago Press, 2004 paperback edition, 320 pages - library loan

Mary Anne, set during the Regency era, follows the rise of Mary Anne Clarke right from being a little girl, living in Bowling Inn Alley, a very poor area of London through her early disastrous relationship with her first husband, who she leaves and then sets herself up in ‘business’ as a high-class prostitute to support her family and lifestyle she aspires to. She catches the eye of the Duke of York, who is beguiled by her beauty and wit. At first it seems that he is the ultimate companion for Mary Anne in her desire to climb the social ladder, however his extravagant lifestyle is not backed by sufficient wealth, leading his mistress to find ingenious ways to keep herself in the style she is accustomed to. It is her entrepreneurship that leads to a huge scandal that shakes up the government and sees Mary Anne boldly fighting her case in the British Pariliament.

I was completely absorbed by Mary Anne. Du Maurier writes her protagonist into life with such passion and skill, making it clear why she makes every decision and how these choices shape her journey through society. Despite being a single-minded social-climber, as a reader I forgave her her every mis-step and couldn’t but help admire her tenacity. From the early days when as a young girl she uses her quick wit, to keep money rolling in by copy-editing in secret, to setting her self up in the house at Tavistock Place, so much of what she does is driven by a desire to provide stability for her family and find it for herself. Of course she also loves her luxuries, and it is this that actually keeps her always only a thin line away from destitution, but also drives her forward and furnishes her with the front she needs to keep moving up. She creates this image for herself, even in the worst of times abiding by idea that it is important to “keep face, to show a bright facade” and that “when faced with a doubtful decision… audacity first.”

Mrs Clarke The York Magnet - Image from The National Portrait Gallery website

“Audacity first” at times leads to disaster for those who have helped her along the way – for example the suicide of her first husband’s brother, who after some bad advice from Mary Anne, loses all of his money on the stockmarket. However, it is Mary Anne’s boldness that makes this such an interesting story and leads her right into the halls of Parliament to hold court there – “…standing before the bar of the House of Commons, the only woman in a world of men.” Mary Anne, is a strongly feminist novel and du Maurier uses the difficulties of the female position at this time juxtaposed with her character’s extreme forthright and wilful behaviour to show just how remarkable she must have been to make the connections and live the lifestyle that she did. Mary Anne is not an angel by stretch of the imagination, but she is a warm and entertaining human being. While she is responsible for bringing the Duke of York to scandal, she never loses sight of the fact that she loved him and it is very hard to call – is she to blame for everything, or is he getting his just deserts for using and disposing of her? Du Maurier lets the reader decide for themselves by simply showing Mary Anne in all her complexity as the story plays out.

"Archers" - Mary Anne Clarke hunting her prey? Courtesy of Madame Pickwick Art Blog

My favourite thing about this book is the humour that runs through it and the fact that Mary Anne never takes herself too seriously. I loved the little touches such as her seal on letters being  Cupid riding on an ass, which must have come from real life. I loved being a party to her inner thoughts and observations of people, “The creature stared at her. The expression was stolid, dumb worship. Could she be slightly mental? Were the eyes a trifle vacant?”  In fact there are so many passages that I would like to quote from this book that I would probably breach copyright if I put them all in.

Satirical Cartoon of Mary Anne Clarke auctioning military commissions from The National Portrait Gallery website

Daphne du Maurier evidently found the story of her great-great-grandmother fascinating, and although according to the introduction in my copy, she didn’t feel as if she had done her justice I can’t disagree more. It makes me wonder actually why on earth this hasn’t been picked up for a film or television series as it is really quite brilliant. If you look at ratings of this book you’ll see it gets around a 3.5/5, but when you read the reviews in detail you can see that opinions are completely polarised between those who don’t like the character, or are disappointed that it’s so different from Rebecca and those how are completely blown away by it.  As you can probably tell by now, I fall into the latter category and I love the fact that it is so different from her other novels and shows again, how versatile an author she could be.

Did you readalong with Mary Anne and if so what did you think? Or have I tempted you with my glowing review :) ?

Daphne Discoveries

A trip to Hitchin, Herfordshire today ended up in a little Daphne discovery! The lovely friend I was visiting took me to this rather lovely bookshop:

20111008-200032.jpg
Eric T.Moore Books is a wonderful treasure trove of a bookshop with a wide selection of used and antique books at very reasonable prices. It has plenty of nooks and corners to discover but books are well ordered (really jumbled shops are a bit of a bugbear of mine).

I went straight to ‘D’ of course and found this little selection…

20111008-200816.jpg
I was very tempted by a copy of The Flight of The Falcon and also an old hardback embossed copy of George du Maurier’s Trilby. In the end I restrained myself and picked up a copy of Rebecca as my Virago edition is buried in the attic somewhere until I have some shelf space!

What do you think? :)

20111008-201305.jpg
I can’t decide if it’s terrible or so bad, it’s good (hasn’t Savidge Reads done a post on naff du Maurier’s covers today…?), but for 50p I couldn’t really complain.

While I was at my friend’s house she also brought out this gem…

20111008-201610.jpg

It seems Daphne is following me everywhere (or I’m following her).

Has anyone made any exciting bookshop discoveries lately, du Maurier or otherwise?

Justine Picardie joins ‘Discovering Daphne’ part 2…

On Wednesday I posted about the wonderful Daphne by Justine Picardie. If you’ve read my review, you’ll know that I was completely absorbed by it, so can you imagine my delight when Savidge Reads bagged us an author interview with the lady in question?

If you haven’t seen it, then make sure you pop over to Savidge Reads and read part 1 of the interview. Now, it’s time for part 2!

In the book, you suggest that the un-named young woman in Rebecca might be Daphne du Maurier herself. What gave you that feeling, and did you yourself relate to the character of the young PHD student?

I think that the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca might represent a partial aspect of Daphne du Maurier herself — in that she had experienced feelings of jealousy about her husband’s previous girlfriend, a dark-haired beauty who subsequently died (a death that appears to have been suicide, after her own marriage). Yet at the same time, it seems to me that Du Maurier also identified with Rebecca — the woman who is at the heart of the novel, and whose name supersedes that of the narrator. When I wrote ‘Daphne’, I was intrigued by Du Maurier’s references to having discovered Tommy’s love letters, written during his former engagement, before his relationship with Daphne began. But of course, the potency of ‘Rebecca’ is that it is fiction, not biography — which is why I was inspired to write ‘Daphne‘ as a novel, rather than biography, albeit one based on real events in Du Maurier’s life, and using her actual letters and diaries as my starting point. As for my own relationship to the unnamed narrator of my novel: I did identify with her, as a version of my younger self — and I share her obsession with Du Maurier and the Brontes (her quest to discover the truth about the Bronte manuscripts overlaps with my own; which itself follows Daphne’s previous researches). And like my narrator, and Du Maurier, I’m compelled by the idea of hauntings, and their different manifestations — whether as literary ghosts, or otherwise…

We’re obviously a smidgen obsessed with the writing of Daphne du Maurier, as we’ve dedicated a whole month to her on our blogs. What is it do you think about Daphne du Maurier’s writing that is so compelling?

For me, it’s her darkness; her unflinching ability to look into our deepest fears and anxieties, as well as our passions. She’s a master (or mistress) of the gothic, yet reinvents the genre into something entirely her own.

You chose to portray Daphne du Maurier in the later years of her life, although through her memories we do get a sense of her as a young woman. What made you choose to write about her at this particular point in her life?

My starting place was the crisis in her marriage in the late 50s — which she characterised as ‘The Breaking Point’ — because it was such a profoundly troubling episode in her life, and seemed to distill many of the elements of her narratives — including the idea of being haunted by her own creation, Rebecca, in the house that was itself the inspiration for Manderley. But this also allowed me to explore the disturbing memories from her childhood, that seemed to rise up again in the midst of her breakdown in 1958, and her cousin’s suicide.

Daphne starts out with the belief that Branwell Bronte has been mis-understood and hopes to find a hidden literary gem to reignite interest in him and prove that he was talented like his sisters. The character of Symington also identifies with Branwell. Do you think that Daphne felt somehow let down by Branwell, as she was by Symington?

I think she did feel let down by Branwell — as she was by her husband at the time, and by Symington. It was as if in rehabilitating Branwell, she had hoped to restore her sense of her husband as heroic, and therefore rescue their marriage. As it happened, her marriage did survive, and her own courage as a writer seems to be to be extraordinary — to go on writing, however disturbing the situation in which she found herself — which is why she is the heroine of my novel.

I find it interesting that although Daphne du Maurier was so inspired by the Bronte Sisters, she was so determined to resurrect Branwell. Despite the fact that she writes female characters that women can really relate to, your depiction of her seems to have had herself more of a closeness or understanding with men. Do you think this is a fair comment, and if so why do you think this is?

I think she has an intensely close connection with all her characters — men and women. One of her many talents as a writer is that her male characters (including the narrator of My Cousin Rachel) are as compelling as the women. If each of them is in part a manifestation of her deepest preoccupations, then she clearly understood men as well as women, and was perhaps also driven to explore her own confusions about sexual identity.

In the book you explore the way in which characters created in literature can haunt people in real life (for example J.M. Barrie’s characters in Peter Pan, inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s cousins, and Daphne herself identifying with the young Mrs de Winter and at other times Mrs Danvers). I also remember reading that the real life Christopher Robin was resentful of being the subject of the Winnie the Pooh stories. Why do you think these fictional characters had such a hold on the real life muses and do you think there is a difference if the likeness is self-imposed (i.e. in the case of Rebecca)?

Hmm, very interesting question, though I’m not sure of the answer. Certainly, Daphne’s cousins, the Lost Boys, appear to have been haunted by their fictional counterparts in Peter Pan, and the long shadow cast by J.M Barrie’s writing (though they were also traumatised by the death of their parents). It’s such a complex relationship, between fiction and reality, the living and the dead, and the playing out of archetypal narratives, where an imaginary landscape also extends into family memories.

I absolutely loved the parallels you drew between du Maurier’s own interest in her literary heroes – the Brontes, and her sort of premonition or curiosity in the idea that people might be researching her and doing their own literary detective work in the future. Do you think that Daphne du Maurier was comfortable with her own notoriety? Did she desire an illustrious literary legacy?

Difficult to know; though I hope she might have been pleased that a new generation of writers (myself included) have reminded others of her remarkable literary achievements, given that she tended to be quite wrongly dismissed by the literary establishment in the past as being the author of romantic potboilers.

Thank you so much to Justine Picardie for taking the time to discuss ‘Daphne’ and Daphne du Maurier with us.

If you haven’t already, make sure you have a peep at Part 1 over at Savidge Reads.

Daphne, by Justine Picardie

4 stars4/5

My copy of Daphne, by Justine Picardie had been sitting on a stack of unread books for some time looking forlornly at me. ‘Why haven’t you read me yet?’ it reprimanded. ‘Why – when you love Daphne du Maurier so, haven’t you picked me up?’

Daphne

Bloomsbury, 2008 paperback edition, 416 pages - personal library

If I’m honest, even though I was interested to read it, I’m not a huge fan of things biographical. I don’t know why (perhaps I’m allergic to real life!), but even if a person is particularly interesting I rarely want to read a biography. With Discovering Daphne on the horizon, I decided it was about time to give it a go. What I found out is that Daphne is the perfect blend of biography and fiction that suits someone like me.

There are three voices in Daphne. Daphne du Maurier herself, who we meet when she is aged 50 and struggling with her husband’s illness and the collapse of her marriage. Then there is John Alexander Symington, a scholar who Daphne has contacted to help her with her research on a new biography that she is writing about Branwell Brontë, the famous black sheep of the Bronte family. Finally, fast forward to the present day, and our third narrator is a young woman who is writing a PhD thesis on du Maurier and becomes intrigued by Daphne du Maurier’s hunt for the truth about Branwell Brontë and the letters between her and Symington which seem to suggest a literary scandal at the heart of them.

What a thoughtfully planned novel this is. Picardie evidently researched Daphne in great depth in order to create what feels like a faithful representation of her at this stage of life, while keeping a light touch in her writing and avoiding it becoming overworked. She also creates clever little parallels in her novel to the du Maurier’s own work which as a literary device really worked for me as I love spotting references. If I was being very critical, I could say that the parallels are unsubtle – for example, the young PhD student if I remember rightly has no name, just as the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca, and suffers the same kind of feelings of inadequacy in her marriage. However this style really worked for me and I believe that Picardie is making her own observation that du Maurier’s depiction of the fears and emotions of the second Mrs de Winter are in fact part of a pretty universal experience that most women have encountered at some point in their lives.

I liked that all the characters in the book were doing their own bit of literary detective work, hoping to uncover a mystery or scandal that they could call their own. Perhaps the one conclusion that they all come to is that real-life stories don’t have a neat key to them.

In many ways, Daphne is a book to curl up with, it’s comforting, especially if you are a fan of du Maurier’s books, because there are elements that feel familiar. However, Daphne is certainly not a frivolous read. Picardie draws out quite a few dark themes around professional jealousy, fear of failure, as well as obsession hinting that Daphne du Maurier suffered from mental health problems, including depression, anxiety and even hallucinations. Symington fights his own emotional issues, and has a temperament which makes him at times detestable and at others, pitiable. It is his feeling of failure that eats him up.

I think it would be remiss of me not to admit that I don’t think Daphne would hold quite as much appeal to people who haven’t read du Maurier’s novels, however I’d like to think that it might inspire those who hadn’t to do so. Picardie’s portrait of du Maurier was to me, utterly convincing, and while in many ways her novel is homage to the author, it is also quite brutal as it explores the darkest corners of her family history. I wonder, if Daphne du Maurier, who used her wonderful skills of observation to expose the deepest corners of her own characters’ souls would have approved?

Just a little dose of Daphne today…

I spent last night out at Bookmarked Salon seeing the wonderful Jane Harris (writer of The Observations) and Carol Birch (Man Booker shortlisted for her novel Jamrach’s Menagerie). I thoroughly enjoyed the readings, which resulted in me adding two more books to the pile (Jamrach’s Menagerie and Jane Harris’ new book Gillespie & I). Is it wrong that I was really excited about reading them after the authors read two slightly gruesome excerpts?

Anyway… I did mean to type up a post sharing some wisdom by way of Daphne DuMaurier quotes last night, but that didn’t happen. I’ll be popping up a proper post tomorrow in the form of a review of Justine Picardie’s Daphne but for now I’ll leave you with three of my favourite Daphne du Maurier musings:

“Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.”

“We are all ghosts of yesterday, and the phantom of tomorrow awaits us alike in sunshine or in shadow, dimly perceived at times, never entirely lost.”

“Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard.”

Daphne du Maurier in Pictures

As part of the first week of Discovering Daphne I thought I would post some images of Daphne du Maurier in her different stages of life. The expression ‘the eyes are the window to the soul’ seems so apt in the case of this author whose cool gaze suggests such stormy waters under the surface.