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?
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.