Author: Daphne du Maurier
Publication: Arrow Books, paperback, 1993 (originally published in 1977)
Occasion: Daphne du Maurier Reading Week
My Impressions: This is a slight book based on the author’s recollections and the exhaustive diaries she kept from 1920 when she was 12 until she married in 1932, but covers a lot of territory. To me, the two most interesting things about Daphne were that with little traditional education she became a writer of amazing imagination and wide scope and her incredible passion for Cornwall. She reflects on both in this memoir:
‘Daphne,’ announced Miss Druce after a short story competition in the class [about 2017], ‘has written the best short story but . . .’ she paused, ‘but with the worst handwriting and the worst spelling.’She writes about being entranced by a childhood visit to a great home, Milton, in Peterborough. She reveals that Milton and Menabilly, the house in Cornwall she first loved from a distance and then moved into with her husband years later, inspired Manderley. When the du Mauriers decided to purchase a holiday home in Cornwall, Daphne is immediately enamored of the area and feels at home. She makes excuses to stay behind and write when her parents and sisters go back to London. Later, she and her sister Angela discover Menabilly, a house with a three-mile-long driveway.
‘I don’t like it,’ said Angela firmly. ‘Let’s go back.’
‘But the house,’ I said with longing, ‘we haven’t seen the house.’
The following day we . . . walked acoss the park and through another gate, and came to the house. Grey, still, silent. . . But with all her faults she had a grace and charm that made me hers upon the instant. She was, or so it seemed to me, bathed in a strange mystery. She held a secret – not one, not two, but many – that she withheld from most people but would give to one who loved her well.
|Daphne and children at Menabilly|
There were several men in the shop, but Betsy recognized the Christus before he put down his tools and turned to greet them.
Back home, the pictures of this large bearded man had aroused in her a slight unreasonable resentment. It had seemed presumptuous in any human being to appear in the role of Jesus. This feeling melted before his warm unaffected smile.
He was slightly stooped, and wore work clothes, dusty from his craft. He had flowing light brown hair and beard, and a strong face with keen, humorous, light-blue eyes. His stoop was humble but his whole manner expressed a simple natural dignity.
Betsy and the Great WorldObviously, Daphne’s family connections help her get essays published before she starts writing books but she is genuinely independent and soon establishes herself as a writer. She could easily have lived with her family in London and got some type of editing job and socialized at night but she rejects that life to live at least part of the year in Cornwall where she enjoys being on the water as well as her solitary writing.
Daphne is not stage-struck or even interested in acting so it is surprising when she is invited to audition for the lead in The Constant Nymph. In a different kind of book, this would result in getting the part and imminent stardom. I liked instead that she felt she did poorly and forgot about it. Then it turns out a year later that her father and Ivor Novello found it quite good and talked of her doing a film in Budapest (I wish someone would discover me and magic me away to Budapest!).
I probably could have lived without endless descriptions of the flirtation with her much older married cousin and her father’s suspicion of this relationship but failure to stop it. I much preferred Daphne’s description of being swept off her feet by her future husband, who read her book, heard it was based on Fowey in Cornwall, and went down in his motorboat to see it and the author. She meets him in April and is engaged by June, although she had a boyfriend already. Admittedly, her marriage did not live up to the early romance.
I enjoyed the description of the creation of her first book, The Loving Spirit, and I promise to read that book next year, Ali!
Source: Personal copy. One unexpected reaction to this book was that the picture of young Daphne on the cover reminds me very much of my grandmother, born seven years after Daphne. I have her copy of Jamaica Inn, a beautiful edition tooled in gold.
Last year I read Hungry Hill for Daphne du Maurier Reading Week.