Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller

Often, the subtitle of a book almost seems like an afterthought, a way of cataloging the book but not really significant.

In Daphne Du Maurier, by Margaret Forster, the subtitle is everything. This bio definitely focuses on the bisexual aspect of du Maurier that Forster uncovered during her research and the full scope of which, according to the Afterword, her children didn't know.

While I was reading this bio, I kept wondering whether Daphne would have been the success she was had even one of the conflicting elements that went into her story been different. She was the golden girl of a notorious family--her grandfather was a renowned Victorian illustrator and novelist and her father a successful and flamboyant actor--and living up to her family name clearly was extremely important to her. From her earliest memories, she portrays herself as sexually confused--seeing herself as a boy, wishing she was a boy, and feeling that she had to put her boy in a box. She found artistic as well as psychological and sexual relief in her writing to the point where she came to see the writer within her as a separate self, a "demanding other self" that was "placated only by writing," which drew her away from attending to her other demanding roles of wife and mother.

Thinking about Daphne's story, and having read Justine Picardie's novel Daphne: A Novel recently, I can't help but think about my adolescent logic (derived mostly from healthy doses of the Brontes, Fitgzerald, Thomas Wolfe, and Daphne herself) that went something like this:
1) All writers are tortured souls who must be miserable in order to write.
2) I don't want to be miserable.
3) I cannot be a writer.

I'm not a teenager anymore and writing has brought me great joy, but like I said, I can't help wondering whether she could have written Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel or The Scapegoat or The House on the Strand if she hadn't felt miserable, trapped, scared, driven, insecure, or, at times, a bit psychotic.

This was a fascinating bio, well-written, well-footnoted, and best of all, Forster is a pro at clearly marking where she is speculating. She also does a superb job at reading between the lines of Daphne's letters and highlighting inconsistencies, which usually are quite telling. She provided a nice mix of analysis of the stories and novels, interesting anecdotes about their publication, and, like Daphne herself, provided a wonderful sense of place as she followed Daphne from London to Cornwall to Egypt to Italy, etc.


  1. Hi Jane! Thanks for posting a comment on my blog ( ). I have visited your website and blog. They are both great!!! I have also read some of your short stories and I'm going to tell my students about them. They are engaging stories. I can hardly wait to read the rest. Congrats!

  2. Thanks so much for your lovely comments and for stopping by, Patricia. I'm thrilled that you are passing along my stories to your students who are learning English.

  3. Thanks for sharing yout thoughts on Daphne Jane. I had noticed Daphen: A Novel at work, and said ah ha, I want to read it. But alas, my reading list is so full, I am behind, but I will remember both of these and get to them, eventually! Jane Austen sequels are calling me now!

    Cheers, LA

  4. I've heard so much about Du Maurier and need to read her one of these days! Maybe this year will be the year ...

  5. LA and Dorothy - I definitely enjoyed my little foray in Daphne du Maurier land. She's a very interesting author to read and an interesting person to read about.