Sunday, 14 June 2020

Daphne Du Maurier and Her Sisters


In September 1926, Daphne Du Maurier and her sisters Angela and Jeanne and their mother caught the Great Western train at Paddington bound for their first visit to Cornwall.  Arriving at Looe they travelled a few miles west towards Fowey and gazed across the harbour at the Boddinick Ferry.  They were overwhelmed by the harbour, the houses and the mystery and beauty of Cornwall.
Daphne knew that here was a place where she could find the freedom and solitude she craved to walk, to row boats and above all to write.  Angela and Jeanne also forged deep connections with the west country and both eventually settled there.

Daphne Du Maurier and Her Sisters by Jane Dunn is a traditional ‘womb to tomb’ biography in one sense but is also unusual in that it is a biography of the three Du Maurier sisters, Angela, Daphne and Jeanne.  They had a very privileged London upbringing as daughters of actor-manager Gerald Du Maurier.  Gerald was friends with J M Barrie who wrote Peter Pan and this book was a huge influence over the lives of the sisters who renacted scenes at home.

Daphne was famously reclusive and remote as a mother and wife, but I suppose the artist has to find time and space to write.  Writing took priority over everything.  Angela wrote, too, but did not have Daphne’s gift for storytelling or her confidence and  willowy elegance.  It seems that Daphne got all the gifts.  Angela recalled meeting a lady who mistook her for the famous Daphne and on realising her mistake turned to her husband and said ‘It’s only the sister!’   Jeanne the youngest sister remains quite elusive in the biography but she became an artist in the Newquay arts colony in Cornwall.
 
I particularly liked the account of the first meeting between Daphne and her future husband the handsome Guards Officer, Tommy 'Boy' Browning who had read her first book The Loving Spirit and sharing her love of boats and the sea set off in his own boat to find her in Fowey.
 
I'd forgotten how much I like to read a good literary biography - if you have any recommendations do let me know! 



9 comments:

Cath said...

What an enjoyable post. I love the sound of this one. Daphne's 'Myself When Young' is delightful if you haven't already read it.

Sharon Wilfong said...

I have not read anything by DuMaurier, but I think I need to start. Also, this "womb to tomb" biography sounds right up my alley.

Karen K. said...

I'd never heard anything about Du Maurier's sisters! I did read an interesting memoir about her last year called Letters from Menabilly by Oriel Malet. Malet was a young writer who was befriended by Du Maurier and they corresponded for years until Du Maurier's death. It's worth looking for if you are a fan.

Cosy Books said...

Have you read The Other Elizabeth Taylor by Nicola Beauman? I thoroughly enjoyed it for being informative without screaming 'Research' with a capital R.
The Du Maurier biography sounds wonderful. To be honest, you had me sold with the image of travelling to Cornwall! Lockdown is feeling very claustrophobic.....

Vintage Reading said...

Thanks Cath, I've not read Myself When Young, I need to stop re-reading Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel and read some of her other novels!

Sharon, Rebecca is the best place to start with Du Maurier, her most famous novel, of course. Do post a review if you read it.

Ah yes, Oriel Malet is referred to several times in the biog I have just read. I would like to read the letters - I love literary letters!

Cosy Books, yes I'm going a little stir crazy and would love a trip to Cornwall. I've not yet read the Taylor biog but I do intend to, like you, I don't like biographies that are heavily 'researchy.'

Nan said...

I haven't even read anything by her, but the biography sounds so very good. Terrific post about it. I've never heard that term "womb to tomb" before. I like it!

Sandra @ acornerofcornwall.com said...

Maybe I shouldn't mention that I live close to where Daphne first fell in love with Cornwall? And I certainly shouldn't mention that it's every bit as lovely as when she arrived, despite the passage of time! You've reminded me about this biography. One that I need to catch up on.

Vintage Reading said...

Hi Nan, Rebecca is a great place to star with DDM!

Sandra, how wonderful to live in that part of Cornwall. I have been to Fowey and I've seen Menabiily, the house that inspired Manderlay. I do like a literary Trip!

Kat said...

I love Daphne du Maurier, and must find the biography. A couple of years ago I read The Parasites, about the fates of the threee children of two actors. I didn't know about du Maurier's father, but perhaps this novel is autobiographical!