Sunday, 14 June 2020
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!