Posts Tagged ‘Daphne Du Maurier’

My final post (I promise) for #DDMreadingweek – two days late as well. I got rather carried away with my reading, starting Mary Anne which at 385 pages I knew full well I wouldn’t finish in time. In Mary Anne, Du Maurier has introduced us to an incredible character – and one who came straight from life.

Mary Anne Clarke (nee Thompson) was Daphne Du Maurier’s great great grandmother a woman whose ambition, and love of money and power directed her whole life. This biographical novel is based on the life of the woman who scandalised early nineteenth century London, taking us from Bowling Inn Alley where she was born and raised to the very seat of power.

In this novel Daphne Du Maurier explores the differences in power between men and women – it’s a world of contradictions (what’s changed?) where men can get away with almost anything, and women are vulnerable and judged. In her introduction to this edition Lisa Hilton describes Mary Anne as Du Maurier’s most feminist novel.

Living in Bowling Inn Alley with her mother, siblings and step-father Mary Anne grew up without the benefit of a formal education – she taught herself to read and write.

“Words fascinated her, the shape of the curling letters, how some, by repeating themselves more often, had importance. They had difference of sex too. The a’s the e’s and u’s were women; the hard g’s, the b’s and q’s were all men, and seemed to depend on the others.”

By the age of thirteen she could correct copy for her sick stepfather; a printer in the world of the pamphleteers – pouring out scandal and criticism of the government to anyone with the pennies to purchase the sheets. A benefactor – whose intentions are anything but honourable – steps forward and offers to send Mary Anne away to school. Here she will learn more than mere lessons – she begins to throw off her cockney origins, perfecting her natural poise and charm that she will make such good use of in the years ahead. She also learns quickly about the real differences between men and women.

“Injustice – there was always injustice between men and women. Men made the laws to suit themselves. Men did as they pleased, and women suffered for it. There was only one way to beat them, and that was to match your wits against theirs and come out the winner.”

She marries somewhat hastily at just sixteen to a young man who had lodged for a while in her mother’s house – a young man with a wealthy father – who claimed to have good prospects. Joseph Clarke is feckless and a drinker – cut off by his father – he and his young wife end up living on the sympathies of his brother. A nice house, in a nice area – but Mary Anne wants better – she always wants better – for herself and for the children who soon come along.

Having separated herself from Joseph, Mary Anne enters into the world of the society courtesan. She has a very nice house rent free – where her mother and children live alongside her – and late in the evening, her gentlemen come to call. By the early 1800s Mary Anne’s particular charms have come to the attention of HRH The Duke of York, and he sets her up as his mistress – and the household have to move again – to an even better house. The Duke likes to spend time in a proper home – where he can hear the children running around on the floors above him – and he’s used to a certain standard of living.

Unfortunately, the Duke is not very worldly in matters of money – or so he claims – and so the allowance he gives to Mary Anne for the upkeep of his second home is nothing like enough. In the early days Mary Anne is granted credit everywhere – everyone knows who she is, and under whose protection she exists – but in time the bills come due – and Mary Anne is desperate for money. Everywhere are men who offer advice – making suggestions, tempting Mary Anne with promises of large sums of money.

The Duke of York is the Commander in Chief of the British army – and there are lots of military men keen to get promotions or exchanges – and other men keen to take advantage of Mary Anne’s influence with the Duke. Mary Anne enters into the thriving and very lucrative trade of army commissions.

All good things they say come to an end – and in time the inevitable happens, and Mary Anne is out of favour. Without the protection of the Duke, Mary Anne is vulnerable – but never easily shaken – resourceful and determined – wanting always to protect her younger brother Charley and her three children. The scandal of the trade in commissions ricochets through London, and Mary Anne is obliged to testify in the House of Commons – a woman in a world of men she is often heard to say afterwards. Her testimony leads to the resignation of the Duke as Commander in Chief.

“Dozing, she thought in retrospect how her life had been building up towards this moment, year in, year out, almost from alley days. That early training, as a cockney child, sharpened her wit and made her seize her chances: the schooling at Ham put on a pseudo-polish: marriage with Joseph got the worst over young—so much so, that nothing a man could do, now or in the future, would break her heart. As to the rest… all lovers made some mark. She knew how to absorb the benefit and pass it on, be grateful for the teaching. What she had learned from men, not only lovers, was to the purpose in a man-made world. Therefore, become their equal. Play their game, and add to the game the sense of intuition.” 

Mary Anne continues to chase the life she once had with the Duke – she takes up her pen once more, as she once did back in Bowling Inn Alley. Her writing is destined to take her to court rooms, a prison cell and finally exile in France. Throughout it all, Mary Anne is a woman who it is hard to bet against. She’s a shoulders back, head up kind of woman – no matter what life throws at her – she greets it with her own inimitable poise.

Mary Anne is another compelling story from Daphne Du Maurier – a warts and all portrait of a larger than life character. Du Maurier faithfully recreates the atmosphere of Regency London, as ever her sense of place and period is spot on.

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A quick reminder to you all that you have two days left to take part in #DDMreadingweek. Which means you also have two more days to take part in the giveaway I am running too.

It’s been wonderful to see so many people chatting on Twitter and I have really enjoyed reading all the reviews that have been popping up. Please take time to go to my DDM reading week page and check out the articles and reviews that have been appearing throughout the week, I am doing my best to catch up, and, if there are any I have missed, please let me know. I shall continue to add links after Sunday too – so don’t worry if you’re planning a post for next week.  

You may not be surprised to hear that I have added some Daphne Du Maurier to my tbr too during the week.

The first was a birthday gift from a good friend at work. Letters from Menabilly – a portrait of a friendship. It is the letters from Daphne Du Maurier to the writer Oriel Malet. The collection is edited by Oriel Malet and there appears to be a nice long prologue from Malet in which she discusses how she met the older Du Maurier and the friendship between the two developed.

The second I couldn’t resist – even knowing I wouldn’t be reading it this week. Several people talking about The Parasites on Twitter – convinced me I would love it. The novel concerns three siblings who grew up in the shadow of their famous, theatrical parents.

Not sure when I will get around to reading them – with my tbr the way it is, it really could be a while.

Several people have mentioned/hinted at me doing this again next year. I can’t see why not – if you would like to do this again next year – let me know.

I’m currently reading Mary Anne – but really very unlikely to review it before Monday or Tuesday – I was just enjoying my Daphne Du Maurier reading so much I decided to carry on. Mary Anne is a biographical novel about a real life figure – Mary Anne Clarke – Daphne Du Maurier’s great-great grandmother – Daphne Du Maurier really did have an extraordinary family.

Thank you again to everyone who has been joining in – or cheering from the side-lines – it’s been lovely to see so much enthusiasm for Daphne Du Maurier.

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The kind of book review that I sometimes find the hardest to write is the review of a book that I loved as much as I did this one. This was a book I wanted to carry around with me hugging it to my chest – like a child with a new favourite toy. I wanted to read and read and never have it end. Daphne Du Maurier is that kind of writer – she grabs your attention in those first few sentences and doesn’t let go. I remember that feeling well from when I read Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel – reading Daphne Du Maurier can be drug like which is appropriate when it comes to The House on the Strand.

Probably one of the reasons I hadn’t read this before is because I knew it concerned time-travel and that rather put me off. Ha, it’s a funny old thing this reading malarkey – no time-travel novels ever before – then two in one month. Anyway, I really shouldn’t have been put off – this is time travel Du Maurier style. In this novel Du Maurier blends the past and present beautifully – we become aware of how landscape may change over centuries – yet the basic shape of the land on which we live is essentially unchanged. Houses, whole communities may come and go but the curve of a hill, the sweep of a bay is much the same. We walk in the footsteps of others – those who came before us and who we will never know. I always adored history – and once upon a time I read a lot more historical fiction than I do now. In this novel Daphne Du Maurier celebrates the Cornwall of her present and our collective past – the sense of place is strong, her love of this land palpable.

“The world of today asleep, and my world not awakened, or not as yet, until the drug possessed me.”

Dick Young has been loaned an old house in Cornwall for the summer. Kilmarth belongs to Dick’s friend Professor Magnus Lane. The Professor let’s Dick into a secret – he has been experimenting with a new drug, a drug that will take the user a world away from any problems they may have. Magnus offers Dick the chance to be his guinea-pig – the drug is stored in three bottles in Magnus’s basement laboratory at Kilmarth – Magnus gives Dick his instructions over the phone – and Dick takes his first dose. The drug will take Dick back to the fourteenth century – to the world of Roger Kylmerth steward to Sir Henry Champernoune.

“The first thing I noticed was the clarity of the air, and then the sharp green colour of the land. There was no softness anywhere. The distant hills did not blend into the sky but stood out like rocks, so close that I could almost touch them, their proximity giving me the shock of surprise and wonder which a child feels looking for the first time through a telescope. Nearer to me, too each object had the same hard quality, the very grass turning to single blades, springing from a younger, harsher soil than the soil I knew.”

It’s a world of danger, disease and intrigue, where young monk connives with the lady of the house to bring an end to one thought to be dying. Where allegiances change and adultery can lead to death. With Roger as his unknowing guide – Dick witnesses whispered intrigues, adultery and murder. He is unable to interact with this world – he is an invisible witness – should Dick attempt to touch anyone from the fourteenth century he is brought crashing back to the present, suffering violent nausea, vertigo and confusion.

While Dick’s conscious mind is in the past – his body remains in his own time – so as Dick follows Roger across the Cornish landscape of the past – he could unwittingly be walking under a car in his own time. Dick is aware of the dangers – and is yet to discover whether Magnus’s drug will have any lasting effect upon his mind or body – but it is too late – Dick has been captivated by the past. After just one visit – Dick is longing to return – and keen to ring up Magnus and share his experiences with the only person in the world he can.

In the present time – Dick is waiting for the arrival of his American wife Vita, and her two sons from a previous marriage. He loves Vita and has a good relationship with his step-sons who simply adore him – but Dick is immediately set on preventing Vita arriving too early – he wants a few days to himself to continue his adventures.

It’s not long before he takes another dose of Magnus’s drug. Sometimes the aftereffects are almost non-existent, at other times violent and distressing, Dick has no wish for Vita to see him like that. However, Vita is not easily put off – and arrives two days earlier than expected. The two boys are never happier than when out and about – especially when enjoying boat trips organised by their step-father. Vita is not so easily placated – and senses almost immediately that something is wrong – she is inclined to blame Magnus – who she has never really liked. Vita is anxious to persuade Dick to move permanently to the States, to accept the job she has arranged through friends. Weary after years in a job in London he has tired of, Dick is not ready to make any big decisions.

“I realized at that moment, more strongly than hitherto, how fantastic, even macabre, was my presence amongst them, unseen, unborn, a freak in time, witness to events that had happened centuries past, unremembered, unrecorded; and I wondered how it was that standing here on the steps, watching yet invisible, I could so feel myself involved, troubled, by these loves and deaths.”

Dick gets drawn further and further into the world of fourteenth century Cornwall – taking more and more trips – captivated to the point of obsession by the beautiful, fragile Isolde. As the trips into the past continue and increase, Dick becomes less present in the modern world – everything he is doing is hidden from Vita – and Dick is withdrawing more and more from family life.

The House on the Strand is wonderfully compelling, Du Maurier’s fourteenth century world is a real and credible place – the inhabitants of which become every bit as fascinating to the reader as they are to Dick Young.

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Daphne Du Maurier reading week started yesterday, but I began my reading last week – mainly because I am quite busy, and I wanted to read and review at least two books. I decided to begin with The Breaking Point – a collection of short stories is always a good choice for a busy week. It’s an excellent collection.

Eight stories of suspense that often cross the boundaries of reality, Du Maurier’s imagination is extraordinary – so you never quite know what she’ll throw at you, that’s exciting. In these stories, we see characters who have reached their breaking point. Stories which take us from the residential streets of London, to the wards of a nursing home, to Venice, a fictional European state, Hollywood and the Devon moors.

The collection opens with The Alibi – the Fentons are a dull middle-aged couple – their lives are unchanging, a walk every Sunday afternoon, drinks with the Alhusons, who are just as dull. One day James Fenton can’t take it anymore – and decides he must vary the routine. On a whim – he walks down a different street and selects a door to knock on.

“Fenton took off his hat. The impulse was strong within him to say, ‘I have come to strangle you, You and your child. I bear you no malice whatever. It just happens that I am the instrument of fate sent for this purpose.’ Instead, he smiled. The woman was pallid like the child on the steps, with the same expressionless eyes, the same lank hair. Her age might have been anything from twenty to thirty-five. She was wearing a woollen cardigan too big for her, and her dark, bunched skirt, ankle-length, made her seem squat.

‘Do you let rooms?’ asked Fenton.”

Fenton then enters into a peculiar double life – for months spending his afternoons in the basement room where he takes up painting. Throughout this brilliantly plotted story the reader waits, heart in mouth for something terrible to happen.

The Blue Lenses is surely the most disturbing and memorable story in the collection. Marda West rests patiently in a nursing home, following an operation on her eyes. Her eyes have been bandaged for days – temporary blue lenses have been put into her eyes – which will be replaced by permanent ones after a couple of days. Mrs West has befriended the gentle, soothing nurse who looks after her – arranging for her to spend a week of her holiday nursing Marda in her convalescence (not much of a holiday, I agree). She looks forward eagerly to her husband’s visits. She is eagerly anticipating the removal of the bandages – what will she see through these blue lenses? The operation appears to have been entirely successful, but Marda can’t even begin to imagine what will happen when the bandages are removed.

In Ganymede a classical scholar travels to Venice where he is almost instantly drawn to a young waiter who he casts as his own Ganymede. Utterly besotted he returns to the same bar each evening. However, the beautiful young man also has an uncle, a tout the tourist is unable to rid himself of, the man appears everywhere, even arranging for a change of accommodation. It’s a story that plays cleverly on our own fears and paranoia – and is wonderfully atmospheric but the scene is set for tragedy.  

In The Pool two children return to their grandparents house for their summer holidays. The garden has been there waiting for them all year – and Deborah has spent the whole year dreaming of it – and being back there.

“Surely sometimes it must mock the slow steps of Grandpa pacing up and down the terrace in front of the windows, or Grandmama calling to Patch? The garden has to endure month after month of silence, while the children were gone. Even the spring and the days of May and June were wasted, all those mornings of butterflies and darting birds, with no one to watch by Patch gasping for breath on a cool stone slab. So wasted was the garden, so lost.”

Deborah takes herself off to the pool at the end of the garden – having thrown off her brother – she wants to experience it by herself. Here she enters a secret, alternative world – and one that could be terrifyingly perilous.

Other stories take us to rather less well known locations, a fictional kingdom in Europe in The Archduchess, where revolution threatens to topple the ruling family – who are gifted with the secret of eternal youth.

In The Menace – the least sinister story – a Hollywood movie star has been the darling of the silver screen for years. With the advent of a new medium – ‘the feelies’ he is found wanting – the feeling he gives off just not strong enough. Something must be done.

In The Chamois an obsessional hunter journeys to the Kalabaka in the Pindus mountains of Greece to hunt the elusive chamois. His wife is to accompany him, she doesn’t understand his obsession. The two set out, with a strange, frozen eyed guide who leads them up the mountain to where the chamois have been seen.

In The Lordly Ones, a young mute boy is taken by his parents from their home in Exeter to the moors. No one ever explains anything to him – he is treated cruelly and negligently – so the child’s imagination fills in the gaps of his understanding – leading to even more confusion. My heart broke for this child – who while watching from his window sees The Lordly Ones and decides to join them.

Eight, wonderfully immersive stories – the kind you gulp down, sitting up too late at night. What an endlessly inventive writer Daphne Du Maurier was, I already knew she was a great short story writer – from the Don’t Look Now collection, these are every bit as readable.

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Welcome to Daphne Du Maurier reading week. I started a few days early so I could review at least one book this week. I hope to review The Breaking Point stories tomorrow.

Today would have been Daphne Du Maurier’s birthday – it is also mine. So, it seems appropriate to have a little giveaway in celebration.

I love any excuse to buy books – I’m sure you all know that, so I have bought two new Du Maurier novels that I have enjoyed very much:

Rebecca (1938) Undoubtedly Daphne Du Maurier’s most famous novel. The young Mrs De Winter is haunted by the memory of her husband’s first wife – Rebecca. Having met the handsome Mr De Winter while working as a companion in the South of France, the young new wife accompanies him back to his brooding estate of Manderley. It is a long time since I last read Rebecca – I’ve read it twice – and seen the black and white film. A new Netflix film is currently being talked about on social media with Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs Danvers. It’s a wonderful novel, and there must be someone out there who hasn’t read it or needs a nice new copy so they can re-read it.

Rule Britannia (1972) Was Daphne Du Maurier’s final novel – and an interesting one for many reasons. It isn’t her best novel – but I found it very readable and there are some wonderful characters, I’m sure I’ll read it again. In it Du Maurier imagines a Britain moving away from Europe, embarking on an alliance with the US which begins to look rather like a takeover bid. Warning; it is pretty anti-American – but it perhaps that in itself is interesting in what it tells is about Du Maurier’s thoughts at this time.

So, if you fancy winning one of these two books, just drop a comment below – letting me which you would like to win. You can tell me what your favourite Du Maurier novel or collection of stories is so far and whether you are you joining with #DDMreadingweek. Open worldwide – I will use a random name generator to pick a winner on Sunday May 19th.

I have created a Daphne Du Maurier reading week page here – you can use it to drop in your links to your book reviews and Goodreads status updates or other comments about what you’re reading.

Have a lovely week reading Daphne Du Maurier reading week everyone.

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13th – 19th May 2019

Recently this tweet reminded me of something I had almost forgotten. That I share a birthday with Daphne du Maurier.

I would love to be able to attend the reading group discussion event at the Fowey festival – but of course on a Monday in term time I shall be at work – a long way from Cornwall.

Daphne du Maurier is a writer I have neglected a little bit in recent years. I have read and loved Rebecca, two or three times, and I read Frenchman’s Creek many moons ago, it’s a very memorable one (my new edition was a charity shop find) Jamaica Inn I’ve read twice, and My Cousin Rachel completely enthralled me a few years ago along with the Don’t Look Now stories. I hadn’t read anything else by her until Rule Britannia last month, which I found hugely compelling and reminded me what a wonderful storyteller Daphne Du Maurier was. Coincidentally I had acquired three du Maurier books around the end of last year, since when I have added two more – so the time is ripe for some serious Du Maurier reading.

So, with my birthday this year being on a Monday – which let’s face it – is a pretty rubbish day for a birthday if you’re at work, I decided I would read the Breaking Point stories while the Fowey festival got underway. Celebrating Daphne’s birthday with my own. So, I finally caved in and bought the book. Then I decided perhaps I could even dedicate the whole week to Daphne du Maurier, watch that documentary again and maybe squeeze in a novel as well as the stories. And that I suppose is how a reading week comes about. I’m quite happy to do it on my own, but if any of you want to join me – I would be delighted. I have five Du Maurier books now tbr; The Flight of the Falcon, The Breaking Point, The House on the Strand, The Birds and other stories and Mary Anne. Fairly spoiled for choice.

Anyone fancy it?

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With world events becoming ever more unbelievable – for some of us – there has been a temptation to turn to certain kinds of dystopian fiction. It is surprising perhaps that Daphne Du Maurier’s final novel is being seen by some as being strangely prescient for these troubling times in the UK. While not dystopian fiction of course, Rule Britannia feels like oddly appropriate reading material for the current chaos we find ourselves in.

I’m not certain that this novel was judged very well upon its publication in 1972 – people perhaps thinking the premise rather ridiculous then. Now of course we judge the ridiculous differently all sorts of absurd situations have become perfectly credible in the last few years. Suddenly, Du Maurier’s imagined political upheavals don’t seem so very ridiculous after all.

She set her final novel in the very near future (to 1972), the country divided along similar lines to today, and imagines a new and increasingly sinister alliance with the US.

“The entry into Europe was a flop, a disaster… So what happened? A general election with the country hopelessly divided, then a referendum, and finally the Coalition Government we have today, which has seized on the idea of USUK as a drowning man clutches at a straw.”

Twenty year old Emma lives in Cornwall with her grandmother; a famous retired actress – who in her retirement has adopted a brood of six unruly boys – aged from 3 to 19. It’s a far from conventional household. There’s Andy who climbs out on to the roof to shoot arrows, Sam who cares lovingly for a pet squirrel and an injured pigeon in his bedroom. Joe the eldest, who’s calm, good sense is so often relied upon but has been crippled by his inability to read and write. Terry; the first to have been adopted is a favourite with his benefactress and the housekeeper. Colin the white blond six year old – and his constant companion, three year old Ben, a small black child who has yet to learn to speak. The boys, naturally enough, try hard to teach him all the swear words they know, with rather obvious results. Du Maurier’s characterisation is fantastic, and it is partly what makes this book so hugely readable.

Emma calls her grandmother Mad – a name she once lisped in childhood but which no one else is permitted to call her, she is simply Madam to everyone else. Dottie – Mad’s dresser for forty years is the cook housekeeper for this huge and eccentric household. Emma; frequently frustrated by this house of indulged unruly boys and has been considering going to London to join her father – Pa, a banker with some influence with the government – when she wakes one morning to find the world has gone mad. A warship lies in the harbour – within sight of the house. There’s no TV, no radio and no post, American soldiers are advancing up the beach, and one trigger happy soldier shoots a dog from a neighbouring farm. The UK – having withdrawn from Europe are facing certain bankruptcy and have entered into a partnership with the US – the country now called USUK.

“Mad wasn’t in bed. She was sitting up in her chair by the open window that overlooked the bay, field-glasses to her eyes. She was fully dressed, if such a term could be used to describe her outfit, which was a combination of Robin Hood and the uniform worn by the late lamented Mao Tse-Tung. It was certainly practical for early November on the Cornish coast, if the person wearing it was about to engage in archery or clean a locomotive. Mad was destined to do neither, so far as her grand-daughter was aware, but then you never could be sure what the day would bring.”

This tiny corner of Cornwall becomes a microcosm for the whole country – a major American base – it also feels the brunt of this equal partnership – which very soon begins to look suspiciously like a takeover. Quickly, things begin to change for the residents of this small coastal community, there are road blocks set up along the lanes surrounding Mad’s house and residents are required to show passes to the soldiers who guard them. There is a definite air of tense suspicion and Mad and some of her neighbours are not about to just roll over. However, things are destined to get infinitely worse.

As she approaches her eightieth birthday, Mad enlists the help of her bunch of wonderful lost boys, like some kind of ageing Peter Pan, driving her granddaughter wild with worry in the process. A sudden shocking death brings a whole new level of seriousness to proceedings. Mad is desperate to protect her household, no matter what. With a local farmer, a Welsh beachcomber who lives in the woods, and her doctor as additional support Mad sets out to make things as difficult as possible for the Americans in their midst.

“There’s an expression for it, Emma thought, they call it snowballing. Someone starts something, and it gathers impetus, and more join in, and then there’s an avalanche, and people or property or causes are destroyed.”

This novel is marvellously compelling, Du Maurier’s last novel is a little anti-American I suppose – I wonder how American readers viewed it? – but her storytelling is as good as ever, and she does poke a little gentle fun at the Royal family along the way. I loved Mad and her boys plotting insurrection and rebellion. Du Maurier recreates the arrogant, swagger of the occupier and the divisions created in a community as some side with the occupier while others work to thwart them. It is a novel which is immediately hard to put down, and I devoured quite quickly.

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