Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters

Author:  Jane Dunn
Genre:  Biography

Four Stars
Celebrated novelist Daphne Du Maurier and her sisters, eclipsed by her fame, are revealed in all their surprising complexity in this riveting new biography.
The middle sister in a famous artistic dynasty, Daphne du Maurier is one of the master storytellers of our time, author of ‘Rebecca’, ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘My Cousin Rachel’, and short stories, ‘Don’t Look Now’ and the terrifying ‘The Birds’ among many. Her stories were made memorable by the iconic films they inspired, three of them classic Hitchcock chillers. But it was her sisters, writer Angela and artist Jeanne,who found the courage to defy the conventions that hampered Daphne’s emotional life.

In this group biography they are considered side by side, as they were in life, three sisters who grew up during the 20th century in the glamorous hothouse of a theatrical family dominated by a charismatic and powerful father. This family dynamic reveals the hidden world of the three sisters – Piffy, Bird & Bing, as they were known to each other – full of social non-conformity, love, rivalry and compulsive make-believe, their lives as psychologically complex as a Daphne du Maurier novel.

This is a long biography (448 pages), and it shows.  There is much detail; far more than is needed, in my opinion, hence only four stars.  While the author obviously did extensive research, she 'lost' me at times in the overlong details; forcing me to re-read several passages along the way.
Aside from that, again, the author obviously did her research.  It begins with descriptions of the life of the du Maurier parents, which I found fascinating to say the least.  While their mother Muriel was merely a figurehead (my words, not hers), it was their father Gerald who really formed their lives.  Which is not to say that their mother ignored them; quite the contrary.  She was always there to ensure that they remained 'young ladies,' at whatever cost, even going so far as to keep them from knowing the true facts of life (sexual and otherwise).  But it was their father who had the final say: in that I mean it was he who tried to keep them younger than their years; he wanted them to remain children long after they had grown to adulthood.
I mention this because it shaped their later lives.  Angela, the oldest, always considered herself inferior to her other sisters, and there were unkind remarks and the fact that she was stifled by her own mother which didn't help.  Although she wanted to eventually marry and have children, such opportunities always seemed to pass her by.
Jeanne, the youngest, remained, in my opinion, the most independent.  She seemed to have escaped most of what befell her elder sisters and was able to carry on in her own way.  Although it may have been what was best for her, she still had her own demons to face.
But it was Daphne who knew, at an early age, what she wanted.  The closest to her father, she developed some of his theatrical tendencies; yet was able to write some of the greatest literature ever.  Several of her novels have been transformed onto the Silver Screen, and I still watch them today, many years after their being filmed.
It is unfortunate, I think, that their parents should have molded their lives to such an extent that I feel they were not given their own wings to fly, but do not allow this to deter you from reading the book.  It is, indeed, a very good one; and worth it.  It gives a deep insight into the three sisters - of which I knew very little aside from that of Daphne - and a fascinating one at that, delving into their lives which hobnobbed with the illustrious persona of their day, including Laurence Olivier and J.M Barrie (author of Peter Pan).  You will find it a rich biography indeed.

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Dance of the Scarecrows (A Jonathan Wilder Mystery #1)

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