Forgive me for my slowness this week -- I've got behind with the blog, as well as everything else. But reading your comments tonight have inspired me to catch up, and report back from Oxford, where I went on Thursday evening, to do a talk at St Anne's College. I was invited there by Kathryn Sutherland, the Professor of English, who reviewed 'Daphne' for the Times Literary Supplement, and she asked me a number of interesting questions about the book, as did the (terrifyingly intelligent) audience of undergraduates, postgraduates and Oxford academics.
The conversation ranged from the significance of ink blots and crossing-outs -- in Symington's letters and the Bronte manuscripts -- to the blurring of biography and fiction, which has also been discussed by several of you in the comments to my last post. Juxtabook, for example, has just asked 'why people have been more hot under the collar about [Daphne] than [Julian Barnes'] Arthur and George?' -- and it's a very good question, though I'm not sure of the answer. Certainly, what I've done in 'Daphne' has several precedents, which I mentioned on Thursday evening -- Colm Toibin's novel about Henry James, 'The Master', for example, as well as 'Arthur and George'. If I was feeling in a scratchily feminist mood, I might have answered Juxtabook's question by speculating that Julian Barnes and Colm Toibin are male novelists, writing about male authors, and that the hotness under the collars might have something to do with me being a woman, writing about Daphne du Maurier, who has often been (quite wrongly) dismissed as an insignificant writer of female romantic fiction.
But... I'm not sure if that would get me very far. And to be honest, the encouraging responses from readers who like my book -- and clearly understand what I'm trying to do -- are more than enough for me to not really mind about the people who don't approve. Sorry -- double negative -- but what I mean to say is that the positives outweigh the negatives. (It's unseemly to boast about good reviews, but suffice to say, they are very heartening. Kathryn Sutherland, for example, wrote in the TLS: "Discovering du Maurier where she set herself, at the insecure and fertile boundary between reality and fantasy, Justine Picardie has produced from these years and events her own remarkable mixture of biography, fiction and critical speculation. 'Daphne' is a literary mystery which borrows from and sheds light on the attested manipulation and dishonest treatment of the Bronte manuscripts by their curators and editors, Wise and Symington. It is also a study of loneliness, obsession and delusion that stretches from Haworth Parsonage in the 1830s to Hampstead in the present day, by way of the private madness and professional dealings of du Maurier and Symington in the late 1950s... ")
Of course, books elicit different responses from different readers, and I can't imagine writing a novel that would please everyone. Especially given the subject of 'Daphne' -- for it is, amongst other things, an exploration of the intensely powerful experience of reading, and also of misreadings; of how we can be haunted by fictional characters; and why a writer's version of 'the truth' isn't always the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
I've just read Maylin's review of my book, and she summed it up far more succinctly than I've just done, with her comment that, "at its core the novel is really about the relationships and inevitable influences - obsessive, spooky, unconscious and yet necessary - between readers, writers and the written word."
I couldn't have put it better myself. Which just goes to prove the final point that I tried to make at Oxford: that as a writer, I hope that my book might be a beginning for someone else, rather than an ending in itself.