Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The Lavender Trust -- ten years old

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the Lavender Trust, the charity I set up after my sister Ruth died of breast cancer at the age of 33. It's also her birthday -- hence the date we chose for the launch of the charity -- and had she lived, she would have been 44 tomorrow. I'm feeling such a mixture of different emotions right now. Part of me is in an organisational frenzy, because there's a huge fundraising event taking place tomorrow night, upon which a great deal depends (the Lavender Trust raises all the money for Breast Cancer Care's services for women under the age of 50 -- and 8,600 new cases are diagnosed each year).
But now I've just stopped for a few minutes -- stopped running through the lists for tomorrow night, stopped sending emails, stopped fretting about who is coming, and how much is being donated -- and I'm thinking of my sister. I miss her so much; I wish so much that she was still alive -- still my best friend; still the person I could turn to on dark days, and to celebrate all the good things in life, too... Of course, time heals -- that old adage, often repeated to the newly bereaved -- and I am healed, in that I no longer feel as if part of me has been severed and lost forever. But you don't stop loving someone, just because they have died. You can't turn off love, and make it go away, however many years have passed since the one you loved was still alive.
And that's a kind of miracle, isn't it? That love survives the passing of time, and does not fade, even as we grow older, and more faded. It's like a kind of springtime; the capacity of love to renew itself, with the changing of the seasons, and the turning of the years.
Thus Mayday will always be Ruth's birthday, in my heart.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Miss Austen Regrets

Did anyone else watch this on BBC1 tonight? I enjoyed it immensely -- I thought the script was excellent (based on Jane Austen's letters, apparently), and Olivia Williams was perfect as Austen.
But I wondered -- would I have liked it as much if I knew as much biographical detail about Jane Austen as I do about, say, Charlotte Bronte? What do the Janeites make of it? Were you annoyed by the liberties taken with the truth? For example, that in reality, she wrote anonymously, but in the film, she is feted and recognised?

Friday, 25 April 2008

Paul Gallico: "Flowers for Mrs Harris"

I've just bought my fourth copy of this -- second-hand -- from amazon, because I've given the other three away as presents to friends. It's such a lovely book -- hence the fact that I want my friends to read it -- so why is it out of print? I'm sure I'm not the only reader who returns, over and over again, to Paul Gallico's story of Ada Harris, a London cleaning lady who scrimps and saves in order to buy herself a Dior dress from Paris (hence the alternative title in American editions: Mrs 'Arris Goes To Paris).
It's one of the most evocative books I've ever read about the emotions threaded through our clothes -- about how what we wear on the outside is sometimes an indication of what lies beneath (which is a theme of my previous book, "My Mother's Wedding Dress"). The Dior dress cannot transform Mrs Harris back into a young girl -- 'the creation worked no miracles, except in her soul' -- but a kind of magic is nevertheless woven into its seams, and survives the material damage wreaked on its fabric, so that by the end of the story, "Mrs Harris hugged the dress to her thin bosom, hugged it hard as though it were alive and human..."
Now, I'm off to bed, to re-read it for the twentieth time -- and it never fails to make me laugh, and also tug at my heart.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Shakespeare's sister

Given that today might -- or might not -- be Shakespeare's birthday, it seems as good a day as any to remember Virginia Woolf's summoning up of his unknown sister in "A Room of One's Own". I love this passage -- yet another of Woolf's wonderfully imaginative reinventions -- which never fails to inspire me, however tired or despondent or disconsolate I might be.

"I told you in the course of this paper that Shakespeare had a sister; but do not look for her in Sir Sidney Lee's life of the poet. She died young -- alas, she never wrote a word. She lies buried where the omnibuses now stop, opposite the Elephant and Castle. Now my belief is that this poet who never wrote a word and was buried at the cross-roads still lives. She lives in you and in me, and in many other women who are not here tonight, for they are washing up the dishes and putting the children to bed. But she lives; for great poets do not die; they are continuing presences; they need only the opportunity to walk among us in the flesh."

Monday, 21 April 2008

Charlotte Bronte's birthday

I couldn't let today end without remembering it as Charlotte Bronte's birthday. She was born, as I'm sure you already know, on April 21st 1816, in Thornton; the third daughter of Maria and Patrick Bronte. Charlotte was named after Maria's youngest sister. Maria's first child, also named Maria, had been born in 1814; a year later, she gave birth to her second daughter, on February 8th 1815, who was named after an elder sister, Elizabeth.
Thus by the time of Charlotte's birth, Maria Bronte had three daughters under the age of three.
Branwell was born the following year (June 26 1817); Emily on 30 July 1818; and Anne on 17 January 1820. Six children in six years... Poor Maria. Patrick moved his family to the parsonage in Haworth in April 1820. By the beginning of the following year, it became clear that Maria was mortally ill. She had cancer (probably of the uterus), and died on 15th September 1821. In the days before she died, she cried out, over and over again, 'Oh God, my poor children.'

Sunday, 20 April 2008

In the library at the Bronte Parsonage

So, here we are in the library at the Bronte Parsonage. The bookcases are full of treasures, and Tessa Montgomery, Daphne's daughter, is looking at the manuscripts of Branwell's poems that her mother bought from Symington, and subsequently donated to the Parsonage, after she had finished writing "The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte".
It's 50 years since Tessa was in Haworth with Daphne -- and she says the Parsonage looks almost exactly the same. The only disappointment is that she remembers being fascinated by the Bronte childrens' handwriting on the walls of their bedroom; but now, on this return visit, Juliet Barker (standing behind us in the picture, with the blonde bob) has revealed the rather less romantic news that the Bronte 'handwriting' was faked at the turn of the century by a local decorator, working in the Parsonage at the time.

You can also see Ann Dinsdale in this picture -- she is the collections manager at the Parsonage, and like Juliet Barker (a former curator), was immensely helpful to me when I was researching "Daphne".
Anyone who has read the book will know that the library is the setting for an episode in the modern narrative strand, when Rachel 'borrows' the Symington papers that are kept locked away here, decades after he was dismissed from his job as curator and librarian, after various Bronte manuscripts and relics went missing. In fact, as I explained during my talk at the Parsonage on Friday evening, I didn't emulate either Rachel (or Symington before her) by turning into a thief! I was allowed to spend a day reading through the Symington file, which revealed, amongst other things, that he had been the last person to have the Honresfeld manuscript -- the lost notebook of Emily Bronte's handwritten poems.
I'm hoping that someone will read "Daphne", follow the clues within the story, and finally track down that elusive, priceless notebook.
Good luck to any of you who are already on the trail!

Saturday, 19 April 2008

A Bronte Parsonage mystery

I'm just back home from Yorkshire, and it's very late, so I'm probably going to sound incoherent about last night's event at the Parsonage, but here's a quick report, and I'll do a proper one tomorrow. I traveled up to Haworth from London with Tessa (Lady Montgomery), Daphne du Maurier's daughter; and it was the first time she'd returned to the Parsonage since she'd gone there with her mother, when Daphne was researching "The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte", 50 years ago.
It was suitably wuthering when we arrived yesterday afternoon -- bitterly cold, and a low grey sky, so the Parsonage looked at its most mythically bleak. But inside all was warm and humming with voices.
The talk had sold out -- people came from all over the country, and one particularly dedicated woman had traveled from Toronto especially for this event, much to my amazement. (Thankfully, when I spoke to her afterwards, she said she'd thoroughly enjoyed it, and the long journey was worthwhile.)
I felt quite emotional about the whole experience. The Parsonage was where the idea for 'Daphne' rooted itself in my mind, when I was there over five years ago, researching the chapter on Charlotte Bronte's ring in my previous book ("My Mother's Wedding Dress"), and first heard the whispers about the scandals surrounding the former curator, Alex Symington. And it was on a subsequent visit there -- soon after I'd been asked to write the introduction to a new edition of du Maurier's biography of Branwell -- that I began to piece together Daphne's connection with Symington, as well as the mystery of the missing notebook of Emily Bronte's poems...
So to return there, to talk about my finished book, alongside Daphne's daughter, was quite extraordinary. What made it even more emotional (for me, at least) was that the Parsonage had brought out the original manuscripts of Branwell Bronte's poems that Daphne had purchased from Symington, and later donated to the Parsonage (or perhaps returned them to their rightful home, given the shady circumstances under which Symington had acquired them). Added to which, one of Symington's nephews was in the audience last night, and afterwards, he told me a story that I had never heard before, about Alex Symington's murky involvement with a forged Bronte letter... So the story I told in "Daphne" had a sequel last night...
Anyway, my head is literally spinning, so part two tomorrow...

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Ghosts at the Bronte Parsonage

I've been so inspired by the comments in response to the last post -- including Maylin's marvelous story (please do check it out!) about Bronte ghosts, that I wanted to tell people about a visit I made to the Bronte Parsonage in the summer of 2006, to attend a seance. I wrote about it for the Sunday Telegraph and I hope you enjoy it. It even has a du Maurier connection, in the form of Henrietta Llewelyn Davies -- great grand-daughter of Sylvia Llewelyn Davies -- who will be taking part in the event I'm doing at the du Maurier festival in Cornwall on May 10.
Anyway, tomorrow I'm returning to the Parsonage, but this time with Daphne du Maurier's daughter, Lady Tessa Montgomery. I'll report back if we see any ghosts, in the form of sheep or otherwise...

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Virginia Woolf in Haworth

I've just been re-reading Virginia Woolf's account of her visit to Haworth in 1904 (to get me even more in the mood for my expedition there on Friday). She's got a nicely wry streak in her account:
"I understand that the sun very seldom shone on the Bronte family, and if we chose a really fine day we should have to make allowance for the fact that fifty years ago there were few fine days at Haworth, and that we were, therefore, for the sake of comfort, rubbing out half the shadows in the picture."
I'm hoping for a fine day on Friday, before the evening event I'm doing at the Parsonage, and then some brilliant early morning sunshine on Saturday morning, so that I can walk up to Top Withins and imagine myself into Wuthering Heights, before catching a minicab from Bronte Taxis back to Keighley train station.
It's true. They are called Bronte Taxis. No sign of Branwell at the wheel, though... He's too busy swigging gin and telling tall tales to the tourists at the Black Bull.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Branwell Bronte...

... is very much on my mind this evening, partly because I am gathering my thoughts before doing an event at the Bronte Parsonage Museum on Friday (with Lady Tessa Montgomery, Daphne du Maurier's daughter, who went with her to Haworth in the 1950s). And also because he remains such a shadowy, enigmatic figure. Alice -- who commented on the previous post -- has done some very interesting research into Branwell, as you'll see if you read what she's just written.
But no one has yet found "the novel in three volumes" that Branwell referred to writing in a letter to a friend. It's possible he never finished it -- that his writing was fragmentary, clouded by alcohol and opiates. And yet he showed such promise in his early writing in the Angrian Chronicles -- the imaginary landscape that he constructed with his sister Charlotte -- that you can see why Daphne du Maurier was so hopeful of proving his literary worth, and rehabilitating him with her biography.
As for Branwell's affair with Mrs Robinson, the wife of his employer, when he was working as a tutor, alongside his sister Anne, at Thorp Hall -- well, there are a number of differing views on this. Du Maurier believed it was a fantasy -- as colourfully imagined as an Angrian romance. Juliet Barker -- who is usually the definitive authority on all things Bronte -- says that the evidence does point to Branwell having an affair. Me? I can't make my mind up, even after spending several years reading around the subject. It's this uncertainty that continues to make Branwell a tantalisingly mysterious figure; and it's also why I'm guessing -- or should that be hoping? -- that there will be other manuscripts by Branwell that turn up in the next few years.

Monday, 14 April 2008

After the British Library...

Just back home, and feeling almost too tired to write. Anyway, it was a really interesting evening at the British Library. Rebecca Fraser, who is the president of the Bronte Society, as well as a biographer of Charlotte Bronte, was brilliant at chairing the proceedings, as well as contributing her expertise; and the audience -- an extremely knowledgeable lot -- asked me questions about everything from Freemasonry (Branwell and Symington were both members of a masonic lodge) to spiritualism. There were several descendants of Symington in the audience, who fortunately like the book. They said they saw it as a sympathetic portrayal of him... Anyway, lots to think about tonight... I'm hoping Cristina will pop over from the Bronte Blog, with some more information on Branwell Bronte and Freemasonry.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Virago Modern Classics in the Sunday Telegraph today

I've posted the link to my article (over on the left), in case anyone wants to read it. Thanks to all of you who contributed to such a lively debate last month (the comments ran to over a hundred, as you'll see if you go back to the various Virago posts in March).
I haven't yet seen the finished copies of the new VMC books that will be published next month, but the covers do look very attractive -- I particularly like the Cath Kidston rose print for "Diary of a Provincial Lady". Anyway, you'll be able to see them all in the Telegraph piece. I'll be interested to know what you think of them.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

British Library on Monday...

I'm doing an event with Rebecca Fraser on Monday at the British Library, which I think will be interesting (not least because this is the home of T.J Wise's collection; and Wise -- for anyone who hasn't read 'Daphne' -- was a former president of the Bronte Society, tainted by a scandal that I explored in an article for the Times last month). Anyway, here are the details of the BL event, in case anyone can come:

Possession: A Brontë Mystery

Monday 14 April 2008

The trail that leads to the Brontë manuscripts is a shadowy one, crossing continents and centuries, and over the borders into criminality. Justine Picardie's new novel, Daphne, is based on her research into a true literary detective story, uncovering a series of forgeries and thefts. She will be in conversation with Rebecca Fraser, the acclaimed biographer of Charlotte Brontë, discussing the whereabouts of missing manuscripts, and the obsessive collectors through whose hands they passed.

Justine Picardie is author of four books including My Mother's Wedding Dress and Daphne (Bloomsbury , March 2008) and writes for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine and Harpers Bazaar. Rebecca Fraser is a writer and broadcaster. Charlotte Bronte (Vintage) and A People's History of Britain (Pimlico) are her most recent books.

Event time: 18.30-20.00
Location: Conference Centre, British Library
Price: £6 (£4 concessions)

Thursday, 10 April 2008


I'm looking forward to reading a new book by Piers Dudgeon, who I met a couple of years ago at the Du Maurier festival in Fowey, when we did an event together on Daphne and the macabre. It's called 'Captivated: J.M Barrie, the du Mauriers and the Dark Side of Neverland', and I've just emailed Piers, asking for a proof copy, as soon as they are available. I avoided making Barrie a central character in my novel -- (and yes, I confess, I was a bit spooked by Barrie's promise to curse anyone who attempted to write about him after his death!) -- but he is definitely a presence in 'Daphne', standing in the stage wings. He's such a mysterious, enigmatic character; far more elusive, I think, than Johnny Depp's portrait of Barrie in "Finding Neverland" (though Depp is never less than interesting to watch). On the basis of previous conversations with Piers, I know that he sees Barrie as deeply sinister, and that certainly comes across in the synopsis of his book, which I'm including here:

"Captivated" is a true story of genius and possession. The background is the turn of the century, when a late-nineteenth-century world of mesmerists, psychics, trancers and table-turners gave way to a new twentieth-century age of psychology. The central character is the creator of Peter Pan, the famous novelist and playwright J. M. Barrie, a man tormented by inner demons since childhood. Barrie developed a consuming interest in the du Maurier family, beginning with George du Maurier, author of "Trilby", a bestselling novel featuring his creation Svengali. In "Trilby", George showed how it is possible, by means of hypnosis, for one person to gain control over the mind of another. Barrie made his move on the du Maurier family immediately after George died, assuming George's mantel and using his ideas to dominate both his daughter Sylvia and his son Gerald.Soon Barrie was 'Uncle Jim' to Sylvia's five sons and Gerald's three daughters, playing romping games of adventure and make-believe, and inviting the children into the transcendental world of Neverland. Four of the boys (the 'lost boys' of "Peter Pan") and one of the girls (the imaginative tomboy Daphne) were captivated.
This fascinating book delves deep, makes links and yields up secrets. It is a story of bliss corrupted by greed which masquerades as supernatural power. It tells how Barrie's victims - whom he would have not grow up - were lost to breakdown, suicide or an early death when they did. Daphne du Maurier, author of "Rebecca", emerges as the lost boys' surprise companion and the enigmatic chronicler of their fate."Captivated" is about writing and the world of the imagination: it is a singular example of art being used not only to imitate life, but darkly to transform it. Piers Dudgeon knew Daphne du Maurier and worked with her in the 1980s. When he discovered that she had put a moratorium on publication of her adolescent diaries until fifty years after her death, he was prompted to begin his researches into her background. What was the mystery that had Daphne been so keen to suppress?

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Last night in Hampstead

There was such a lively audience at my talk at Hampstead Waterstones yesterday evening -- and as an event, it felt unusually atmospheric, because we were a stone's throw away from Daphne's childhood haunts, and from the graveyard in Church Row where the Du Mauriers are buried. Lots of good questions from the audience -- including one about Gertrude Lawrence's relationship with Daphne (Gertie was Noel Coward's favourite actress; and she was the last of Gerald du Maurier's lovers). I said that I didn't know the definitive answer to the question -- did Gertrude and Daphne have an affair? -- because I wasn't in the bedroom, though obviously, the speculation has been intense. In a way, what I think is more revealing is the blurring of boundaries -- hence Gerald's affair with Gertie, a young actress not much older than his daughter, at a time when he was intensely jealous of Daphne's romantic relationships with other men (including her cousin Geoffrey, who was the same age as Gerald, and a great friend of his).
What does everyone else think?

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The morning after the night before...

Or rather, the afternoon, because I have been taking my son to the orthodontist this morning (and oddly enough, given crimeficreader's earlier comment, I was at the dentist myself yesterday, but she will be glad to hear that my teeth stayed firmly in their sockets, praise the lord).
Anyway. I am impressed to discover that you are such sensible people, far more interested in Virago Modern Classics than George Clooney. Nevertheless, having introduced him to the proceedings, I feel it my duty to report back.
He was, as you suspected, a little smaller in life than he is on the screen. But his smile was even more dazzling. He was very polite, and did that thing of making sure that he looked everyone in the eye, for the few moments he was talking to you, thereby proving that he shares something in common with good politicians.
I can also reveal that he turns out to be a fan of David Gray (the singer-songwriter). So, there you have it. George Clooney for president (or governor of California?), with a heartfelt campaign tune.
Anyway, back to books. I'm off to Hampstead this evening at 7pm, to do that talk at Waterstones. I think it is safe to say that George Clooney will not be in the vicinity. But I hope you will be. And I''ll have that free book with me for the first person who says the special blog password -- Dear Brutus -- which, as blogreaders will know, is the title of the play by J.M. Barrie in which Gerald du Maurier starred, and the ten year old Daphne watched in the audience, before she burst into tears.

Monday, 7 April 2008

George Clooney

OK, so here's a sudden, yet urgent change of subject. I am having dinner tonight with George Clooney. It's not just me and him, I hasten to add -- there will be several dozen others. But nevertheless, I shall be in the mighty presence of Gorgeous George Himself. The prospect is somewhat discombobulating. I have been a fan since he played Dr Ross in ER -- over a decade ago -- and I'm beginning to feel nervous about tonight, because of course, George will have no interest whatsoever in saying hello to me, and this may ruin my long-lasting, though entirely one-sided, relationship with him. Perhaps screen idols should remain celluloid, rather than being made flesh?
Also, although George and I are about the same age, meeting him is guaranteed to make me feel ancient.
But I can't NOT go, can I?
Am off to brush my teeth, put on my heels, etc etc. Will report back later.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Hampstead Waterstones: free book, from me to you...

I'm going to be talking about 'Daphne' at Hampstead Waterstones on Tuesday at 7pm. I'll also have a copy of the novel with me, and the first person to comment here, who can come along to Hampstead on Tuesday, will be presented with said book afterwards: signed, sealed, delivered, it's yours.

Saturday, 5 April 2008

Menabilly reading

Whenever I do an event at a bookshop or literary festival, and people ask about Menabilly, Daphne du Maurier's house in Cornwall, I am reminded how powerful a pull it still exerts: perhaps because it is so entirely hidden from view, and closed to visitors: or as du Maurier herself described it, "the house of secrets". But you can read about it in the following books, all of which open doors into Menabilly.

1. Rebecca: obvious, I know, but Manderley was inspired by Menabilly, and its descriptions of the estate are not only evocative, but geographically accurate.
2. My Cousin Rachel: another of Du Maurier's novels set in Menabilly, and just as atmospheric as Rebecca.
3. The King's General: du Maurier's fictionalised account of Menabilly's role in the English Civil War. She was partly inspired to write the story after discovering that a skeleton -- allegedly of a young Cavalier -- had been found walled up in the buttresses of Menabilly by a previous owner.
4. A Daughter's Memoir by Flavia Leng: a compellingly written account of a Menabilly childhood by du Maurier's younger daughter, which provides a rather less romanticised version of their life there. (For example, she writes that her older sister, Tessa, was deeply unhappy: "She says three things stand out in her mind about her childhood at Mena: the cold, the hunger and the wretched rats; and I suppose you could add loneliness.")
5. "Letters from Menabilly": a volume of correspondence between Daphne du Maurier and her friend, Oriel Malet. It's filled with wonderful vignettes and insight, and I find myself re-reading it over and over again.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Home again.

All went well in Oxford yesterday, though I've been stricken with a horrible virus today, and am writing this with a streaming nose and feverish head (just as well that this virus can't be spread via the computer). Anyway, it was a beautiful spring afternoon when I arrived in Oxford, and I went for a wander around Jericho, where I lived as a child. Standing in front of our old house, on Richmond Road, I was so overcome with nostalgia that I found myself gazing in through the window, on the verge of tears. Fortunately, the very amenable owner didn't take offense, and asked me in for a cup of tea after I told her that I'd grown up in the house. It was all just as I remembered it -- my little bedroom on the top floor, overlooking the garden with its apple and pear trees. Even the miniature box hedges were still there, which edged my mother's herb garden.
By the time I got to Christ Church to do my event in the evening, I'd fallen in love with Oxford all over again -- the twilight gathering in the meadows behind the college, the bells ringing out from the tower. It's such a seductive place.
Anyway, my event sold out -- hurrah! -- and it was such a lovely audience, including some midwives who had come all the way from Glasgow, and who bought three copies of 'Daphne' each, and could quote lines from Branwell Bronte's poetry. ('Why dost thou sorrow for the happy dead?') If any of them happen to read this -- thank you so much for being there!
Actually, I wanted to say thank you to everyone in the audience, because they asked such good questions, and were real enthusiasts. Also, one of my former teachers from junior school came -- and afterwards she told me that Philip Pullman taught at my old school; but not me, sadly (I think I must be too old to have been one of his pupils, given that I was born in 1961).
Must stop rambling, and go and cook fish for hungry teenage sons. No dreaming spires in view from north London, but the magnolia tree is blooming in the back garden, and the wisteria is budding, and the blackbird is singing at dusk.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Oxford Literary Festival

I'm just gathering myself together before setting off to speak at the Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival today. I lived in Oxford for a while as a child -- my father was an academic there -- and there's something about going back to the places where one grew up... I have this fantasy that I'll get there, and it will all be the same as it was; I'll turn a corner, and see myself and my sister as little girls, playing hopscotch on the pavement outside our house in Jericho.
It's so vivid in my memory today -- cycling to school up the Woodstock Road; the cherry blossom in Summertown; the ducks on the lake in Worcester College gardens.
Anyway, looking forward to meeting some of you later today, I hope. I'll be the woman with the nostalgic smile on my face...

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Daphne and Hampstead

Such is my technical incompetence that I can't link to a piece about "Daphne" in the new Time Out -- which is annoying, because it's extremely informative about the du Mauriers and Hampstead (and nice about my novel, too, for which I am hugely grateful). Anyway, it's by John O'Connell, and I'll copy a bit out here, in case anyone would like to visit the places in London where the du Mauriers lived:

"Most people, quite properly, associate Daphne du Maurier with Cornwall -- specifically Menabilly, the country mansion which she rented for more than 20 years and which became Manderley in her most famous novel, 'Rebecca'. But Daphne was a Londoner in self-imposed exile. She was born in 1907 at 24 Cumberland Terrace in Regent's Park, and lived for most of her childhood in Hampstead at Cannon Hall, the early Georgian mansion bought in 1916 by her father, actor-manager Gerald du Maurier, in an attempt to reclaim the area he'd known as a child: he was born a short walk away at 27 Church Row. Gerald's father was George du Maurier, the writer and Punch cartoonist whose hugely successful 1894 novel 'Trilby' gave us the term 'svengali'.
Daphne was a shy, tomboyish child, not always at ease in the flamboyantly theatrical du Maurier household. She was obsessed to an unnatural degree by her father (her books teem with incest fantasies) but lacked her sisters' closeness to her mother, an actress Gerald met when she was cast opposite him in a production of J.M Barrie's 'The Admirable Crichton'. Instead, she formed close attachments to Cannon Hall's servants, especially her governess, Maud Waddell, or 'Tod'.
Daphne du Maurier is the heroine of Justine Picardie's new novel, 'Daphne', which is why she and I are standing outside Cannon Hall and squinting through the wrought iron gate at the stable block, with its attic windows and tiny clock tower, and the smart cars parked along the drive. Inevitably, someone in the city owns it now."

There's loads more -- and I'm going to send it as a scan to my friends at the BronteBlog and Dovegreyreader, in case they know how to post it. But if they don't, I'll copy out the relevant bits later -- about the graveyard in Hampstead and so on...
Incidentally, Daphne's governess from childhood, Tod, came to live with her at Menabilly, and was very much part of the household -- a kind of governness cum housekeeper. Daphne's husband, Tommy Browning, didn't like her at all, and referred to her as Mrs Danvers. I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions on that... and of course, I'd like to hear what you think, as always.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The Du Mauriers and J.M Barrie

I see dovegreyreader has come up with a good reading trail for "Daphne" -- so I thought I might add a bit more information to the background of the book, over here. One of the strands to the story that I found most fascinating -- and utterly consuming, during the research -- was the relationship between the Du Maurier family and J.M Barrie.
Barrie was the author of Peter Pan, and a huge quantity of other plays and novels. His writing was inspired by, and threaded through, the Du Maurier family, to quite an extraordinary degree. Daphne's father, the actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, played a great many roles in Barrie's plays, and his fame and fortune was in part the result of this. Daphne once wrote that Barrie understood her father better than anyone else did, and that he used this knowledge to create the plays in which Gerald starred.
Indeed, Gerald met Daphne's mother, Muriel, when they starred opposite one another in Barrie's play, "The Admirable Crichton"; and Gerald went on to appear as the first Captain Hook and Mr Darling in "Peter Pan", a story that was inspired by Daphne's cousins, the five Llewelyn Davies boys, whom Barrie subsequently adopted after they were orphaned. Their father, Arthur, had died of cancer just before Daphne was born in 1907, and their mother, Sylvia, who was Gerald's sister, and a celebrated Edwardian beauty adored by Barrie, also succumbed to cancer, three years later; a tragedy retold in the Hollywood movie, 'Finding Neverland', with Kate Winslet playing Sylvia and Johnny Depp as J.M Barrie.
The true story was rather darker than the Hollywood version, as I'm sure you can imagine. I live close to the graveyard in Hampstead where the Du Mauriers and Llewelyn Davies are buried, and their gravestones show that three of the five boys -- The Lost Boys -- died in tragic circumstances. George, the oldest, was killed in the trenches of the First World War, soon after he had left school. Michael drowned as an undergraduate at Oxford. And Peter -- the namesake for Peter Pan... well, his story is interwoven with Daphne's in my book, and his death was a terribly sad one.