I recently finished Tatiana de Rosnay’s Manderley Forever, a carefully researched and annotated biography of Daphne du Maurier that reads like a novel. Some of you might remember my scathing reaction to Rebecca back in 2012. In short, I despised the unnamed heroine of the novel for being a “spineless cipher” and couldn’t understand why people found this story romantic. Turns out, Daphne du Maurier couldn’t understand it, either:
Even while the sales figures mount, [Daphne] feels that her book is being misunderstood. No, it is not a Gothic romance; no, it is not a corny little love story; it is the tale of an all-consuming jealousy and its murderous consequences. Is it her publisher’s fault? Victor [Gollancz] has hyped the novel up as something very romantic and commercial. Behind the story of a house, a man, and two women lurks a much darker and more disturbing truth, that of a psychological war disguised by muted violence and suppressed sexuality.(146-47)
So the story is really about Maxim and his obsession with Rebecca (mirrored by Mrs. Danvers’ own obsession), told by a young, unsophisticated
ninny woman who is rather obsessive herself? I can live with that.
While reading this biography, I found myself enjoying Daphne’s own history much more than her fiction. For instance, did you know that her father Gerald du Maurier was a highly successful stage actor, and her paternal grandfather George “Kicky” du Maurier was the novelist who created the character Svengali? Perhaps you had no idea that her sister Angela also published fiction (though not so successfully) or that Daphne’s husband Tommy Browning was the man who travelled all the way to Africa to tell the future Queen Elizabeth II that her father, George VI, had died.
All that is mere trivia, however. What really kept me glued to the page was the way de Rosnay portrayed Daphne’s passion for history, her obsession with place (something with which I identify quite profoundly), and her fascination with dark secrets and twisted psychology. According to de Rosnay, Daphne du Maurier lived life like a Romantic Hero, prioritizing her creativity over family and pursuing passionate relationships with both men and women. Every experience became fodder for her stories.
The narrative style of Manderley Forever might take some getting used to — at first it seems quite presumptuous for de Rosnay to place herself in Daphne’s perspective, but one grows accustomed fairly quickly. In Part V, in which Daphne leaves Menabilly for Kilmarth and subsequently goes into decline, de Rosnay’s narrative picks up pace, sometimes glossing over months or even years. Overall, however, I found this biography compulsively readable, and I particularly delighted in passages like this:
Daphne is one of those writers who prefer looking back to looking forward, who is capable of filling entire pages with what was, a place, a trace, putting words to a fleeting moment, the fragile memory that must be bottled like perfume. (176)
Now for tea:
I kept it simple because Daphne didn’t seem very fussy on the domestic front. (In fact, I don’t think she ever cooked at all.) For tea I chose something to honor her ancestry and abiding love for France: Mariage des Frères’ Vanille des Îles, a rich black tea flavored with Bourbon vanilla. To pair with the tea I baked Cornish Fairings, in honor of Daphne’s lifelong obsession with Cornwall. These ginger biscuits make for a simple but delicious tea snack, and the spiciness is more pronounced a few hours after they’ve cooled. (To me they tasted much better the second day.) You’ll find an English recipe with “American translation” at this lovely blog post:
I’ll conclude with a couple of viewing recommendations:
—Let’s Pretend: The Make-believe World of Daphne du Maurier, a 16-minute interview/documentary filmed in 1977 at Kilmarth in Cornwall which, among other things, features footage of Daphne and her children at Menabilly, the Cornish estate she leased for 25 years and that inspired Manderley, the setting for Rebecca.
—The ITV adaptation of du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (see trailer below), starring the always brilliant Matthew Rhys (whom you may know from The Americans and Death Comes to Pemberley). Daphne hated the original 1959 adapatation starring Alec Guinness, but I think she might have appreciated this one. If you’re in the US you can watch it on AcornTV. A UK dvd (PAL format) is available to purchase at Amazon.com & Amazon.co.uk.