We all know Daphne du Maurier as the author of Rebecca, one of the most beloved novels of all time. But, in her book Manderley Forever, Tatiana de Rosnay, bilingual author of the bestselling novel Sarah’s Key, explores aspects of du Maurier’s character unknown to most fans. De Rosnay writes Daphne’s biography with the engaging storytelling quality of a novel, as she gives a faithful and realistic account of du Maurier’s life. I learned that the young Daphne du Maurier was coddled and favored by her father - a relationship that became oppressive in later years and was also the basis for some of Daphne’s stories. De Rosnay also respectfully describes Daphne’s affairs and infatuations, noting that many of Daphne’s relationships provided a passionate spark for her next story.
Daphne du Maurier faithfully corresponded with several friends and family members over many years. With the help of excerpts from these letters and a terrific amount of research, readers of Manderley Forever learn that Daphne was shy and reclusive, yet she loved to joke around with her son, Kits. Surprisingly, we also learn that she was continually vexed at being known as a Gothic romance author and was constantly trying to prove that her writing had depth and substance.
Daphne wrote novels, plays, biographies, collaborative photo essays, articles, and family histories. Not all her works were successful; but, all were well-researched, and Daphne devoted herself wholeheartedly to each project, often at the expense of her husband and children. Daphne was independent and, for most of her life, not too concerned with other people or her effect on them. At times, she felt strong bonds with others, but her one true priority was her writing. I believe that Daphne herself would agree that she felt stronger ties to houses rather than people. Tatiana de Rosnay did a wonderful job conveying Daphne’s intense attachment to her home of many years, Menabilly. When de Rosnay described the moment that Daphne finally left “Mena,” I could almost feel Daphne’s loss and heartbreak.
It’s a sign of a good book when you finish the last page with a craving for more - to explore further, to think about what you read and how you feel about it. Now that I have some insight into Daphne du Maurier’s life, I’d like to re-read my favorite du Maurier books, like Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, but I also cannot wait to explore her short story collections and plays. Frankly, I’m not sure that I’m as fond of Daphne du Maurier as I was before I knew so much about her life and personality. But, I think I would have enjoyed a seaside stroll with Daphne and the opportunity to ask about her struggles as an artist, a mother, a wife, and a woman.
-Autumn Hjort, Playwrights Salon Literary Manager