Jane Dunn is an expert on filial relationships. Her books on Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, and Queen Elizabeth 1 and Mary Queen of Scots were both highly acclaimed, and Read My Heart: Dorothy Osborne and Sir William Temple, A Love Story in the Age of Revolution
this book is an equally fascinating read. It explores the relationship between three unusual sisters, complicated by the middle one Daphne being more famous, more successful and more beautiful than the other two, and the favourite of their father - the greatest actor/manager of his day, Gerald du Maurier. However it also sheds a revealing light on the social changes of the twentieth century - albeit as largely experienced by the elite - and the effect of two world wars.
There's plenty to satisfy our modern fascination with sex. All three women had lesbian tendencies, and Angela and Jeanne eventually settled for same-sex relationships. But the greatest love of Daphne's life was not her war hero husband and three children but a house: `Menabilly', the model for Manderley in Rebecca, that she rented in Cornwall, and lived in for 22 years. We are left puzzling over whether the sisters' lesbian leanings were the result of their over -privileged - and yet deprived upbringing by a cool mother and a father whose feelings towards them appear to have verged on incestuousness. Perhaps the first world war that decimated male youth, causing a shortage of men of suitably marriageable age, also played its part? Or was it something more innate?
Although Daphne's life is better documented, Dunn has successfully teased out the lives of the other two who, overshadowed by Daphne's success, were relatively successful in their own right. Angela the oldest, had eleven books published, one of which centred on a lesbian love affair; a brave topic for the time, and Jeanne, the youngest, had her paintings exhibited at the Royal Academy, at the Salon in Paris, and was closely involved with the St. Ives School. It is a delightfully produced book with arts and crafts wallpaper printed endpapers, beautiful period set piece photographs of the family, and a reproduction of the stunning painting by Frederic Whiting of the three du Maurier girls and their dog used on the book jacket.