8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Perceptive, Interesting and Absorbing,
This review is from: Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing (Hardcover)
An accomplished biographer, Jane Dunn's recent work has focused on the relationships and rivalries between family members, as shown in her dual biography of Elizabeth I and her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, and in her excellent joint biography examining the intense relationship between Virginia Woolf and her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell. Jane Dunn now turns her attention towards the three du Maurier sisters: Daphne, the famous author of Rebecca (VMC), her older sister, Angela, also a published author, and her younger sister, Jeanne, an artist. Most people are familiar with Daphne du Maurier and her work but, unfortunately for Angela and Jeanne, her fame over-shadowed that of her sisters' and many readers may be surprised to discover that Angela had several novels published, one of which was almost made into a film, and Jeanne produced many works of art, the largest public collection of which is now housed at the Royal West of England Academy in Bristol. Jane Dunn tells us in her introduction that this book is not intended to be a full biography of each sister and she continues by saying that she has not attempted to analyse their individual works in any depth; but what Dunn does do, and effectively, is to show "..the du Maurier sisters side by side, as they lived in life" and shows how Angela and Daphne each used aspects of their sisters' lives to bring life to their own work.
Following a chronological sequence, Jane Dunn introduces the reader to George du Maurier, the grandfather of Angela, Daphne and Jeanne, who was a famous author, illustrator and cartoonist. His son, Gerald du Maurier, the girls' father, was an actor and theatrical manager, and all three girls were taken to the theatre regularly from a very early age, and the memory of the excitement and glamour of the theatre stayed with the girls all their lives. Most of the family friends were actors, actresses, playwrights, producers and directors, and although some of these characters lived bohemian lives, Gerald and his wife, Muriel, brought the girls up in a conventional manner and in ignorance of sexual matters, with Gerald wishing to keep his daughters as children for as long as he possibly could and away from men, whilst his wife tried to steer her girls towards respectable marriages to well-bred, wealthy gentlemen. However, Jane Dunn demonstrates how Muriel's and Gerald's attempts to keep their daughters sexually ignorant had a detrimental effect on them, particularly Angela, who found the idea of sex with a man unpalatable and had several close and sexually intimate relationships with women. Daphne, as the family beauty, was her father's favourite, but his jealousy and suspicions over any young man Daphne spent time with, made her keen to escape from his over-possessiveness, and this she did with romantic assignations with both men and women, before (and, to some extent, after) her marriage to war-hero, Frederick 'Tommy' Browning. And Jeanne, the artist, who spent most of her childhood and adolescence acting as if she were a boy, later shared a somewhat unconventional life with her lifelong female partner, the prize-winning poet, Noel Welch. That is not to say that this biography focuses purely on the du Maurier girls' romantic lives, because it doesn't, but Jane Dunn sensitively shows how this aspect of their lives was of relevance and significance.
Attractively presented and peppered with extracts from letters and diaries, this fluently written and perceptive biography is filled with interesting details of the three du Maurier girls' lives - of the homes they lived and stayed in; of Daphne's intense love of Cornwall and of her home 'Menabilly' the Elizabethan manor she lived in for twenty years (and the inspiration for the house 'Manderley' in her acclaimed novel 'Rebecca'); of the creative energies and wonderful imaginations of all three girls and the works they produced; and of their lives of sexual and social unconformity. Jane Dunn is an excellent biographer and particularly good at examining the relationships and interactions between family members; I found this a fascinating and absorbing read and one to keep on the bookshelf to be read and enjoyed again in the future.
Please note: I would highly recommend the impressive Daphne Du Maurier by Margaret Forster for an in-depth biography of Daphne du Maurier.
Also recommended by Jane Dunn Elizabeth and Mary: Cousins, Rivals, Queens and the excellent Virginia Woolf And Vanessa Bell: A Very Close Conspiracy