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5.0 out of 5 stars She's Dunn it again!, 20 Oct 2013
This review is from: Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing (Hardcover)
I enjoyed this book immensely. I knew little about the Du Mauriers before I read it, yet left it feeling as though they were a part of my own heritage. Aware of the films "The Birds", "Don't Look Now" and "Rebecca" but not of how they reached the screen, this book took me on an fascinating drive through Britain pre World War One and beyond, taking the scenic B routes and uncovering the really interesting facts about one of this country's most fascinating families. How and where they lived, preceded by their eminent cartoonist grandfather George, the impressive theatrical impresario father Gerald; both set the bar high for the daughters' standards of success. The distant, acquiescent mother never really became a role model as none aspired to domestic obscurity.

The success of the family in former generations came from the male line. Daphne adopted a male persona during childhood. This re-emerged frequently throughout her life and aided her ambitions. For all sisters relationships with women seemed to be the answer to how to handle the conundrum: How to be a creative, successful woman with few role models in current circulation? Jane Dunn looks in detail at this topic. Only recently has it become easier for non-conforming women to be themselves.

The issue of gender identity runs through the book from start to finish.

Jane Dunn segments the human psyche neatly into parts, making it easier for her readers to follow:
"An experiment....with her sexual attraction that remained something separate from her real self - the watching analytical writer ready to process experience through imagination, to create the fictions in which she truly lived...." P.105.

The book has delighted me in that it shows an era that by default has formed me by my knowledge of my grandmother's and mother's moral codes and experiences.

Dunn paints a very perceptive portrait of the life of the writer illustrated by the poem Daphne writes about being a writer - when Tommy needs her to be there for him - she has not got the desire - is she the selfish artist? It is the dilemma all of us creative types must face when choosing between making art and measuring up as a caring human being. In fact it is the family that saves us, and that is the key.

Dunn never forgets to show the workings of the family - the financial backbone, how they survived to support their free lives following their own whims and wisps, as part of a privileged minority. Daphne helps to keep her sisters and mother in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

The description of lesbians and early feminists in the days of the IWW and after with woman on woman relationships explained to the lay person in such a way as to make their life choices totally plausible to us in 2013. Setting the scene with the "Bright Young Things" who had enough money to allow them to live outside of normal moral perimeters Dunn is never far from allowing us to see the machinations of their lives. Daphne is very set against this form of the masculine and maintains her own boy character is conjured up to give her power without the carnal aspect.

Daphne as the creative, imaginative author who `dreams true' places imagination at the centre of her reality; this is important to anyone who uses their skills of visualisation, intuition, instincts and intangible feelings to help them through life.

The three sisters Angela, Daphne and Jeanne - three children from the same parents, are the same but different, genetic variants growing from the same branch of a family tree, and always treated in an even handed way by Dunn, despite their unequal worldly success. Angela comes over as the funny one, who makes people laugh and laughs at herself, falling into an orchestra pit, the tragic comedienne who feels too deeply to make a success of being a writer of any note, her feelings getting in the way of the objectivity needed to be a literary success and not successful in the marriage stakes despite trying her best. Jeanne finds success and security as an artist in the depths of the country away from the conventional bourgeois standards of those who dislike of modern art. In a way she takes the less confrontational path - and least competitive with her sibs - and chooses images as opposed to words as her art form -finding success on her own terms.

This book gives hope and clarity to a reader looking for sanity in a mad world. Keep it close for those times when your own life seems to be getting tougher, it will shed some light on a multitude of dilemmas.
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