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Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing Hardcover – 28 Feb 2013
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‘Perceptive and exuberant … a saga that is sparklingly re-told’ The Times
‘The fascination for readers is the different character and destiny of each sister, plus their relationships with one another and with the dynamics of the family romance – and few family romances have been more potent than that of the du Mauriers’ Spectator
‘Daphne is a compelling subject – passionate and cold, attractive and repellent … Angela suffers, as she did in life …from … Daphne’s infinitely more intriguing saga’ Evening Standard
‘Meticulous, perceptive … it is a sign of Jane Dunn’s generous professionalism that she accords the du Maurier girls the same respect that she gave Bloomsbury’s high priestesses in her acclaimed study of Woolf and her sister Vanessa Bell’ Financial Times
‘Engaging … this book’s strength lies in its account of a trio of lives developing during a period of class and gender upheaval, and the sisters’ response to social change’ Independent
‘Compelling … sensitive and sympathetic … loneliness is the thudding heart of Dunn’s book, about three pampered sisters who never quite overcame the handicap of not being boys’ Daily Telegraph
‘Jane Dunn specialises in female relationships, and she has found three splendid women for her new book … Dunn writes with haunting delicacy … and she evokes a long-lost England in which women felt deep passions and survived emotional hurricanes with amazing outward restraint’ Mail on Sunday
‘Dunn is excellent on the lesbian 1920s and 30s in London, with delicious detail’ Guardian
‘An original, well-researched and very readable book full of well-chosen details and perceptive observations. In the subject of rivalry between literary sisters Jane Dunn has found a little goldmine’ Literary Review
‘Intriguing and revelatory biography … [of] complex and contradictory lives’ Scotsman
About the Author
Described by the Sunday Times as ‘one of our best biographers’, Jane Dunn writes about women and their relationships, and sisters in particular. Her books include a biography of the sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and the bestseller ‘Elizabeth & Mary’, which looks at the lives of the cousin queens Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and lives in Bath with her husband the writer and linguist, Nicholas Ostler.
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Top customer reviews
Angela, the eldest, was a trusting and emotional girl, slightly overweight and plainer than her sisters. She often became the butt of Gerald's cruel humour and it is plain that her self confidence suffered under his jibes. Daphne was far more detached, less naive and believing. Jeanne, the youngest, was closer to her mother than the elder daughters. Daphne was easily Gerald's favourite, although her relationship with her mother suffered because of it. The author takes us through their early lives, through intermittent schooling, their London homes and the family love affair with Cornwall. Angela spend much of her youth suffering painful crushes before eventually finding a partner who was supportive and loving towards her. Both Angela and Jeanne found their life partners with other women, although Angela certainly had relationships with men as well. Of the three sisters, Daphne was the only one who married.
This book is, of course, called Daphne du Maurier and her sisters and there is no avoiding the fact that it is Daphne who was the most successful of the three in her career; although Angela was also a published author and Jeanne an artist. It was Daphne who was undoubtedly the most determined to become independent - even once married she found it hard to live without the space she needed to write. Dunn unfolds her life, career and relationships alongside that of her sisters, careful for no story to overwhelm the other. Despite her often difficult relationship with her own mother, it is odd to read of Daphne du Maurier, perhaps unintentionally, mirroring Muriel's own disinterest once she had children of her own. Certainly, her writing and Hitchcock's success with making films from her work, meant that she was financially independent. Daphne's own obsessions were partly with people, love affairs and crushes and a deep love for her only son, and mostly with the house of Menabilly, which she obviously used in her inspiration for Manderley.
Overall, this book works as a biography of a family, as well as of the individual sisters. Angela and Daphne were also close confidants. Jeanne may have felt resentful, especially during the war years, when she shouldered most of the burdens; but all three sisters were always there for each other. As with other books by this author, this is a well researched, well written and extremely enjoyable biography, which leaves you feeling you have a greater understanding of the sisters and of their lives and work. Their relationships, both with each other and of their lovers, friends and family, are dealt with sensitively, and the book a great joy to read; intelligent, well written and immensely readable.
The characters in the lives of the Du Maurier sisters are often monstrous, occasionally
bewildering and sometimes hilarious. The development of individual human sexuality over a lifetime, and, in particular, in the lives of the three sisters forms the core of this book.
Stuffed full of ghastly lovers, unconventional friends and eccentric family members brought alive by the author's brilliant characterisation, this book is a tour de force about an age which no longer exists, and, sadly, an indictment of how unwittingly we parents can damage our children through benign neglect. Would Rebecca have been written if Daphne's mother had cuddled her more? Or is the creative impulse sharpened by frustration and uncertainty?
This fascinating book provokes as many questions as it answers which is why it is such rewarding read.
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