Monday, May 14, 2007

Daphne du Maurier centenary

On Saturday afternoon, on BBC2, we watched Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine in the film, made in 1940, of Daphne du Maurier's most famous novel Rebecca.

We had both seen it before, not when it was first made but probably in the late Forties, our late teens.

I had thought I might only watch the opening scenes in the south of France. I remembered being greatly amused by the performance of Florence Bates as the obnoxious Mrs Edythe Van Hopper for whom the girl to become the second Mrs de Winter worked as a paid companion.

Before she became an actress, Florence Bates was a lawyer, the first woman lawyer in Texas in 1914 at the age of 26.

However by the time Mrs Van Hopper had warned her ex-companion that she wasn't up to being mistress of Manderley, I was hooked, even though Olivier no longer seems as attractive as he did when I was a schoolgirl.

Rick Stein in Du Maurier Country

This was the title of BBC2's next offering. "The chef pays tribute to Daphne du Maurier as he searches for the sources that inspired her work in Cornwall, visiting the locations she brought to life in her novels."

An excellent production with interviews with D du M's children and some TV clips of interviews with the author. Rick Stein is a very engaging personality – which can't be said of all TV stars.


"Drama celebrating the centenary of Daphne du Maurier's birth, starring Geraldine Somerville. The progamme charts her unrequited love for American heiress Ellen Doubleday."

How typical of the media to focus on the possibility that du Maurier had lesbian tendencies. This programme ran for an hour and a half, but after 30 minutes I was bored and switched off, preferring to go to bed with the Virago Press 2003 edition of Rebecca which was reprinted nine times that year and in 2004, 2005 [twice] and 2006.

This edition has a 12-page introduction by Sally Beauman who was authorised by the du Maurier estate to write Rebecca's Tale.

Having re-read the intro, I'm inclined to agree with
Amazon UK reviewer Richard
who wrote –

"The book itself is a classic and was recently promoted in the media as something people *must* read. Well, yes, read the book by all means, it is everything the glowing reviews say it is.

Bear in mind, however, that since this book was being touted as an introduction to good literature (whatever that is!) you might expect that many people who were new to the book would be expected to buy it. If you're someone who has never read the book previously - SKIP THE INTRODUCTION!

If Ms Beauman had any concern about new readers, she doesn't show this in the rather overblown introduction in which she gives away the story complete with the twist. It is arrogance itself to presume that "everybody has read the book" because it is "great literature" and therefore think it is fine to blather on about what made the book great (it certainly wasn't any introduction I ever read).

I'd read the book many years ago and bought it for my wife who'd never read it. Ms Bauman was personally responsible for reducing my wife's enjoyment of the book to merely an appreciation of the quality of the prose that followed.

Buy Daphne du Maurier's work by all means, just skip the pointless and counter-productive ego-trip that Ms Beauman begins the book with."

Books about Daphne du Maurier

One of the best is her own book Growing Pains : The Shaping of a Writer, published by Victor Gollancz in 1977.

The Author's Note begins – "All autobiography is self-indulgent. Approaching my seventieth birthday, I find that I forget what happened a week ago but have a vivid memory of childhood days and the awkward age of adolescence, much of the latter period recorded in diaries which I kept from the year 1920, when I was twelve, until I married in 1932."

In 1991 I bought The Private World of Daphne du Maurier by Martyn Shallcross, published by Robson Books with a foreword by Joan Fontaine.


At 14 May, 2007, Blogger jaycee said...

Personally, I think introductions that discuss the plot of the book, technique of the author etc, etc should be printed at the end, for the reader to choose to read or not - I hate introductions that waffle on for pages, I'd rather get stuck in straightaway to what the author actually wrote, that being why I picked up the book in the first place.

At 15 May, 2007, Anonymous Treva said...

I agree with jaycee - too many introductions dissect the book, leaving no surprises for a first time reader. Books are reprinted presumably for those who missed it the first time. By all means include author biographical details & technique but please leave it till the end when the reader has a chance to make their own evaluations as well.

At 15 May, 2007, Blogger Adrian Weston said...

I think I'd go for notes at the end - although I didn't like finding the 'notes for readers groups' at the end of Hilary Mantel's superb novel 'Beyond Black'. The notes in that annoyed me enormously because I was enjoying the book so much and I thought I had at least 50-60 pages more book to read only for it to end. This left me feeling very cheated and fuming at the somewhat nannyish 'extras' that were thrown in: they made me think of rather poor special features thrown in as a bonus on a DVD of a film that needed no extra.

And yes, I think I am becoming a puritan (apart from in matters of the flesh!).

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