A familiar portrait of the prolific British writer.
Fiction writer de Rosnay (A Paris Affair, 2015, etc.) claims that Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca (1938) exerted an indelible influence on her work. When a friend suggested that she write the first French biography of du Maurier, she took on the challenge, deciding to follow in the writer’s footsteps in England and France to discover “the secrets of her life, her inspiration, her work.” De Rosnay offers only brief accounts of her travels, beginning at the Terraces, near Regent Park, where her subject was born; continuing to the village where the teenage Daphne went to boarding school and began an affair with her young headmistress; to the coast of Cornwall, where Daphne walked; to Menabilly, the writer’s beloved home and prototype of Manderley, where de Rosnay’s effort to visit was rebuffed; and to Kilmarth, her last home. All of these sites, though, hardly yielded secrets. Instead, de Rosnay draws largely on du Maurier’s autobiography, letters, and several fine biographies. She adds little to the already available material; this book’s distinction is its presentation in present tense, since de Rosnay aims to describe her subject “as if I were filming her, camera on my shoulder, so that my readers could instantly understand who she was.” This strategy, however, does not convey any more intimacy or revelation than a more conventional authorial voice. Besides chronicling her subject’s successful writing career, de Rosnay reprises her family life, marriage, motherhood, and contradictory sexuality. Homophobic, du Maurier denied that she was a lesbian, but as a child, she invented a male alter ego, Eric Avon, that she felt was her true identity. When she met the virile Tommy Browning, she “shivers” at the “masculine contact” of his kiss. She married him and relegated Eric to a box. He emerged, “sparkling and resplendent,” when she became infatuated with several women.
An average biography. Jane Dunn’s Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters (2014) takes a more capacious and satisfying look at the life.