From Justin Picardie's Daphne to the Daphne of Margaret Forster. This biography was published a few years ago and was universally praised, but I did not read it at the time even though I am a huge admirer of Forster's writing. Then I had no desire to read it. Now, of course, it is a different matter and I was eager to learn more about Daphne du Maurier having been intrigued with the part of her life portrayed by Picardie and her writing of the Infernal World of Branwell Bronte.
I took this to Barcelona with me and had time on planes and in airports, as well as my nightly obligatory read before I can sleep, to get through this over the weekend though I did not expect to. I have yet to read a duff book, fiction or non-fiction, by Margaret Forster who I think is one of our finest living writers and one much undervalued. This masterly biography only confirms my feelings and I found it fascinating. This is a well researched, credible and easily readable book about a complex woman and, thankfully, totally free of speculative theory about some of Daphne's actions and behaviour. The kind of biography that uses phrases such as 'it is a possiblity that this happened because she felt...' or 'surely she must have thought that...' is anathema to me as it is pure guesswork, it is not up to the reader to make up their mind what the subject thought at the time, the reader is there to be told by the biographer what took place.
The facts of Daphne's life are laid out before us, her relationship with her father Gerald du Maurier, possessive and overbearing and slightly uncomfortable to put it mildly, her lack of love from her mother, probably jealous of her husband's obsession with his daughter, her feelings that she might have what Daphne calls 'Venetian tendencies'. her lifelong battle to keep 'the boy in the box' as she fought these feelings and strived for normalcy. The facade she presented to the world, her No 1 personality which she used to keep No 2, her darker side hidden, her distress at being deemed only a writer of 'romantic novels' and lack of critical appreciation, her somewhat semi-detached attitude towards her two daughters and total adoration towards her son, her affair with Gertie Lawrence, and throughout it all, her love for her husband who she adored in her own way and whose death left her bereft and lonely. All this laid out before us the reader to read in total fascination and to be drawn into her thoughts through her diaries and letters to her family, friends and publisher.
A simply terrific biography and once I started could not put down. Forster is scrupulously fair about Daphne and is not judgemental in anyway. A good biographer should give the facts, the relevant circumstances, the pros and cons and reasons for the subject's behaviour and it is left to us, the readers, to make up our minds how we feel about the chosen subject.
And how did I feel? I am sorry, but I closed up the book with a sense of relief that I had finished with her. I decided after quiet thought, that I could not warm to Daphne. In fact, I am afraid that I just did not like her at all. Sad but true and this does not denigrate this brilliant biography in any way. If Justin Picardie's book has whetted your appetite then I recommend that you get hold of a copy of Margaret Forster's, you will find it totally compelling.