The Doll: Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

This week Ali is hosting a Daphne du Maurier Reading Week and as du Maurier is one of my favourite authors, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to read one of the few remaining books of hers that I still haven’t read. As I’ve enjoyed some of du Maurier’s short story collections in the past, I decided to read The Doll, her book of ‘lost short stories’, most of which were written very early in her writing career (mainly between 1926 and 1932) but not published until more recently. My expectations for this book weren’t too high as I thought there might be a reason why these particular stories had been forgotten for so long, but actually I was pleasantly surprised by it. Although some of the stories in the collection feel too short and incomplete, there are some great ones amongst them too.

As is often the case when you read an author’s early work, it’s possible to see the seeds of du Maurier’s later work being planted and future themes and ideas being experimented with. The title story, The Doll, written when the author was twenty years old, follows a man who falls in love with a violinist by the name of Rebecca. As his love turns into obsession, he discovers that he has a rival in the form of a life-sized doll called Julio. This is a dark and creepy story and the name of the character makes it difficult not to think of du Maurier’s most famous novel Rebecca (especially as there are some similarities between the two Rebeccas).

The Happy Valley also foreshadows Rebecca in some ways and involves a woman who has recurring dreams of a house in a place she calls the Happy Valley. With its ghostly undertones and supernatural twist, this was one of the stories that particularly impressed me. It also has the strong sense of place and beautiful descriptive writing I associate with du Maurier’s work, as does another of the stories – East Wind – in which the wind changes direction and blows a boat full of sailors ashore on a remote island. The arrival of the newcomers brings a great deal of excitement to the isolated island community, but temptation and evil have also come in with the tide and will leave their mark when the wind changes again.

It was almost as if there were no such place, as if the island were a dream, a phantom creation of a sailor’s brain, something rising out of the sea at midnight as a challenge to reality, then vanishing in surf and mist to be forgotten, to be half-consciously remembered years later, flickering for a bewildered second in a dusty brain as a dead thought. Yet to the people of St Hilda’s the island was reality, the ships that came and went were their phantoms.

Another story that stood out for me was Tame Cat, a disturbing tale of an innocent young girl referred to only as Baby who returns home from a long absence in France and is reunited with her mother and the man she calls Uncle John. Baby has always thought of Uncle John as being like a tame cat, but now that she is growing up and becoming a woman she finds that his position in the family is not quite as she’d always assumed.

Some of the topics that seem to come up again and again throughout this collection are young couples falling in and out of love and husbands and wives growing disillusioned with their marriages. Sometimes du Maurier treats this in a humorous way, such as in Frustration, where a newly married couple embark on their honeymoon and everything that can go wrong does go wrong, and Week-End, where another couple go away for the weekend believing themselves to be madly in love, but gradually discover that they don’t even like each other – something which comes as a relief when they realise they won’t have to speak to each other using ridiculous baby talk anymore! Other stories are more poignant; I loved Nothing Hurts for Long, a sad story about a woman preparing to welcome her husband home after three months in Germany. When a friend tells her about the disintegration of her own marriage, she is sympathetic but convinced that the same thing couldn’t possibly happen to her…

She went and stood before the looking-glass. Perhaps he would creep in suddenly and stand behind her, and put his hands on her shoulders, and lean his face against hers.

She closed her eyes. Darling! Was that a taxi? No – nothing. ‘This wasn’t how I imagined it at all,’ she thought.

There are thirteen stories in the collection so I’m not going to discuss all of them here, but there were only one or two that I didn’t like very much. The overall quality is not as good as some of the other du Maurier collections I’ve read, Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, The Birds and Other Stories or The Breaking Point: Short Stories, and I don’t think I would recommend this book as a starting point for readers who are new to du Maurier’s work, but if you’re already a fan I think you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.

The Breaking Point: Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Having enjoyed some of Daphne du Maurier’s other short story collections – The Birds and Other Stories, The Rendezvous and Other Stories and Don’t Look Now and Other Stories – I’ve been looking forward to reading this one. Originally published in 1959 and written at a time when du Maurier herself said she had been close to a nervous breakdown, the eight stories in this collection are particularly dark and unsettling.

There is a paragraph just before the introduction in my Virago edition of the book which gives an idea of the common theme linking the stories and why the title The Breaking Point was chosen:

There comes a moment in the life of every individual when reality must be faced. When this happens, it is as though a link between emotion and reason is stretched to the limit of endurance, and sometimes snaps. In this collection of stories, men, women, children and a nation are brought to the breaking-point. Whether the link survives or snaps, the reader must judge for himself.

I enjoyed this book, but I found the first three stories by far the strongest and some of the others slightly disappointing in comparison. For this reason, I preferred The Birds and Don’t Look Now, which I felt were more even in quality. Anyway, the first story in the book, The Alibi, gets the collection off to a great start. A man, bored with his life, his marriage and his daily routine, makes an impulsive decision to rent a room in a house chosen at random. Adopting a new identity, soon he is spending every spare moment at the house, but what is his real motive for doing this? This is a creepy and disturbing story; the suspense builds and builds as we wait to see whether it will end in the way we hope it won’t!

The Blue Lenses is a very strange story about Marda West, a woman who has been having eye surgery. When her bandages are removed and she is fitted with a new pair of lenses, she finds that the people around her look very unusual – in fact, you could say that she is finally seeing them for what they really are. I can’t say much more without completely spoiling the story, but Marda’s situation is both frightening and fascinating. I loved this story and thought the twist at the end was perfect.

The next one, Ganymede, reminded me of Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, both in setting and in plot. A man is visiting Venice for a relaxing October break when a young man working in a restaurant catches his eye. As the days go by, he becomes more and more obsessed with the young waiter, whom he thinks of as ‘Ganymede’. This is another very suspenseful story, as it quickly becomes obvious that things are not going to go smoothly for our narrator – and in du Maurier’s hands, Venice becomes an eerie and sinister setting where we know some sort of tragedy is going to happen.

In the next story, The Pool, we meet Deborah and Roger, two children staying at their grandparents’ house for the summer. One day Deborah escapes from her younger brother and enters the woods nearby, where she discovers a pool which seems to lead into a secret world. I didn’t like this story as much as the first three – although, as always, du Maurier’s descriptions are beautiful and vivid. The Archduchess, which follows, is an account of a revolution in a fictional European country called Ronda. This was the only story in the collection that actually bored me – there seemed to be a huge amount of world-building and scene-setting, with very little plot or depth of character – but it’s possible that I didn’t fully understand what she was trying to say.

I wasn’t sure what to make of The Menace either. It seemed like a science fiction story at first, about a new filming technology known as ‘feelies’ where actors are wired up to a machine powered by their own life-force. This aspect of the story is never really explained, but I did enjoy getting to know actor Barry Jeans as we follow him through a twenty-four-hour period and I loved the ending. The Chamois is another of the weaker stories in the collection, but still an interesting one. A woman travels to Greece with her husband so that he can hunt chamois, but as they climb further into the mountains, the cracks in their marriage start to show and the woman’s deepest fears become exposed.

Finally, The Lordly Ones is a great story to finish with. Ben is a young mute boy who feels neglected and unloved by his parents. When the family move to a new house in the countryside, he escapes to the moors one night and for the first time in his life feels welcomed and cared for by another family he thinks of as The Lordly Ones. This is a very short story with a clever twist at the end that made me want to go back to the beginning and read it again!

Overall, I do recommend The Breaking Point but if you’re new to du Maurier’s short stories, I would suggest reading The Birds or Don’t Look Now collections first as I thought they were stronger. I still have The Doll, her collection of ‘lost’ stories to read, and will try to get to that book soon.

Golden Lads by Daphne du Maurier

When I was making my list for this year’s R.I.P. challenge last week, I remembered that one of the books I read for last year’s R.I.P. was Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. The title was from Shakespeare’s Cymbeline: “Golden lads and girls all must, As chimney-sweepers, come to dust” – the same lines that inspired the title of Daphne du Maurier’s Golden Lads: A Study of Anthony Bacon, Francis and Their Friends, a book I’ve been interested in reading for a while. Having been reminded of it, I picked it up and started reading, knowing that I have to be in the right mood for non-fiction.

Golden Lads was published in 1975 and was followed a year later by a second volume, The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, His Rise and Fall, which I may or may not read at some point. I love Daphne du Maurier and since discovering Rebecca as a teenager, I have read almost all of her novels and most of her short story collections, but only one of her non-fiction books, The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë. I remember finding the Brontë biography almost as readable as her fiction, so I hoped this book would be the same. And it is certainly very readable – it only took a few days to read and was quite a page-turner at times, probably because, as stated in the introduction, du Maurier was writing this book with ‘her sort of reader’ in mind.

Anthony Bacon (born in 1558) and his younger brother Francis (born in 1561) were the sons of Sir Nicholas Bacon, who was Elizabeth I’s Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and one of the most powerful men in England. Their mother, Anne Cooke, was the sister-in-law of the Lord High Treasurer William Cecil, Elizabeth’s most trusted adviser. With such impressive family connections, the Bacon brothers were well placed to develop glittering careers of their own, but for Anthony that never quite happened, and for Francis not as quickly as he’d hoped.

After attending Cambridge University together at the ages of fifteen and twelve, their lives went in different directions with Francis entering Gray’s Inn as a lawyer while Anthony spent several years in Europe building up a network of contacts to send intelligence back to Elizabeth’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. During this period he became a friend of Henri of Navarre (later Henri IV of France) and the French essayist Montaigne. I was intrigued to find that another of his friends was Antonio Perez, whom I met just a few weeks ago in That Lady by Kate O’Brien! On his return to England in 1592, however, Anthony seems to have kept a low profile, which du Maurier explains as being as a result of his increasingly poor health (he suffered from gout and possibly other illnesses as well) but also due to a scandal which took place during his time in Montauban and for which du Maurier found new evidence in the form of archival records.

Francis is the best known of the Bacon brothers today, but most of the accomplishments in science, politics, philosophy and literature for which he is remembered are not discussed in Golden Lads as this book concentrates more on Anthony and only covers the period up to 1601. I didn’t mind this as I knew nothing at all about Anthony and was glad to have the opportunity to learn something new, but I didn’t feel that I got to know Francis very well at all. For that, I will obviously need to read The Winding Stair – although I’m not sure if or when I will get round to reading that book.

I found a lot to like about Golden Lads. As I’ve said, du Maurier’s writing style makes it easy to read and it’s obvious that she is enthusiastic about her subject. She includes extracts from letters and occasional bits of dialogue written in play format, which adds some variety, but readers who are hoping for an academic, scholarly biography might be disappointed as not everything is fully referenced (although she does include a bibliography and list of sources at the back of the book). I thought the first half of the book, which covers the Bacons’ early lives, was very enjoyable, but in the second half the focus switches to Robert Devereux, the Earl of Essex, and his military exploits in Cadiz and Ireland and this is where I started to get bored. I have read about Essex before and although I understand the important role he played in the lives of Anthony and Francis Bacon, I didn’t really want to read about him again in so much detail.

Golden Lads will not be a book for everyone, but I can definitely recommend it to readers who are particularly interested in Elizabethan England. I enjoyed it overall, but I’m not sure if I enjoyed it enough to want to continue with The Winding Stair. Has anyone read it – or any of du Maurier’s other non-fiction?

Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite authors and I now only have one of her novels left to read (Castle Dor, which was partly written by Arthur Quiller-Couch). However, I also still need to read several of her short story collections, having previously only read The Birds and The Rendezvous, so I decided to put this one, Don’t Look Now and Other Stories on my 20 Books of Summer list.

This particular collection is from 1971 and has been published as both Don’t Look Now and Not After Midnight. It contains five stories which are all about fifty or sixty pages long – the perfect length, in my opinion, as it means they are long enough to allow for some development of characters and plot, while still being short enough to read in one or two sittings.

The title story, the dark and atmospheric Don’t Look Now, is a strong opening to the book. John and his wife Laura are on holiday in Venice following the recent death of their young daughter, Christine. John has been doing his best to move on, but Laura is still grieving and, when they meet a pair of elderly twin sisters in a restaurant one evening, it comforts her to be told that one of the twins, who claims to be psychic, can ‘see’ Christine sitting beside her parents. When more strange occurrences follow – including the sighting of a little girl in a red hood jumping over the boats moored in a canal – it seems that something sinister is going on. Could he and Laura be in danger? This is a great story, and if you haven’t read it perhaps you have seen the 1973 film with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland?

Not After Midnight comes next and is another good one. Our narrator, schoolmaster and artist Timothy Grey, is visiting Crete where he hopes to find some inspiration for his paintings. Staying in a little chalet in a picturesque resort by the sea, Timothy is enjoying the peace and quiet – until he encounters an American couple, the Stolls, who are staying in one of the nearby chalets. The couple invite him to visit them in their chalet – as long as it’s ‘not after midnight’ – but Timothy feels uneasy. Why do the Stolls spend so much time out at sea, supposedly fishing? And what really happened to the last occupant of Timothy’s chalet? This is another dark and suspenseful story and I really enjoyed it – until I reached the ending, which I’ll confess to not really understanding at all.

I think the middle story, A Border-Line Case, was my favourite. A nineteen-year-old actress, Shelagh Money, has just lost her beloved father and heads to Ireland to track down his old friend, Nick. The two men had lost contact years earlier after Nick was injured in a car accident and became a recluse, living on an island in the middle of an Irish lough. On her arrival at Nick’s island home, Shelagh begins to feel uneasy and decides not to admit who she is or why she is there…but Nick is hiding a secret of his own – and not the sort of secret either I or Shelagh was expecting. Although I didn’t see that particular twist coming, there is another twist at the end which I found much more predictable, but I still found this the most enjoyable of the five stories.

I didn’t like The Way of the Cross quite as much as the first three stories. It’s about a group of people from the same little village who are on a tour of Jersualem, led by the Rev. Edward Babcock. Babcock has stepped in at the last minute to replace another vicar who has fallen ill, and he doesn’t know – or particularly like – any of the people in the group. They include a retired colonel and his self-obsessed wife, a young newly married couple, a wealthy middle-aged couple, an elderly spinster, and a precocious nine-year-old boy who is enjoying showing off his knowledge of the historical and religious sites they are visiting. Unlike the previous stories, there is nothing dark, supernatural or shocking about this one – the focus is on the tourists and the discoveries they make about themselves and their companions.

The last story, The Breakthrough, was my least favourite in the book. It’s a science fiction story which explores some of the ethical questions surrounding scientific progress and whether there should be a limit to how far it should go. The narrator, Stephen Saunders, is a scientist who has been transferred to a research facility in rural England where the eccentric Mac and his assistants are working on an experiment so controversial it must be kept completely secret. This is a disturbing story with the sort of unsettling atmosphere du Maurier is so good at creating. It wasn’t entirely to my taste, as I’m not much of a science fiction fan, but it is still an interesting story to bring the collection to an end.

Five very different stories with very different settings. I enjoyed reading all of them, some more than others, and I’m looking forward to reading the other du Maurier short story collections on my TBR: The Doll and The Breaking Point.

This is book 8/20 of my 20 Books of Summer.

It is also book 7/50 from my second Classics Club list.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (re-read)

Sometimes re-reading a favourite book can be a disappointment; perhaps you’ve changed too much as a person since the last time you read it and the story and characters no longer have the appeal they used to have – or maybe it just loses some of its magic because you’ve read other books in the meantime that are similar and better. Luckily, I experienced none of that disappointment when I picked up Rebecca for a re-read recently. I fell in love with it all over again!

For those of you who have not yet read Rebecca, I’ll give a brief summary of the plot – and the first thing I should probably say is that we never actually meet Rebecca herself. She dies a year before the novel opens, although with her bright and vibrant personality she is a very strong presence throughout. Our narrator, in contrast, is a shy and awkward young woman who remains nameless from beginning to end; our only clue is that she has a ‘lovely and unusual’ name and one which is difficult to spell. It is while working as a companion to the overbearing Mrs Van Hopper in Monte Carlo that the narrator meets and falls in love with Rebecca’s widowed husband, Maxim de Winter, who is thought still to be grieving for his wife. The last thing she expects, then, is to receive a proposal of marriage from Maxim and to be whisked off back to England to his house in Cornwall.

Although the narrator is captivated by the magnificence of her new home, Manderley, and its beautiful surroundings, she also feels intimidated and out of place. She knows that Rebecca lived here with Maxim for years and that Rebecca was so much better at everything than she will ever be – something the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, won’t let her forget. It’s not long before the narrator begins to tell herself that her marriage is a mistake…she’s convinced that Maxim still loves Rebecca, but is there more to this situation than meets the eye?

I’m not sure whether this is the third or the fourth time I have read Rebecca, but I do know that it must be at least ten years since I read it last – long enough that I can remember the outline of the plot but not every little detail. Reading it again was a wonderful experience, right from the famous opening line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”. As I’ve said before, du Maurier is one of the most atmospheric writers I’ve ever come across; she makes it so easy to picture every scene in vivid detail. All of her novels are beautifully written, but this one particularly so.

I know a lot of readers find the second Mrs de Winter frustrating, but I have never had a problem with her, probably because when I first read this book as a teenager I was also a shy, sensitive person so I found it easy to understand and sympathise with her. It’s worth remembering that she is only twenty-one, completely alone in the world (to the point where, when she sits down at her new writing desk at Manderley, she can think of no one to write to but Mrs Van Hopper) and has never been taught to manage servants, host a party or do any of the other things that are suddenly required of her. Not everyone can be as confident as Rebecca, after all, and it is the narrator’s sense of inferiority whenever Rebecca is mentioned which drives the plot forward and adds to the feeling of tension and claustrophobia.

I didn’t care for Maxim this time round, though. I know his distant, brooding nature is as important to the plot as his wife’s uncertainty and paranoia – and if they had been different people the story would not have worked – but I thought he could have been much more supportive of her, particularly after (trying not to spoil too much here) the white dress scene. It’s sad that she seems so much more comfortable and at ease with Maxim’s friend, Frank Crawley, than she does with her own husband. On the other hand, I felt slightly more sympathetic towards Mrs Danvers this time; I can see that she’s much more complex than I’d thought on my earlier reads.

Finally, I want to say that this is one of the few cases where I think the film (the 1940 one with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier) is as good as the book. What do you think?

This re-read means that I’m coming to the end of a little project I have been working on over the last few years. In 2009, having previously only read Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, I decided I wanted to read the rest of du Maurier’s novels and I have now read all of them, with the exception of Castle Dor which I’m hoping to read soon (after I’ve read that one I’ll do a round-up post and pick out some of my favourites). I do still have some of her short story collections and most of her non-fiction books to look forward to, though!

This is book 8/20 of my 20 Books of Summer – and also book 99/100 from my Classics Club list.

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

frenchmans-creek Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca has been one of my favourite books since I first read it as a teenager, but it’s only relatively recently that I started to explore the rest of her work. Since 2010, I have now read several of her short story collections and one of her non-fiction books, as well as working through almost all of her novels, saving Frenchman’s Creek until near the end (as it sounded like one that I would particularly enjoy and I wanted to have something to look forward to).

Set in the 17th century, Frenchman’s Creek is the story of Dona St Columb who, at the beginning of the novel, is growing disillusioned with her marriage and bored with life in London. To alleviate her boredom, she has been joining her husband Harry and his friends in some increasingly wild escapades, but as the mother of two young children she has started to feel ashamed of her behaviour. Unable to bear it any longer, she decides that what she needs is to spend some time away from her husband and London society – and so she takes the children and heads for Navron, Harry’s estate in Cornwall.

On arriving at the house, Dona is surprised to find that only one servant is present; his name is William, a quiet but perceptive man with whom Dona forms an immediate bond. Despite signs that suggest someone has been sleeping in her bedroom while the house stood empty, she soon begins to feel relaxed and refreshed in the peaceful surroundings of Navron. Her new neighbours, however, seem to be less at ease and it’s not long before Dona hears tales of a French pirate who is said to be terrorising the coast of Cornwall. On a walk through the woods one day, she discovers a ship resting in a creek and suddenly everything makes sense.

The Frenchman (who, you will have guessed, is the owner of the ship), dispels all of Dona’s – and probably the reader’s – preconceived ideas of what a pirate should be. Polite, cultured and intelligent, he couldn’t be more different from Harry and his friends, and it’s no surprise that Dona falls in love with him. I couldn’t quite believe that a man like the Frenchman would have chosen to be a pirate (the reasons he gives for his way of life didn’t seem very convincing) but I thought he was an intriguing character and I enjoyed watching Dona’s relationship with him develop. And yet I didn’t become fully engaged with the story until halfway through, when Dona and the Frenchman embark on an adventure together and the consequences of this threaten to bring their happiness to an end. From this point on, I found the book unputdownable, right through to its poignant ending.

Du Maurier’s writing is beautifully atmospheric and evocative, more so than almost any other author I can think of. The description of Dona’s first walk along the banks of the creek, where it widens into a pool and she comes upon the pirate ship for the first time, is so vivid I could nearly see the scene laid out in front of me. The whole book has a dreamy, almost hypnotic feel. Although we are told once or twice that our hero’s name is Jean-Benoit Aubéry, he is referred to throughout the novel as simply the Frenchman – it’s little things like these which really add to the air of mystery and haziness.

Although I did enjoy this book very much, particularly the second half, it couldn’t quite equal my top four du Mauriers, Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat and The House on the Strand. I’m planning a re-read of Rebecca soon and then I would like to read Castle Dor, the only du Maurier novel I still haven’t read.

Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier

Mary Anne I fell in love with Daphne du Maurier’s writing as a teenager when I read Rebecca for the first time, quickly followed by Jamaica Inn, and since then, I have been (very slowly) working through the rest of her novels, short stories and non-fiction. I have thoroughly enjoyed most of her books, with only a few exceptions – and sadly this one, Mary Anne, was one of the exceptions. I wouldn’t say that I didn’t enjoy it at all – there were still a lot of things that I liked – but I didn’t think it was as strong as most of the other du Maurier novels I’ve read.

Du Maurier often draws on her own family history as an inspiration for her work; The Glass-Blowers is the story of her ancestors who lived in France during the Revolution, while The Parasites also has autobiographical elements and the houses in both Rebecca and The King’s General are based on her own home, Menabilly. Mary Anne is a fictional account of the life of Mary Anne Clarke, du Maurier’s great-great-grandmother, best known for being a mistress of Prince Frederick, Duke of York.

I loved the first few chapters of the book which follow Mary Anne throughout her childhood and teenage years. Born into a poor London family in 1776, Mary Anne Thompson grows up on Chancery Lane with her mother, younger brother and stepfather, who works as a copy editor. When her stepfather becomes ill and is unable to go to work, the thirteen-year-old Mary Anne secretly collects his copy from the printer and corrects it herself – and from this moment I knew she was going to be a great character: strong, clever and resourceful from an early age.

Mary Anne is also an ambitious person but she makes a big mistake when, in 1791, she elopes with Joseph Clarke, a stonemason. The marriage is an unhappy one; Joseph is an alcoholic who drinks and gambles away most of his money, leaving Mary Anne desperate to escape and build a new life for herself and her children. The breakdown of her marriage proves to be a turning point and it’s not long before Mary Anne comes to the attention of Frederick, Duke of York.

Portrait of Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1803

Portrait of Mary Anne Clarke by Adam Buck, 1803

As the Duke’s mistress, Mary Anne enjoys the comfort and luxury that comes with her new status, but she quickly discovers that the money he provides her with is not sufficient to pay for the lifestyle she wants. Taking advantage of Frederick’s position as Commander-in-Chief of the Army, she decides to add to her income by secretly accepting payments in exchange for using her influence with the Duke to obtain army commissions. Mary Anne is sure nothing will go wrong, but to the reader it’s obvious that she is playing a dangerous game and that if her relationship with the Duke should ever come to an end, her life could begin to fall apart.

As I’ve said, I thought the first part of the book was wonderful and I enjoyed watching Mary Anne use her wits and her charm to rise from her humble beginnings to a position of power. She’s a real social-climber and reminded me of characters like Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair and Amber St Clare from Forever Amber. Remembering that du Maurier was writing about her own ancestor, I think her interest in and affection for Mary Anne come across strongly, while at the same time she is open about Mary Anne’s faults and flaws.

The second half of the novel is devoted to several court cases and scandals in which Mary Anne becomes involved, and this is where I started to get bored. The court proceedings are described in great detail, with page after page of witness statements, letters, testimonies and dialogue, which I just didn’t find very interesting to read. I can appreciate that du Maurier was trying to stay true to history here and incorporate her research into the story, but I don’t think she got the balance quite right between fact and fiction.

I’m glad I’ve had the chance to meet and get to know Mary Anne Clarke but this book left me slightly disappointed. I’m hoping for better luck with the remaining du Maurier books I still need to read (Frenchman’s Creek, Castle Dor and some of the non-fiction and short story collections).