Monday, November 3, 2014

The Daphne Du Maurier Companion, ed. Helen Taylor

Virago, 2007
424 pp


In the introduction to this book, editor Helen Taylor notes that the goal of this volume is to
 "demonstrate the scope of her concerns and achievements -- hopefully to quell for ever the myth of a humourless, Cornish cliff-walking upper-middle-class recluse who wrote only one good book."
And while it is true that a very large section of this book consists of introductions to other works by du Maurier (all of the Virago editions),  it seems to me that the work most fully written about here continues to be her most famous book, Rebecca, sort of thwarting that goal. 

The Daphne du Maurier Companion is divided into five different sections. The first part, "Daphne du Maurier, by the People Who Knew Her," begins with an interview with her children, moving into a couple of pieces by an editor, Sheila Hodges, who worked with du Maurier for just under fifty years.  Part two is all about Rebecca's "lasting reputation and cultural legacy."  Part three (in part) takes on the other novels, but it only consists of introductions to Virago's editions of du Maurier's books. There is also a look at her short stories by collection (again, introductions to Virago editions)  but to be really honest, there are only a few out of her rather large selection of short stories that are discussed in any sort of  breadth. Part four, "Daphne Du Maurier in Adaptation" focuses on the movies made from her books -- again, with more written about Rebecca than any other novel or short story. Part five introduces a "rediscovered short story" entitled "And His Letters Grew Colder."

Considering that this book was published in the "centenary year of Daphne du Maurier's birth" (what would have been her 100th birthday), as a  "commemoration"  of her incredible output over the years, it's a pretty good general guide to her work, and there is much to glean from its contents.  It's a good book to have around while reading du Maurier as it does offer some insight into the woman herself, i.e. where she was coming from at different stages of her life as her writing career progressed.  I suppose you could argue that it does draw attention to her work outside of Rebecca, but because there is so much focus on that very well-read and well-loved book, my own opinion is that it actually does the opposite. My favorite part of the book was in part one,  where the interviews with her children and the articles by her editor made du Maurier more or less come to life as a real person rather than just an author.

I read one review that stated that it seems like The Companion is a sort of "make-book" for the occasion, and well, that's obviously true considering what I noted in the preceeding paragraph about the centenary. However, even though you're not going to get a lot of depth in this volume,  it's still a great place to start if you're considering reading any of du Maurier's work. I'd recommend it with the caveat that it's  more of an overview rather than a book that actually goes into great detail. But what is there is both interesting and insightful.

No comments:

Post a Comment