Friday, May 11, 2007

The many secrets of Daphne du Maurier

Another bisexual I never met... (and whose pictures stubbornly refuse to upload).
I'm doing something old-fashioned at the moment: convalescing. I've had a minor operation - a TVT if you're bored/nosy enough to google it; there's no point in being coy – that only required an overnight stay in hospital but means that I am having two weeks off work to "recover". This means sleeping/dozing a lot and walking small distances gingerly because my thighs feel like I’ve been riding a horse for 12 hours. I assume.
I can't really concentrate a great deal, but one thing I am doing is listening to the radio. BBC radios 4 and 7 are excerpting My Cousin Rachel and Frenchman's Creek respectively, the reason being that their writer Daphne du Maurier would have celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday. Interesting links are here and here. Apparently there will be a BBC TV drama about her tomorrow night (12th) which should be interesting. There's also the cententary version of the annual Daphne du Maurier festival in Fowey,Cornwall, where she lived.
I'm not really a lit crit person, so can't give a run down or analysis of her work – although I read her most famous books as a teenager – but in a nutshell she wrote romantic/historical/psychological/gothic novels. As well as the two mentioned above, she wrote Jamaica Inn, the House on the Strand, very many short stories – including two on which were based the films The Birds and Don't Look Now – and, most famously, Rebecca.
Its opening line "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" is one of the most famous openings to any English novel. Alfred Hitchcock also made it into a fantastic film. I do know that many argue she wasn’t taken as seriously as a writer as she deserved, being, instead, pigeon-holed as a "women's writer". Bah!
But anyway, I'm in deep water here as this isn’t an Eng lit blog, but a bisexual one – and this is about D du M’s bisexuality.

Divided loyalties
Or rather, her sexuality. Apparently, she kept things pretty close to her chest - many of her letters are sealed until 50 years after her death - and according to her official biographer, Margaret Forster, lots of things about her are shrouded in mystery.
Her relationship with her father, actor-manager Gerald du Maurier, was at the very least... troubled. Daddy wanted a boy, or alternatively wanted to be her brother, or perhaps her lover. And was vociferously homophobic to boot. She married "Boy" Browning, producing three children, and they stayed married till he died, but she had a strong "lesbian side" too.
Apparently Gertrude Lawrence - a musical comedy star who may also have been her father's lover - was her main female love. She also had a powerful crush on Ellen Doubleday, wife of the publisher. Du Maurier saw herself as having two distinct sides: wife/mother (female) and lover/writer (male), a side of herself that she showed few other people and a division that she found tormenting. So she was constricted by the mores of the time and the expectations of both herself and other people.
A complicated psychology, then, but the right sort of creative compost from which to grow her dark psychological fiction.

Two more fascinating women I never met…
… and who (evidence suggests!) weren't bisexual, died this week. Isabella Blow, fashion journalist, icon and muse, discoverer of many a designer, wearer of fabulous and eccentric hats and woman who ploughed her own furrow, drank weedkiller. At 48, her third suicide attempt worked.
Lesley Blanch, traveller, "great and glamourous beauty well into extreme old age", writer of The Wilder Shores of Love - about Victorian women who chose exile and love with Arab men rather than settle for stifling English conventionality, has died aged 102. Ladies, I salute you!
If anyone is interested as to what "my type" is – so far as women are concerned – they, to a large extent, are it. Not the posh part probably (they were both pretty upper crust), but eccentric, flamboyant, unconventional, larger than life women… well, hello!

1 comment:

Kate said...

Hi Sue,
I think discussion of famous bisexuals from history - or even from cultures other than our own today, including sub-cultures - is fraught with difficulty over naming and defining their desires, and avoiding the usual pitfall of reinterpretation through our own lenses. I see sexual desire as something that is very much shaped by time and place. With someone like du Maurier, we have (some) of her own thoughts and words on the subject, so its pretty fascinating...usually one is left guessing to a large extent how people in the past really felt about the expression of their own, non-mainstream desires. The question is not only, 'how does one interpret du Maurier's life and sexuality through contemporary understanding of bisexuality' but also, 'how would I interpret my own sexuality through the ideas of du Maurier'?