Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's Myself When Young

Myself When Young by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1977
Format: Paperback, 176 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

Daphne Du Maurier had a somewhat typical childhood with a-typical interludes. She was taught at home with her two sisters, was finished in Paris, and spent her spare time outdoors with her dogs or indoors reading. A-typically she was the daughter of a famous actor and was surrounded by playwrights and authors and other actors growing up. Therefore a flair for the dramatic was in her blood, and while she made up stories and kept a journal, it wasn't until she was a little older that she contemplated being a writer. She wanted a way to make a living that WAS NOT acting. Retiring and loving solitude over parties, when she finally started to venture to Cornwall her path in life was clear. Her path was to live in Cornwall and write... she just had to make that happen.

I don't want to make a sweeping generalization here, but it seems to me that all female British authors of a certain generation have 97% the same stories of their upbringing in print. This past year I read a lot about the Mitfords and their upbringing. A LOT. Daphne Du Maurier's upbringing could slot right in there easy as can be. I've never really thought overly much on the class system of England, but it can not be denied that people went in sets and you'd see the same group over and over again at parties and shoots. This leads to a sameness of experience in those certain classes. A certain Britishness that carries on as they finish their children in Paris, take jaunts for health treatments, Switzerland or Italy, visit Germany and hopefully not befriend too many people who will become or are Nazis, and then a nice family vacation spot to get away from it all and live the outdoor life.

The more you read these biographies, the more you gloss over. Ah yes, they are now in Paris and sneaking out, the right of passage of  British schoolgirls abroad, which movie will they see? Who will they kiss? Oh naughty they kissed a relative in secret. Now they are outdoorsy, to the hunt! I'm of two minds here. I find it reassuring that there was such a set way of life. So if I was dropped in a time machine during this epoch I'd be all set. At the same time how boring would life be? I mean reading Myself When Young felt like I was reading something I'd already read a long time ago and couldn't quite remember all the details because I'd heard it too many times and had started to consciously block it. What would you talk about with people who all had the exact same life experiences as you? The things that make life interesting are our differences not our similarities. Yes, our similarities might be what bring us together, but they aren't what keep us together. And they aren't what kept me reading this book.

Where Du Maurier differs from her peers is totally in creep value. While she doesn't mention her father much in this book, most likely because she exhausted the topic in his biography she wrote of him, little hints give you the willies. He's overprotective, overemotional, and why is she comparing how he kisses to another kiss she gets? You can see why the incest rumors started. Yet her father is nowhere near as creepy as her cousin Geoffrey. Geoffrey is responsible for her "sexual awakening" at fourteen, when he was in his thirties! Nothing "happens" till they are both older, but eww. Gag me with a spoon. You shouldn't be getting up to hanky panky with people related to you by blood. Especially people who are basically pedophiles, look to her cousins and J.M. Barrie for more proof! Though all this just seems to be water off a ducks back to Daphne as she says her family has a Borgia vibe. Ok, why not just start killing each other then. Please, it would be a relief to what you are getting up to.

But maybe all this human interaction didn't matter to Daphne and that's why it is water off her back. She never got on very well with others and is more at home in nature and with animals, so people can just bog off. Or the cynic could say her experiences with her family drove her from seeking solace with humans and she found comfort in nature. Either way you look at it it's her connection to nature, and to Cornwall in particular, that makes her work resonate. She understood the world around her and this translated into her writing. When you read her work, you are walking towards Menabilly, down that long and twisty three mile drive. You hear the crash of the surf and the cry of the gulls and the screams of the men as the ship goes down. The world around you is so present in her writing that you can't help but feel like you are there with her by your side.

And it's her writing that is when her life really begins. For pages and pages it's the same old story, but once she writes, and I mean really writes, sequestering herself away that, well, in one regard the book fails and in another the book succeeds. It fails because it's a headlong rush to the end and her marriage and the end of this book, but in another regard it's success because everything else falls away and it's just her words on the page that matter now. The stories bursting to come out that have become classics that I, among many other, have adored throughout the years. Who cares if this book is cut short, it was so that the other books could come into the word. She really had a calling to write, but until she found that connection to nature she was bottled up. She was more concerned with curfews and jaunts to Paris then finally setting about making a career for herself. Yet she did make it a career. She stopped faffing about and an author was there all along.


Newer Post Older Post Home