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Daphne by Justine Picardie

Daphne (original 2008; edition 2008)

by Justine Picardie

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3523231,026 (3.46)55
Authors:Justine Picardie
Info:London : Bloomsbury, 2008.

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Daphne by Justine Picardie (2008)


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This book features revolves around three characters, these being Daphne Du Maurier during the late 1950s, when she is facing problems in her personal life, and struggling to write a biography of Branwell Bronte (brother of Charlotte, Emily and Anne); Bronte scholar J. Alex Symington, who like Daphne, is fascinated by the life of Branwell Bronte, and who corresponds with her about the Branwell biography; and an unnamed young woman in the present day, who is preoccupied with Daphne Du Maurier, and who is unhappily married to a much older man, and is haunted by thoughts of his first wife Rachel.

The book is eloquently written, and Picardie clearly meticulously researched her subject. It is something of a literary mystery, as Du Maurier attempts to prove whether or not some of Branwell’s work was credited to Charlotte or Emily Bronte, and it also becomes apparent that Symington’s career with the Bronte society ended in disgrace as he was accused of stealing Bronte manuscripts during his time as curator of the Bronte Museum. This is all based on real life events, and did make for fascinating reading. Although it is a fictionalised account of this time in Daphne Du Maurier’s life, her problematic marriage, and her desire to be seen by the critics who dismiss her talents, as more than just a best selling novelist were all too real. For his part, Symington was not a particularly likeable character, and as his story is told, he is revealed to be an unreliable source of information. For all that however, it was hard not to have some sympathy with him, trapped as he was by his misdeeds in the past, which he is able to justify to himself but to nobody else.

I also enjoyed the modern day narrative, which is the only one told in the first person. There are some none too subtle similarities with Du Maurier’s ‘Rebecca’ – the unnamed narrator being the timid second wife of her older and more worldly husband, the obsession with her husband’s first wife, and the narrator’s feelings of loneliness and isolation. In fact, this entire narrative could have been cut out of the book, without it affecting the stories of Du Maurier and Symington, but it made for enjoyable reading, particularly where the narrator started to research Du Maurier and her connection with the Brontes.

I would say that some prior knowledge of both Daphne Du Maurier’s books and the works of Charlotte and Emily Bronte would be advantageous before reading this book, as several references are made to them. (incidentally, Anne Bronte barely gets a mention in this book, although she was herself an acclaimed novelist.) Reading it certainly made me want to discover more about tDu Maurier’s life.

Overall, I found the book absorbing, but the individual crisis that each main character is facing made it a dispiriting read at times. That said, I would still highly recommend it for Bronte and (especially) Du Maurier enthusiasts. ( )
  Ruth72 | Apr 6, 2014 |
Similar setup to A.S. Byatt's Possession: modern day scholars obsessed with dead authors, literary mystery of the past to unravel, lots of correspondence, forgotten manuscripts, life imitates fiction. There's an additional layer to this book--there are the present-day characters, then Daphne du Maurier and J.A. Symington in the middle ground, and finally Branwell Brontë in the most distant past.

I enjoyed much of the back-and-forth between du Maurier and Symington. What sunk the book for me was the modern day protagonist, who was pretty childish and pathetic. Like the narrator in du Maurier's Rebecca, she never gives her name and is obsessed with her husband's previous wife. There were also a few too many coincidences in the present-day part of the story, which the author attempts to explain away by saying "Hey, there were crazy coincidences in Jane Eyre, too!" But I wasn't convinced.

In spite of my rather low rating, though, I do think this book is an achievement. ( )
  thatotter | Feb 6, 2014 |
I was expecting more of a straight biography of Daphne Du Maurier, but Justine Picardie's biofic of the author is still an interesting introduction. And bonus points for throwing in the Brontes, or Branwell at least - I'm not a fan of the sisters' works, but always feel a sort of affinity for those most famous of 'local' authors.

Split between three narratives, each one sounding slightly more bonkers than the last, Daphne is a curious combination of fact - the correspondence between Daphne Du Maurier and disgraced Bronte scholar John Alexander Symington in the late 1950s, when the author of Rebecca was researching her study of Branwell - and fiction. And evenly the purely fictional character is based partly upon the nameless second wife in Rebecca (echoing the novel in a series of none too subtle coincidences), and partly upon Picardie herself. Daphne, Symington and the modern day narrator are all slightly unhinged in different ways, inviting the reader's sympathy and derision in equal parts, but never really coming together to form a satisfying story.

As a biography of Daphne Du Maurier, however, Picardie's research into the author's life definitely whetted my appetite, and I have since downloaded Margaret Forster's more conventional study, plus Du Maurier's own account of her family in fictional form, The Du Mauriers. That's my best recommendation, I'm afraid! ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Jan 7, 2013 |
Two questions:
1. Are all artists, musicians and authors completely off their rockers? and
2. Was ANYTHING resolved at the end of this book?

What a strange and disturbing book, but it caused me to do historical research on several of the people in the book, so I'll go with 2 stars. ( )
  Bduke | Oct 10, 2012 |
My ReadAThing 2011 and DoNothingButReadDay selection. I'm almost certainly this books ideal reader, having read all of Daphne du Maurier, huge amounts of the Brontes' works, a librarian who is fixated on collecting and researching a neglected author. Well written, easy to read, and quite entertaining. ( )
  KCummingsPipes | Aug 8, 2011 |
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For my father, Michael Picardie
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To begin. Where to begin? To begin at the beginning, wherever that might be.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
From the book jacket:
It is 1957. The author Daphne du Maurier, beautiful and famous, despairs as her marriage falls apart. Restlessly roaming through Menabilly, her remote mansion by the sea in Cornwall, she is haunted by regret and by her own creations--namely Rebecca, the heroine of her most famous novel. Seeking distraction from her misery, Daphne becomes passionately interested in Branwell, the reprobate brother of the Brontë sisters, and begins a correspondence with the enigmatic scholar Alex Symington as she researches a biography. But behind Symington's respectable surface is a slippery character with much to hide, and soon truth and fiction have become indistinguishable.

In present-day London, a lonely young woman, newly married after a fleeting courtship with a man considerably older than her, struggles with her PhD thesis on du Maurier and the Brontës. Her husband, still seemingly in thrall to his brilliant, charismatic first wife, is frequently distant and mysterious, and she can't find a way to make the large, imposing house in Hampstead feel like her own. Retreating into the comfort of her library, she becomes absorbed in a fifty-year-old literary mystery. . . .

The last untold Brontë story, Daphne is a tale of obsession and possession; of stolen manuscripts and forged signatures; of love lost, and love found. It is a beautiful, original novel from the acclaimed author of If the Spirit Moves You.
Haiku summary

Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159691341X, Hardcover)

A haunting novel that illuminates the true story of Daphne du Maurier’s fascination with the Brontës: a tale of madness, theft, romance, and literary archaeology.
Drawing on Justine Picardie’s own extensive research into Daphne du Maurier’s obsession with the Brontës and the scandal that has haunted the Brontë estate, Daphne is a marvelous story of literary fascination and possession; of stolen manuscripts and forged signatures; of love lost and love found; of the way into imaginary worlds, and the way out again. Written in three entwined parts, the novel follows Daphne du Maurier herself, the beautiful, tomboyish, passionate author of the enormously popular Gothic novel Rebecca, at fifty and on the verge of madness; John Alexander Symington, eminent editor and curator of the Brontës’ manuscripts, who by 1957 had been dismissed from the Brontë Parsonage Museum in disgrace, and who became Daphne’s correspondent; and a nameless modern researcher on the trail of Daphne, Rebecca, Alexander Symington, and the Brontës. Haunting and gorgeously written, Daphne is a breathtaking novel that finally tells, in the most imaginative of ways, what Brontë biographer Juliet Barker has called “the last great untold Brontë story—and perhaps the most intriguing.”

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:03:52 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

A tale inspired by Daphne du Maurier's fascination with the Brontes follows the "Rebecca" author's descent into mental illness, passionate investigation into a scandal at the Bronte estate, and correspondence with disgraced editor John Alexander Syminton.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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