her very complex personality

May 30, 2019

One of the most interesting of the sixteen novels which Daphne du Maurier wrote is The Parasites. Published in 1949, when she was forty-two, it is not often mentioned amongst her oeuvre. It was, she said, the only book of hers she ever reread, and even twenty years afterwards it still made her laugh. Dedicated to ‘For whom the Caps Fit’ (not, significantly, ‘For whom the Cap Fits’), it tells the story of three siblings who, one wet Sunday afternoon, discuss their relationship with one another and with their parents. Apart from its qualities as a novel, it is fascinating for the light it throws on Daphne herself, and on the many facets of her very complex personality. In later years she said how much of herself she had put into the portraits of the siblings, and there are striking parallels between episodes in this book and passages both in her biography of her father (Gerald, 1934) and in the account of her early life which she wrote over forty years later (Growing Pains, 1977). The most revealing passage of all comes with the admission of the oldest of the three, an actress, that she is always ‘being someone else’. ‘I’m still acting’, she thinks. ‘I’m looking at myself, I’m seeing a person called Maria lying on a sofa … but me, the real me, is making faces in the corner.’[1] This was true of Daphne herself: the face she presented to the world was courteous and unruffled (she never lost her temper, and whenever possible avoided confrontation), but behind this calm exterior was a dark, often perturbed mind. She lived on two levels: on the one level was the seemingly serene person who married, bore three children, walked her beloved West Highland terriers, and kept a close eye on the household finances, which she ran firmly and sensibly, at the same time showing great generosity towards her family and friends. On the other level was the woman who wrote nearly thirty highly successful books, and who existed in and through the characters she created. And it was the latter who were much the more real to her. ‘Daphne could walk into a bloody lamp post’, her husband used to say, ‘and not notice because she was so wrapped up in her writing’.

Sheila Hodges
Editing Daphne du Maurier

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