Sunday, May 14, 2017

Manderley Forever by Tatiana De Rosnay

Several years ago my husband and I went to the Redford Theater in Detroit to see Rebecca on the big screen. The 1928 Japanese-themed theater has been restored by the Motor City Theater Organization, which bought the Redford for it's Barton organ. As usual, the theater seats were filled while the organ concert delighted the audience.

I had seen Hitchcock's Rebecca on television before I read the book. While an English major at Temple University in Philadelphia I attended several meetings of an English majors club, one time to share readings from favorite books. A young man read from Rebecca. It was the first time I had heard Daphne Du Maurier's writing and I put her on my TBR list and later read many of her novels.

So, there we were at this beautifully restored theater in the heart of a declining Detroit watching Rebecca on the big screen, listening to those famous opening words, "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again." We were ready to be swept into the magic of story. The magic was soon lost. The audience laughed. They especially laughed at Mrs. Danvers. There was no pleasure in watching the film, for the laughter diminished the film to farce.

I am grateful that Tatiana De Rosnay's Manderley Forever: A Biography of Daphne De Maurier   restored and justified my original appreciation of Rebecca. De Rosnay has written a mesmerizing biography that also recreates Du Maurier's creative journey.

In 1937 Du Maurier followed her soldier husband 'Boy' Tommy Browning to Egypt, leaving their newborn and three-year-old child with family in England. She hated the army-wife parties, and the desert. She was homesick and thought about Menabilly, the empty manor house in Cornwall that she fell in love with at first sight. Images came to her. She reflected on her jealousy of Boy's first love, a sophisticated, high society beauty. She recalled the vision of a housekeeper's tall, black silhouette, and remembered seeing the shipwreck of the Romanie. She knew the book was to be called Rebecca, and that it would be about jealousy.

Du Maurier returned to Cornwall and spent three months writing her novel like a woman possessed. She sent it to her publisher with a note saying,  "Here is the book. I've tried to get an atmosphere of suspense. It's a bit on the gloomy side. The ending is a bit brief and a bit grim."

The novel's publication, of course, changed her life. Yet, she felt the novel was misunderstood. She did not write a corny romance!

Hitchcock bought the film rights; she hated his film version of her novel Jamaica Inn and was distraught. She wrote to David Selznick, begging that the character Rebecca never be portrayed on screen. She was thrilled that Laurence Olivier would be Max de Winter, but protested that Vivian Leigh was too beautiful to be the second Mrs. de Winter. Thankfully, it was Joan Fontaine who got the role and in the end the author loved the film--including Judith Anderson's portrayal of Mrs. Danvers. Hitchcock did alter Du Maurier's book: Mrs. Danvers in the author's mind was younger and was in love with the first Mrs. de Winters, and she was clear that Max had killed his wife in a jealous rage but was not punished for it.

"It makes me a little ashamed to admit it, but I do believe I love Mena more than people."-Daphne Du Maurier

In 1943, a now wealthy Du Maurier had no love of fashion or high living or art. What she wanted was Menabilly. It was literally falling down, without any modern conveniences. She would have to renovate it with her own funds. Yet she rented the house for twenty years. And so began her love affair with Mena.

I understand how she fell in love with a house, a place with a history that could be read in its every beam and stone. Du Maurier became interested in history, including her own family history, and extensively researched while preparing for her novels.

Manderley Forever brings alive a complicated author in context of her family history, her personal and creative growth, and literary place. I enjoyed the book immensely.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.


Manderley Forever
Tatiana De Rosnay
St Martin's Press
$27 hard cover
Publication Date May 18, 2017
ISBN: 9781250099136