|A view of Fowey with the du Maurier house Ferryside on the left|
Which reminded me I was seriously tardy with my review of Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing by Jane Dunn, an accomplished biographer who lives near me in Bath.
Jane has a particular interest in families and their influence on the lives and works of her subjects
families are the soil out of which character grows and there is no richer compost than the relationship of sisters
Previously she's examined the sibling bond between Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell and here she focuses on the writer Daphne du Maurier and her less well known sisters Angela and Jeanne.
|(l to r) Angela, Jeanne, their mother Muriel and Daphne|
Even before the eldest sister Angela was born, the du Mauriers were celebrities in Edwardian society; their father Gerald was renowned as the actor who made the role of Captain Hook in Peter Pan his own. J.M.Barrie was a family friend and the girls were taken every year to see the play performed at Wyndhams's theatre.
|Gerald as Captain Hook|
Throughout their childhood the sisters would re-enact the play in their nursery, the words and ideas becoming engraved deep into their psyches. Daphne was always Peter; Angela was more than happy to play Wendy, while Jeanne filled in with whatever part Daphne assigned her.
|Jeanne (l) with Daphne|
|One of Jeanne's paintings|
This biography is richly illustrated with photographs from the du Maurier family album which track their lives as they grow with the century through the opulence of the twenties to the deprivations of war and beyond. As Jane explains in her preface, she doesn't seek to write a full biography of each sister, rather to consider them side by side as they lived in life. But this is a difficult balance to achieve and inevitably Daphne emerges as the fascinating but flawed leading character in this book. She often appears unlikable and cold in her relationships, yet is generous to a fault with her wealth in supporting family and friends, has written more than her siblings and had so much more written about her.
|Daphne and her children at Menabilly|
And, although the whole family fell in love with Fowey and lived there for many years, it was Daphne alone who became obsessed with nearby Menabilly, the run-down country house which provided inspiration for Manderley in Rebecca, her bestselling novel which became a chilling Hitchcock film.
It's fascinating to examine Daphne's character and work not only in the context of her two sisters but also her parents and the wider du Maurier clan. Although Jane does succeed in bringing Angela and to some extent Jeanne to life, it's through the prism of Daphne that this engaging, highly readable and thoroughly researched biography is at its most successful.
Images courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery, Getty Images and the BBC