In this interesting fact-based novel the author tells the story of how Daphne du Maurier came to write her biography of Branwell Bronte in the early 1960s, The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte.
When the novel opens Daphne du Maurier is in her early fifties and is dealing with a host of personal problems. Her husband Tommy has had a breakdown and is temporarily hospitalized. Their relationship is rocky in any case because of Daphne has found out that he had a recent affair. She is portrayed as being rather unstable, she frequently hears the voice of her most famous character, Rebecca, and she can hardly ever bring herself to leave her isolated house, Menabilly.
As Daphne becomes enthralled with the Brontes and writing a biography on Branwell, she begins to write letters to J. Alexander Symington who had edited a Collected Works of the Brontes and been the librarian of a large collection. It becomes clear that he has a large collection of original Bronte manuscripts (questionably acquired!) and he offers to sell some of them to her. But since he has planned to write a book himself for many years he only sells her a few unimportant pages, keeping the best back for himself.
The story is told from alternating points of view: Daphne du Maurier, Mr. Symington and a young female narrator who is not named. She is a young student who is working on Daphne du Maurier’s obsession with the Brontes for her PHD. She discovers the letters between Daphne and Mr. Symington by accident but they end up having quite an impact on her personal life.
This novel is packed with facts that make it a fascinating read for any lover of English Literature, Daphne du Maurier or the Brontes. For example, J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, adopted Daphne’s five male cousins after they were orphaned in 1910. (That part of the story was made into a movie a few years ago, Finding Neverland). He was part of the family, Daphne called him “Uncle Jim.” And Daphne du Maurier put her diaries of her early life in a bank vault in 1979 with orders that they not be released for fifty years!
It’s an intriguing story, well written and carefully researched. I recommend it!
Daphne by Jutine Picardie will be released by Bloomsbury in August, 2008.