Having turned the final page on Daphne's Letters From Menabilly, edited by Oriel Malet and revisited my letter-writing self, I'm reminded how fascinating letters can be and am now mortified that there seem to be no other volumes of Daphne's letters in print. Such a good letter writer, wrote as I imagine she spoke, creating a well-defined trajectory between the voice on the page and the mind of the reader, Daphne could so easily be sitting in the room.
Lots of incidents, anecdotes and mentions have intrigued me, so many little glimpses of her life as a writer
'Someone has to die soon in my book, and I feel I must have a French missal before she does, so that I can feel myself at the funeral.'
and this sage advice for Oriel struggling with her own book,
'Listen, first of all, don't get all hot and bothered about this thing you insist on calling 'a plot'. You don't have to have a 'plot' ; it sounds like Guy Fawkes in his old cloak, creeping with a lantern. You don't even have to have action (think of Proust). but you must have a real reason for it all, a reason for the things you want to say.'
Buried in these letters are countless kernels of good advice for any would-be writer all shared generously with Oriel Malet.
There's an interesting reference to Frank Baker, a fellow writer and Cornish incomer and writer of Miss Hargreaves, who had sent Daphne a copy of one of his books,
'Well, this man, Mr Frank Baker, wrote me a nice letter and sent me his Birds to read, saying he had read mine in Penguin's and thought it very good. So I began his, rather smiling derisively thinking it would be nonsense, and it's frightfully good! Much more psychological politics than mine and going into great Deep Thoughts, I was quite absorbed!...I do think it's a shame his novel never seemed to sell in '36. Hitchcock would have been well-advised to have bought his, and not mine.'
I also particularly like the way it's possible to compile a morsel of Daphne's reading list.
There is a great deal of monastic reading in this second half of her life, Against All Reason, The Nun's Story, In a Great Tradition, the writing of Thomas Merton and much spiritual searching seems to have been in evidence throughout Daphne's life.
Also getting a mention Rosamund Lehmann, Elizabeth Bowen and in an unaccustomed display of wrath,
' The thing that maddened me this week, on TV, was that writer called Margaret Drabble, who went to Haworth and had a programme on the Brontes...she flounced about in one of those long Maxi coats, with flowing blousy hair, even on the moors, and talked about the three unhappy sisters, sex-starved etc and longing to break away. I could have HIT her! Not a word about Gondal...said all Branwell ever did was to drink at the Black Bull and that Charlotte hated the Parsonage. It was a travesty!'
I have emerged from these letters full of even more warmth and admiration for Daphne in all her guises.
It was therefore intriguing to hear Daphne's eldest daughter Lady Tessa Montgomery speak at the Du Maurier Festival and also confirmed for me that the myth which Justine identified is now truly gathering momentum and becoming increasingly potent and powerful.
It was all tangible and much in evidence at this event.
Standing room only and I was entranced as this tall dignified figure, who seems to resemble Daphne quite closely, gave a vivid account of her mother's life and you could have heard a pin drop. In the audience local acquaintances,offspring of previous maids et al and I found myself sitting next to an elderly man who introduced himself to me as the Menabilly plumber. Everyone keen to claim a connection and offer their own memories and Tessa herself, when asked, agreed that the Letters From Menabilly were a lovely tribute to her mother and gave good insight into the real Daphne, the person the locals seemed to know and remember.
There is no doubt, and it is no secret, that all Daphne's children had an unusual childhood, and had to share their mother with her writing life. Daphne, although often at home, treated the routine of her writing as a working day and spent it in solitude in her writing hut at Menabilly. Her children knew better than to interrupt her yet without this iron discipline her books would not have happened.
Tessa Montgomery's final words, that she remained immensely proud and always would of her mother's life and her writing, was met with huge and generous applause as if in gratitude for what this whole family have given us.