The du Maurier literary festival is always a sparkling event, one that lifts the spirits as the first of the season.
Perhaps it's the way the weather often drifts seamlessly from spring to early summer mid-festival, though this year we've been and done that twice and back again already down in the South West, or perhaps it's that welcome glimpse of the sea as you approach the town.
But every so often the festival dazzles a little more with the launch of a new book by or about Daphne du Maurier, a few years ago Justine Picardie's Daphne, this year a new collection of Daphne's short stories The Doll, making the Virago collection of Daphne du Maurier books now in print a sight to gladden the heart.
So getting in the Fowey mood (pronounced Foy for anyone not from these parts) I picked up my copy of The Doll and have been reading several a day for the last week or so in readiness for total du Maurier immersion this weekend.
The story behind this collection has been well-covered in the press here but it is lovely and worth repeating. Every trip to Fowey for us (it's about 45mins away) involves me popping my head around the door for a chat with Ann Willmore who runs Bookends, the town's secondhand bookshop (Mr Ann runs the town's other bookshop, Bookends Too, selling new books.)
I've mentioned Ann here before I know but there is absolutely nothing she doesn't know about Daphne du Maurier having been a collector and diligant researcher of information about her life and work for many years. I'm sure all you indie book owners out there offer a warm welcome to anyone who walks into your shop but there is nothing to beat Ann's open and smiling greeting and we settle down for a natter about the 'latest.' It is Ann who has tracked down some of the stories in this collection, many of them after years of painstaking effort, and discovered in obscure anthologies and magazines. When you are prepared to pay £70 for a 1932 copy of the Illustrated London News because it contains a Daphne story, it's clear you are dedicated to the cause and that astonishing story Happy Valley features on this collection. Read it and think of Daphne's discovery of Menabilly and see the foreshadowing of Manderly and Rebecca, it really is remarkable.
I had quite forgotten what a brilliant practitioner of the art of the short story Daphne du Maurier is, having focused on catching up with her novels and more biographical books in recent years, but this collection fair took my breath away. All seem to have been written when Daphne was in her very early twenties and living in the 1920s, themes of entrapment and obsession move in tandem with those of vanity and hypocrisy whilst jealousy, infatuation and possession pervade. As I read I sensed a young and very fertile imagination ready and waiting to break through the boundaries that a privileged upbringing had chained so firmly in place around her life. A mind ready to rebel, to break the mould and do things differently.
In the event the young Daphne fought for, and won, a degree of freedom by living when she could in Fowey.
Far from the constraints of life in the Hampstead home and the claustrophobic company of her possessive father Gerald, and the mother with whom she was always at odds Daphne was free to write. Nowhere is that mother-daughter tension clearer than in the short story Tame Cat reminding me of Irene Nemirovsky's themes in Jezebel; the jealous and unforgiving mother with the fading looks and her scheming lover who insinuates his way into the naive and hapless daughter's affections. This is entrapment writ large and, as so often in this collection, a perfect delineation of the limitations set on women's lives, lives circumscribed by tradition and habit and bound by the lack of choice about their own destiny.
But Daphne interestingly walks a mile or two in some very different shoes here as well...who was it who said if you walk a mile in someone's shoes at least you are far enough away when they discover that you've stolen them??
Sorry, that's of no relevance, except the young Daphne transports herself into lives seemingly far removed from hers, there is lust and murder here along with prostitution and then there is the doll of the title story. The constant companion of the gifted female violinist, a male doll whom she introduces as Julius, and which she finds infinitely preferable to the real thing. There is destitution in these stories too, something Daphne can have known little about in her day to day life but in many ways perhaps she was more like her character Mazie than she cared to realize. As Mazie yearns for a different and better life and for freedom from the constraints of the present it's but a short step to understanding that this may have been Daphne's dream too. So a collection that may unwittingly reveal even more about an author I have come to know and love, and a very welcome addition to the oeuvre.
Ann's personal story, recounted in an interview in the Western Morning News recently, is also something of a dream come true... captivated by Daphne du Maurier and a regular visitor to Fowey for many years from the family home in St Albans, Ann and Mr Ann ( he's actually David and he's lovely too) chucked in jobs and sold up, moving down and buying Bookends when the business came up for sale eight years ago. Sadly I've met a lot of very grumpy booksellers in my time but Ann and David are life's happy people who have turned a hobby and a dream into a viable and enjoyable business which you sense gives them much pleasure, and it shows... no wonder Ann always has a beaming smile on her face when you walk in the door.