A Careless Collection
When asked to write about my experience as a collector, I was immediately taken aback as I quite honestly had never considered myself to be a ‘collector’.
My sweaters are not argyle nor are my jackets tweedy and neither are adorned with leather patches at the elbow. I do not immerse myself in volumes of catalogues and on- line auctions. I cannot be a collector as you won’t find me hanging about fellow vendors’ booths as they unpack in an attempt to get the jump on the next guy for that illusive little goody for which negotiations for price ensue followed by the quiet and sneaky exchange, reminiscent of a back alley illicit ‘buy’ No, I am not a collector.
“So, asks the real collector in the family, what is that assemblage of literary works by one specific author on the shelf in the library?”
Oh good grief! I am a collector. Who knew?
My humble little collection of Daphne DuMaurier came about inadvertently as I would suspect as do a lot of collections. I love the Cornish Coast. If I could I would spend the rest of my life there and die quite happily amongst the old fishing villages, the exquisite rock formations and pounding surf of this spectacular region in England.
Like, millions before me I had read the DuMaurier thriller, Rebecca. I had also seen the movie numerous times and enjoyed a live production at the Shaw Festival. I became rather enchanted with DuMaurier and decided to read a couple of her other books, My Cousin Rachel and Mary Ann. In doing so, I discovered that Ms. DuMaurier and I share the same birthday, May 13th so this added a bit of fun to my reading. We then traveled to Cornwall and stayed in Tywardreath, a small hilltop village in southern Cornwall about 3 miles from Fowey. This is known as DuMaurier country. Our cottage overlooked the most bucolic, pastoral scene complete with lambs grazing on the hill which Duncan found rather disconcerting as he ate his lamb dinner. The property on which we stayed was actually a beautiful old Estate that had been converted to a Golf Course. The main dining room was also used as a theatre. It was here we discovered that the DuMaurier Festival would be taking place the following week. The festival is a celebration of all things DuMaurier and is celebrated every year to coincide with Daphne’s (and my) birthday. Unfortunately, we would miss the festival by one day but we were invited to watch the dress rehearsal of The King’s General at the theatre as a special gift to me.
We spent a good deal of time in Fowey, the delightful little fishing village where DuMaurier lived and worked for many years. I fell in love. Truly fell in love with everything and anything Cornwall including Daphne DuMaurier.
I have collected a number of really good DuMaurier editions and an even larger number of reading copies but my real passion for collecting DuMaurier was what has been written about her and her life.
If I were to be honest, Du Maurier’s writing I find is at best mundane, tiresome and predictable, but the woman was nothing short of remarkable. Her life, her loves, her lifestyle gives ‘exciting’, and ‘romantic’ new meaning.
DuMaurier was born to social wealth and privilege and was accustomed to being surrounded by “theater types” including James Barrie of Peter Pan fame. She had what appeared to be a very pleasant childhood. From a very early age it seems Du Maurier was very confused with her own sexuality and gender. She desperately wished to be her Father’s son and would later adopt a young boy’s name Eric Avon and sported trousers rather than dresses which was rather frowned upon. Later in life she would write, “And then the boy realised he had to grow up and not to be a boy any longer, so he turned into a girl and not an unattractive one at that, and the boy was locked in a box forever.” How very sad.
She married Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Arthur Montague Browning II who was knighted for his distinguished service during World War II and was depicted, in a less than flattering manner in the film “A Bridge Too Far” but to DuMaurier he was just “Moper”. I have no doubt that she loved him after a fashion but it became known many years later that her heart belonged to Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher, who remained her lifelong friend, and then with the actress Gertrude Lawrence with whom she carried on a discreet but passionate love affair which has been vehemently denied by both the Lawrence and DuMaurier children. But there is no denying her one real and true love was Menabilly, the home that was her savior and ultimately her downfall. “Here was the freedom I desired, long sought-for, not yet known,” she wrote in Vanishing Cornwall. “Freedom to write, to walk, to wander, freedom to climb hills, to pull a boat, to be alone.”
Through Daphne, I was introduced to her sisters Angela and Jean, also prolific if not well read authors, her Father Gerald, a renowned actor and Grandfather George Du Maurier, the caricaturist (Trilby and Svengali). Her own children followed in her illustrious footsteps to a minor degree with Tessa and Flavia both dabbling in writing and Christian with whom she wrote Vanishing Cornwall.
My collection is of little to no value to anyone but me. There are a couple of nice pieces but to me they are all precious. When I look at my quaint little collection I am back in Fowey sitting on the dock looking across the Boddinick River at Ferryside the former home of the DuMaurier family and now that of Christian Browning and his family.
So maybe tonight I shall “dream of Manderley”
Article written by Julia McLaren, The Lord Durham Report editor
© text Lord Durham Rare Books, all rights reserved.