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Daphne du Maurier

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The du Mauriers: Just As They Were by Anne Hall reviewed by Dr Laura Varnam

Anne Hall and Lord Strathcarron at the Fowey Festival in May 2018

At this year’s Fowey Festival, we were delighted to be present at the launch of Anne Hall’s new book, The Du Mauriers: Just as They Were (Unicorn, 2018). Anne Hall is an expert on the life and works of Daphne du Maurier’s grandfather, George du Maurier, as well as on the French ancestry of the Du Maurier family and Daphne herself. Anne Hall has already published a book in French called Sur les pas de Daphne Du Maurier: Au pays des souffleurs de verre (2010) and she contributed a chapter to a book on George du Maurier in 2017 (George du Maurier: Illustrator, Author, Critic: Beyond Svengali, ed. Simon Cooke and Paul Goldman). We were very pleased to see Anne’s new book bringing her meticulous research to an English audience and at the Fowey Festival event she was in conversation with her publisher, Lord Strathcarron, about the process of writing the book.

There has been an upsurge in interest in Daphne du Maurier’s French ancestry and French identity of late, also attested by her French biographer Tatiana de Rosnay’s book Manderley Forever: The Life of Daphne du Maurier (2017). Anne Hall’s book offers new archival research about the Du Mauriers and their connections and uncovers the ways in which Daphne and her grandfather George wove their family background into their work. Both Daphne and George undertook research to get to the root of the myth of the ‘Du Maurier’ family’s aristocratic background; of course it turned out to be precisely this, a myth, as the family name was originally Busson and it was Daphne’s great, great grandfather Mathurin-Robert Busson who added the grand-sounding ‘Du Maurier’ to his name. The ‘Du Maurier’ ancestors did not originate from a magnificent aristocratic chateau, they were master glass-blowers and Daphne explored this area of her family history in her 1963 novel The Glass Blowers, narrated by her great grandfather Louis-Mathurin’s aunt, Sophie Duval.

Both Daphne and George were to take inspiration from their family heritage and weave it into their fiction, often in a coded fashion, as Anne Hall argues. The Du Mauriers: Just as They Were takes its title from a comment that George du Maurier made in 1890: ‘We […] like to see what our sires and grandsires were like, and our grand-dams when they were young. Our descendants will probably like to see us - just as we were’. One of the aims of Anne Hall’s book is to get back to the Du Mauriers ‘just as they were’, to unpick the fact from the fiction, and fans of Daphne’s biographical novels of her forebears will find much food for thought in her discussion of what Daphne did and did not know about her ancestors, as attested by The Du Mauriers (1937), Mary Anne (1954), and The Glass Blowers (1963).

The book is divided into six chapters, beginning with ‘Mathurin-Robert Busson, the first Du Maurier’ who emigrated to London in 1789. Chapter Two ‘The Wallaces, the Clarkes, and the Busson Du Mauriers’ explores the lives of Mathurin-Robert’s three children, Jacques-Louis who settled in Hamburg, daughter Louise and son Louis-Mathurin, both of whom lived in Paris and who feature in Daphne’s 1937 biographical fiction The Du Mauriers. Louise made a disastrous marriage to a man named Godfrey Wallace, whose colourful history Anne Hall uncovers, and Louis-Mathurin married Ellen Clarke, daughter of the infamous Mary Anne Clarke whose affair with the Duke of York made her one of the most scandalous and satirised women of the early nineteenth century. The longest chapter of the book focuses on George du Maurier and discusses his novels- Peter Ibbetson, Trilby, and The Martian - and his illustrations for Punch magazine. Anne Hall identifies the autobiographical parts of both the novels and cartoons, decoding references to family members and places, that demonstrates the richness of George’s work across text and image.

The book then turns to Daphne’s father, the actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, whose interest in his French ancestors was less pronounced than his daughter’s or father’s, and finally to Daphne herself and her works of family history. The final chapter of the book, with the intriguing title ‘A very transparent cipher’, analyses George’s novels in detail and unpacks cleverly encoded references in the language and names of characters which, Hall argues, demonstrate that George’s knowledge of the blend of fact and fiction in his family history was more complex than critics have previously suggested- and even than Daphne herself may have recognised. Both this chapter and the one on Daphne’s novels offers much to fans of Du Maurier, packed as they are with stimulating details that remind us of how much more there is still to discover about both George and Daphne’s narrative art.

The Du Mauriers: Just as They Were also includes an indispensable family tree and a number of excellent illustrations, including reproductions of George’s cartoons, the John Collier portrait of Sir Gerald du Maurier, lively caricatures of Mary Anne Clarke, and the real locations in which the Busson du Mauriers lived and breathed, tracked down by Anne Hall as part of her research. This book will no doubt inspire further research into the French side of Daphne du Maurier’s family and it will be an asset to the library of any Du Maurier collector and fan.

The book is priced at £25 in hardback.

©Laura Varnam, July 2018.

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