Du Maurier in Le Mans by Setara Pracha
The first International Daphne du Maurier Conference took place in 2019.
Organised by Professor Xavier Lachazette and his team, it took place in a hot and humid Le Mans, and I was delighted to be one of the speakers. It was my first visit to this beautiful city, and our French hosts took good care of us: I had the joy of being able to converse with like-minded enthusiasts without having to explain the details of plots, characters or du Maurier’s background.
There was a trip to the du Maurier farmhouse, which is located nearby. There was much to learn from speakers on topics as diverse as cinematic adaptations, the Gothic, narrative tourism and masks. I used my slot to remind the audience of scholars that Daphne du Maurier utilised imperfection in the human form to illustrate power, abuse, vanity, and self-deception. Well ahead of her time, her inclusion of disabled characters anticipates the Body Gothic and Disability Studies fields of literary criticism. I had with me a few magazines from the 1950s, Womans Own and John Bull, so that colleagues could see the colourful advertising placed alongside the anti-romantic stories with their macabre elements. The juxtaposition of wedded bliss at new linoleum or a Hoover strikes an odd chord with homicidal bankers and murderous usherettes.
An example of some images from Setara's lecture at the Daphne du Maurier conference in Le Mans
Du Maurier’s private correspondence reveals her as an acute social commentator, while the humour in her shorter fiction invites readers to take an uncomfortable look at their own behaviour. My paper foregrounded corporeal symbolism in three of my favourite short stories, Monte Verità, The Little Photographer and The Alibi, reworking material from my own doctoral research, which was published by Lexington this year.
Student choices about research topics are often personal, and I began my project intending to reposition du Maurier as a canonical author worthy of academic attention. I feel vindicated now that her 1938 novel Rebecca is on the GCSE syllabus, and I have several invitations to present the shorter fiction. It is satisfying to see that my research has been successful and led to increasing levels of academic attention.
The front cover of the journal produced from the lectures given at the Daphne du Maurier conference in Le Mans
One of the less well-known consequences of the pandemic is an increased delay in the publication of texts. I am pleased to announce that the collection of essays from the 2019 conference is now available – and it is a very good read!
Dr Setara Pracha, Senior Research Fellow, University of Buckingham, October 2023