Review of I'll Never be Young Again - Ann WillmoreDaphne du Maurierís second novel was Iíll Never be Young Again. She wrote it in 1930, after her first book, The Loving Spirit, had been accepted for publication, but before it had gone into print. Daphne was living at the du Maurierís family home in Hampstead and travelled into London every day to work on her book in a room, that her Aunt loaned her, in her offices in Orange Street, off Leicester Square. Daphne wrote quickly and completed the book in two months.
Iíll Never be Young Again was totally different in style and content to her first book. It was a contemporary novel and she drew on her own experiences and observations to write it. It was the first of five novels that she wrote in which the narrator, in the first person, was a man, a skill that she used to great effect. The book tells the story of a young man finding himself and learning about relationships. It is divided into two distinct parts; the first part is about the young manís passionate friendship with a man a few years older than himself and the second part is about his love affair with a young woman.
The story begins with the narrator, Dick, standing on Westminster Bridge, in London. He is about to commit suicide, by throwing himself off the bridge when a total stranger stops him. The strangers name is Jake.
Jake tells Dick that he has recently been released from prison having been sentenced for killing a man in a prize fight. He killed the man deliberately because the man had been responsible for a young girlís death having abandoned her after using her sexually. Dick tells Jake that he is estranged from his father, a famous poet, who Dick describes as an aloof and intimidating man who does not love him. Dickís mother is emotionally remote and not treated well by her husband. Dick had wanted to be a writer but his father had a very low opinion of his work. Just prior to the attempted suicide incident Dick had shown his father some pornographic poetry that he had written as an act of defiance to shock his father.
Dickís aim now is to live independently from his father and with Jake to watch over him this seems possible, so they agree to go travelling together. Dick is twenty-one and Jake is about seven years older than him. Jake is a strong man both physically and emotionally and Dick is able to confide in him and depend on him completely. Jake understands Dickís moods and he takes responsibility for him.
The two men decide to work their passage on a ship going to Norway, and then they continue their adventure through the Norwegian fjords and later up into the mountains. During their travels they learn a lot about each other and a fair bit of drinking, fighting and philandering goes on. At one point they are in a cafť when they become involved in a fight and Dick feels a tremendous euphoria as he fights along side Jake. Dick also has a brief and somewhat sordid affair with an American girl, which leaves him feeling degraded.
After travelling for some time the two men join a ship that is going to Nantes. Tragically the ship is wrecked of Brittany and Jake is killed.
Dick is determined to remain independent from his father so he travels to Paris to start a new life. Soon he meets Hesta, a music student, and becomes involved in her bohemian lifestyle. Dick and Hesta set up home together and a complicated relationship begins. To start with Hesta is reluctant to lose her virginity and Dick has to work hard to persuade her to have a sexual relationship with him. To Dick the relationship that develops between himself and Hesta is wonderful and very different from the ugly affair with the girl in Norway. As time goes by Hesta gains experience and becomes an ever more enthusiastic lover, but as her desire increases, Dickís wanes. He tells her that it is all right for him to want her, but not for her to want him. The relationship becomes strained and difficult. As Dickís interest in Hesta lessens his desire to be a great writer grows. The more involved Dick gets in the book he is writing, the less he wants the burden of responsibility that Hesta has become. He begins to treat her as his father treated his mother and like the man Jake had killed.
Dick leaves Hesta in Paris and travels to London to see a publisher about his book. The publisher rejects the book telling Dick that he is no genius, just an ordinary man. Reality seems to finally dawn on Dick and he decides that what he wants is to settle down in London and lead a normal life, so he decides to return to Paris and ask Hesta to marry him. At one time this would have been Hesta dearest wish, but now he is too late. Hesta goes to live with someone else.
Dick then hears that his father has died. He returns to London, where he gets a job in a bank and goes on to lead a solitary life, finally happy and comfortable with himself.
When Iíll Never be Young Again was published Daphne du Maurier was still relatively unknown as a writer and much better known as the beautiful daughter of the popular actor-manager Gerald du Maurier, and the granddaughter of the famous Punch illustrator and author of Trilby, George du Maurier. Her first book had been a moderately successful family saga and most people were expecting something similar. Iíll Never be Young Again was greeted with a very mixed reception by the public, critics and family and friends. It was a brave book to have written in the early 1930ís, when sexual issues were not usually dealt with so blatantly and it certainly surprised a lot of people, but did not prove to be as successful as her first novel.
In this second novel Daphne du Maurier continues to show an affinity with the male. The first half of the book leads us through a male dominated world of life at sea and adventure, with an intense and all embracing relationship building between the two men that is only broken by death. The second half of the book shows us a male-female love affair that becomes a tortured relationship ending in their break-up. The way Dick resolves this conflict is to finally settle for being alone.
Iíll Never be Young Again is a strange book and the reader could be forgiven for being less than sympathetic with the central character, who comes across as naÔve and egotistical. However, it is an important book for two reasons; firstly because it is the first of Daphne du Maurierís books to be written with the story told by the male narrator and secondly because it helped in Daphneís development as a writer.
Iíll Never be Young Again by Daphne du Maurier (Heinemann 1932, Doubleday 1932)
© A. Willmore 2002.
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