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Four French Holidays by Anne Hall

Anne Hall has just published a new book called Four French Holidays, in which she discusses four women writers, all from the same generation, who were inspired to write novels following visits to France.  The women are Daphne du Maurier, Stella Gibbons, Rumer Godden and Margery Sharp.

Apart from Daphne du Maurier and to some extent Rumer Godden, these exceptional women writers , while still celebrated today are not read as much as they deserve to be.  So, this book is particularly special, bringing us an inspirational look at their work and their lives at a particular moment in time.

The novels that were inspired by trips to France are The Scapegoat (1957) by Daphne du Maurier, The Snow-Woman (1969) by Stella Gibbons, The Greengage Summer (1958) by Rumer Godden and The Nutmeg Tree (1937) by Margery Sharp.

The book is introduced by BBC Paris Correspondent, Hugh Schofield and is then divided into four parts, each section concentrating on one of the authors.  Each woman is introduced to us with some background information before going on to describe the trip to France and the resulting novel.  This is such an interesting and different format, and provides lots of information, that people might not already be aware of.

In the section about Daphne du Maurier, we are introduced to Daphne and her family.  Of course, the du Maurierís have French ancestry and Daphne visited the country on many occasions, including her time at finishing school there.  We learn that, on this occasion, following the discovery of some family letters, Daphne travelled to France with her sister, Jeanne, and Jeanneís partner Noel, on a research trip intended to discover some family history, relating to their glass-blowing ancestors.  The research they carried out and the information they discovered did, later, become the basis for the book, The Glass Blowers, but on returning from France, the novel that Daphne wrote was The Scapegoat, which is based around a contemporary glass foundry and the family that own it.

Two years after The Scapegoat was published, the novel was made into a film, starring Alec Guinness, at which point Daphne returned to France, on location with the film makers.  Without wishing to spoil the plot, at the end of the novel John, the lead character, drives away to take up a life at the Abbaye de la Grande Trappe.  The section about Daphne du Maurier and The Scapegoat concludes with an essay by the celebrated travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor called From Solesmes to La Grande Trappe, which he wrote after staying at the Abbey.

Anne Hall is an authority of the du Maurier family, particularly Daphne du Maurierís ancestors.  She has written Au Pays des Souffleurs de Verre:  Sur Les Las De Daphne du Maurier, about Daphneís glass blowing ancestors, and The du Mauriers Just As They Were, which takes you right through the du Maurier family ancestry from the 17th century to the present day.  Her new book provides some great insights into four wonderful writers, in an unusual and fascinating way.

Four French Holidays by Anne Hall, published March 2023 in hardback by Unicorn.  ISBN: 9781911397274.  £25.00.

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