Design a site like this with
Get started

Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing

Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing

Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing by Jane Dunn

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In spite of some ragged writing at the start I very much enjoyed this biography.

In her biography of Daphne, Judith Cook goes into exhaustive detail about the girls’ early life and their famous family. I’m glad Dunn focused on the sisters as adults. She details Gerald’s possessive love for his middle daughter, but doesn’t speculate on it.

Jane Dunn doesn’t go into as much detail about Daphne du Maurier’s books, (which is a plus as far as I am concerned – I just hate having to watch for spoilers in literary biographies) – & they were easy to skip. Dunn covers far more about Angela’s literary works which are less well known. I wasn’t so concerned about this as I am unlikely to read Angela’s works.

I would like to get my hands on

It's Only The Sister by Angela du Maurier

though. Dunn has drawn pretty freely from it. It must have been painful at times for Angela to be so overshadowed by her brilliant younger sister, but they remained affectionate & close for all of their lives.

A weakness that Dunn is unable to help. There isn’t much about Jeanne – Muriel du Maurier’s favourite daughter. Jeanne’s partner Noel Welch refused to cooperate with this biography. Welch was intending to write one of her own.

I wonder if Welch was protecting Jeanne’s memory. Jeanne got stuck with the bulk of Muriel’s care when Muriel’s health & mental well being started to decline, then later on Jeanne decided, “It’s my time!”and refused to help. I do get that. Jeanne worked really hard as a farm labourer as her war work and she wanted to paint. Dunn allows herself a slight sneer at Jeanne’s paintings, but I really liked the retro charm of the ones I have seen.

Hopefully Jeanne’s papers haven’t been destroyed and one day the public will be able to read them.

I loved Angela’s clumsy charm and enthusiasms – the way she tried so many different things in her life. For the most part she never quite succeeded – but they were different times. At 30 Angela having to lie to her mother & sneak out to meet. her lesbian friends! Different times.

Dunn had the cooperation of Daphne’s children and Dunn is appreciative that they remained helpful even though they didn’t like the results. Dunn was (I believe) given the POV that it was a loveless marriage, with both parents having affairs. Dunn is also far harsher on the hard bargain the owner of Menabilly was able to drive, due to Daphne’s obsession with a cold and uncomfortable near ruin of a house.

I don’t think I would have liked Daphne but I admire her independent spirit.her sad and confused end was tragic.

This picture shows how I like to think of Daphne.

Independent, fierce, free.

View all my reviews

Daphne A Portrait of Daphne du Maurier

Daphne: Portrait of Daphne Du Maurier

Daphne: Portrait of Daphne Du Maurier by Judith Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Quite simply, one of the best biographies I’ve ever read!

Not without flaws and I’ll get those out of the way first.

📚 The biggest for me (And Cook isn’t the only literary biographer who does this) was the spoiler filled summaries of D du M’s books. Fortunately I realised very quickly that Cook was going to do this with every…single…book and skipped over them. While I am keen to read The Loving Spirit, the following two novels sound dire and I’m highly unlikely to attempt them, so I’m not to worried about having read their synopsis.

📚 The book is unbalanced, in the sense that there was was a lot about D du M’s (fascinating) ancestors, family & early life, but not so much about her life from when she became famous. This is because D du M herself wrote biographies, about members of her family & she reluctantly wrote an autobiography (the wonderfully titled Growing Pains) but she was always clear that she wanted her private life from when she married “Tommy” Browning to remain private.

📚 The bibliography is very short. & some of the books (like the works about the Oliviers) are only marginally important. There are omissions in the indexing ( I was frustrated to find Cousin Geoffrey missing) & a minor mistake in the bibliography of D du M’s own works.

But Cook is helped by having a brief acquaintance with the Brownings in the 60s. Cook visited D du M’s beloved Menabilly & she did a dramatisation of The King’s GeneralSo she knew their personalities, but doesn’t try to make the relationship closer than it was. & she doesn’t state as fact some details that the Scottish legal system would regard as “not proven.” The main example of this is Daphne’s famed father, the actor Gerald du Maurier’s obsessive love for his middle daughter? Even what Cook recounts (& a photograph she includes of Gerald looking adoringly at his adult daughter & holding her hand ) she leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions. With Daphne’s second cousin, actor Geoffrey du Maurier, Cook is more explicit. I wish I could find a picture of Geoffrey online – so I could print it out & throw darts at it! At 26 & married he was flirting with 15 year old Daphne, which later progressed to kissing. He was undoubtedly grooming this young girl & I know, different time & country but I can’t understand why the visibly jealous Gerald didn’t ban him from the home.

Daphne’s life was undoubtedly privileged -her father financially supported her and let her live separately from the family while she followed her dream. Her famous name opened doors for her. But those doors would have closed again if it wasn’t for Jamaica Inn and then the phenomenal success of Rebecca(still one of my all time favourite books, although My Cousin Rachel runs it very close)

It is clear that Menabilly (the near ruined manor she leased & lovingly restored) was the love of D du M’s life. Losing both Menabilly & her husband Tommy very close together sent D du M into a deep depression. Her frugality & eccentricity became more pronounced & this book has me wondering if D du M was suffering from dementia.

More than worth your time if you are looking for a Daphne biography that isn’t sensationalist.


View all my reviews