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Myself when others: Daphne du Maurier and the double dialogue with 'D'

Zlosnik, Sue and Horner, Avril (2009) Myself when others: Daphne du Maurier and the double dialogue with 'D'. Women: a cultural review, 20 (1). pp. 9-24. ISSN 1470-1367

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Abstract

One of the most powerful influences on Daphne du Maurier's life and writing was her relationship with her actor-manager father, whom she referred to as 'D'. Although critics such as Nina Auerbach have usefully explored du Maurier's personal and artistic debts to her grandfather (the writer and artist George du Maurier), little has been written on how Gerald du Maurier's personality and possessive love of his daughter marked her work. This essay examines the nature of du Maurier's ambivalent love for her charismatic, emotionally immature and egocentric actor father and explores how she used disguise, masquerade and acting in her fiction in order to represent and explore complex family relationships. To illustrate our argument, we focus on her less well-known works, including The Progress of Julius (1933), Gerald: A Portrait (1934), The Parasites (1949), Myself When Young (1977) and the short story 'A Border-line Case' (1971), while also suggesting that some of her best-sellers, such as Frenchman's Creek (1941) and Rebecca (1938), can be fruitfully re-read through such a perspective. We conclude that her fictional transformation of the family theatrical legacy enabled du Maurier to understand-and come to terms with-her ambivalent attitude towards her own father. Moreover, the disturbing nature of her fiction challenges sentimental narratives of family life, asking the reader to consider at what point, and in what ways, love can become dysfunctional and damaging. Her novels and short stories, read in this light, pose enduring questions concerning the relationship between character and author and between 'self' and 'other'.

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