Daphne’s Moment of Decadence

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If Daphne du Maurier had tottered on for as long as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother she would have been celebrating her 100th birthday this year and with almost as much fuss. Even without the Dame’s physical presence there will be a celebratory conference at the eponymous literary festival which has taken place for the last decade in the Cornwall about which she wrote so evocatively. There are also plans for a remake of the film of Jamaica Inn, theatrical versions of The Birds and Don’t Look Now and, as usual, much on the Rebecca front. Indeed Kits Browning, Daphne’s son, who manages her estate, has told me that a Rebecca musical – of all things – has just opened in Vienna – of all places. This can only be a harbinger of more improbable du Maurier revivals and adaptations in her centenary year.

Du Maurier’s reputation seems, if possible, to grow with the years, not least because she is so difficult to pin down. Everyone, including Margaret Forster, her often uncomfortable official biographer, feels that she is, in a sense, a romantic novelist, but she also manages to be one with a literary reputation. This makes her unusual, if not unique.

As the world pores over the du Maurier oeuvre in her centenary year the one bet I would venture is that hardly anyone will even mention the novel which I like best of all – The Parasites. There is no swashbuckling or crinkled crinoline here, for this is a brittle story of contemporary life, written in 1949. I think it has strong elements of autobiography about it. It is uncomfortable, sometimes almost shocking. You could argue that all her novels are, up to a point, untypical, but this is a one-off. Above all it is very funny which, in print at least, is not what one thinks of when one thinks of du Maurier. At times it reads almost like Evelyn Waugh.

The funniest scene in the book is one in which Pappy, who simply must be a fictional re

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About the contributor

Tim Heald lives in Fowey, Cornwall, not far from several of the houses in which Daphne du Maurier lived. His biography of Princess Margaret was published in 2007 and was followed by his whodunit, A Death on the Ocean Wave.

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