Novelist (author of REBECCA) Daphne du Maurier was only 27 when her father died in 1934. To honor his memory she published the following year GERALD: A PORTRAIT.
Notably, Daphne does not make her father stand out from or be greater than his milieu. Gerald du Maurier is not made to soar above the craft of acting, to be supremely great in his friend J.M. Barrie's plays PETER PAN or DEAR BRUTUS. But he might have been truly great, had he but made the effort. Eight 2 1/2 hour on stage appearances per week eventually burnt Sir Gerald du Maurier out. He lost interest in acting, in theater management, in practical jokes, in dashing around the world, in lavish parties for friends, friends, friends and for meaningless amours with a string of young actresses.
In a word, the famous actor and manager of Frank Curzon Wyndham's Theatre in London was a brilliant but passing part of the London scene from the 1890s into the 1930s. But he had been spoiled as a child, pampered by his mother and never tasted poverty. He never learned to manage money. He did not think original thoughts. Sir Gerald was not into religion. He was a notable realist in his acting style. There is not much more to say about his public life.
More importantly than making her father part of the exciting, evolving London scene from 1890 to 1934, Daphne du Maurier in GERALD: A PORTRAIT also defined her father in his babyhood, boyhood and young manhood as very much the child of his famous father and his very kind mother, Daphne's grandfather George du Maurier and wife Emma.
George du Maurier died in his early 60s a decade before Daphne was born. But his widow lived on and Daphne knew and loved her well. Both grandparents were kind, intelligent, indulgent parents of boys and girls and were always happy to have their brood at hand and even underfoot.
Daphne believed that she was indisputably the product of her lineage. It was thus important to understand both her creative father Gerald and her harder working, even more creative painter, cartoonist, satirist, illustrator, novelist grandfather George. And farther back a few generation, too, she researched and wrote, including among the remote glass blowers of France.
I think that Daphne would have preferred George to Gerald as a father. She read all George's letters and his three novels, especially TRILBY (with its famous musician/hypnotist Svengali). As she passed through puberty and young womanhood, one suspects that Daphne would have had had no trouble discussing her flirtations and puppy loves with her grandfather. No such luck with jealous, verging on incestuous Sir Gerald! He had expected at least one of his three daughters to be a son. He taught them all cricket and other manly sports. He became callously cruel to Daphne when she turned for affection and romance to young men her age, not him or at least his age. Her father gave Daphne an enduring distrust of man in the man-woman relationship.
At bottom Sir Gerald du Maurier remained Peter Pan, a boy who could never grow up.
All this and more is in GERALD: A PORTRAIT. A fascinating way to do biography!
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About the reviewer
(Thomas) Patrick Killough (qigongbear)
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more