Over the next 18 months or so I plan to read all or most of Daphne du Maurier's published works. Then I shall co-teach with my wife an informal adult education survey. This project began a few months ago when my wife recommended and I then read du Maurier's 1956 THE SCAPEGOAT. I was hooked!
Since then I have read seven other du Maurier books, including a collection of short stories and three books about the author. I am settling into a routine which I happily recommend to other readers similarly inclined to read all of Daphne du Maurier and as much secondary literature as helpful.
-- (1) Read the works in the order they were written.
-- (2) Use as your primary guide Margaret Forster - DAPHNE DU MAURIER: THE SECRET LIFE OF THE RENOWNED STORYTELLER (1993). Forster not only gives highlights of each tale but the external events in the author's life that she drew on for her narrative.
I found JULIUS an unpleasant first read. The hero is Julius Levy. The novel traces his evolution into a warped killer from humble birth in 1860 France near Paris through millionaire status in England to return to death in Paris in his early 70s.
There are certain constants in the life of Julius Levy which are often themes in du Maurier's works of fiction.
-- (1) When Prussians shoot and kill Julius's French Catholic grandfather Jean Blanchard, the boy flees with his parents Louise and Paul Levy to nearby soon to be encircled Paris. Not permitted to take his beloved cat Mimitte with him, Julius must either leave her and let her forage for herself, as cats do, or accept the offer of a kind neighbor, who is not fleeing the invaders, to care for the pet. Julius: "No ... she is my own cat. No one will ever have her but me" and "... what is mine can never belong to another. ... Tell me you understand." He then puts a stone in a handkerchief, ties it around trusting Mimette's throat and tosses his dear pet into the Seine to drown. This pattern will repeat itself.
Parenthetically, toward novel's end when he is a recluse in his fabulous maison in Paris, Julius is adopted by another friendly cat.
-- (2) Is Julius meant to be a true Frenchman, a Blanchard like his life-affirming, boisterous tradesman grandfather? Or a dreaming, flute playing, music loving impractical Jew like his father? From time to time, including toward novel's end Julius seeks solace in his father's religion by visiting synagogues. He is befriended by a rabbi in North Africa. Every decent impulse in his life comes from his father's Judaism. But Julius learns to resist all temptation to non-selfish goodness. He lives to realize his grandfather's market maxim: "Something for nothing."
Interacting with his family, his times, his opportunities and his angels both good and evil, Julius Levy claws his way into wealth and power. In the process he covets, even loves some few persons and things. So long as they are his possesions, he protects them. If they seem likely to leave him for another, he destroys them.
A powerful novel which seems better with every re-reading.
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