Sunday Books: Daphne du Maurier and Katherine Mansfield

I've just been reading Jane Dunn's biography of Daphne du Maurier and her no-less talented but less-famous sisters, the painter Jeanne and novelist Angela.  It did come as a surprise to me that Daphne was influenced by Katherine Mansfield. 'Daphne declared her short stories the best she had ever read', Jane Dunn notes, although they left her feeling melancholy with a 'kind of helpless pity for the dreariness of other people's lives'.  She identified with Mansfield as 'a sensitive outsider'.

Katherine Mansfield was Daphne's 'muse' and apparently she 'longed to emulate her'.  The Mansfield connection went even further.  'When the du Maurier girls were children Katherine lived in the next road to Cannon Hall and used to watch them playing on Hampstead Heath and longed to talk to them.  she was not quite twenty years older than Daphne and had died tragically young of tuberculosis when Daphne was fifteen.  Discovering this connection had made her believe that something of Katherine's creative spirit had entered her soul'.

When Daphne was at Finishing School in Paris she 'was suddenly desperate to visit Katherine's grave'. The director of the school 'organised a taxi to take them to the old forest cemetery at Avon near Fontainebleau.  After some trouble they found the overgrown headstone. [Daphne thought that] There was something poignant and pathetic about the fact her husband Middleton Murry had never visited it, and Daphne wished she could afford to pay to have the site tended.  On the simple stone slab was inscribed Hotspur's words from Shakespeare's Henry IV, words he had used when being warned of the riskiness of his plan, words that Katherine had loved and lived by: 'I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle danger we pluck this flower, safety.'

Daphne didn't exactly live the life expected of her either, having love affairs with both sexes - something that first came out with Margaret Forster's biography.  That book gave me a better picture of Daphne as a person and a writer, but I hadn't known much about her sisters, or that they were creative women in their own right and had spent their lives with female partners.  Daphne du Maurier and Her Sisters, by Jane Dunn is a fascinating book I've thoroughly enjoyed and I'm now going back to read Margaret Forster's. 

Katherine Mansfield: The Storyteller
by Kathleen Jones is available as an e-book for only £3.32,
Edinburgh University paper back £15.99


  1. This is a fascinating book. I was deeply moved when I learned The last book Iréne Nemirovsky read before boarding the train to Auschwitz was The Note Book of Katherine Mansfield.


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