On Sunday, March 14th, a group of our members gathered to hear a talk by Professor Sarah Berry on The Scapegoat by Daphne du Maurier. While we sipped tea and munched on treats, Professor Berry delighted us with her insight into the relentless impact of the setting in the story and her comparisons of The Scapegoat to Daphne du Maurier’s other novels. Just as Manderley itself almost feels like a character in Rebecca, the family home of our protagonist’s French shadow in The Scapegoat also seems to have an undeniable presence, one to which the fate of the novel’s characters are inescapably tied. A discussion of the importance of one’s home environment seems especially pertinent at a time when many of us are still confined to our homes, although we noted with happiness that many of our members are now vaccinated. We are hopeful that, as everything continues to open up this year, our group might be able to meet in such exotic locations as restaurants and movie theaters. We would like to thank Professor Berry, once again, for giving a fascinating talk about a book that is not often discussed by scholars. Although a return to Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel is always enjoyable, it is a rare and interesting opportunity when one is able to hear critical analysis of Daphne du Maurier’s lesser-known works. We are grateful for the thoroughness with which Professor Berry approached the topic, and her analysis of story has certainly led to a new appreciation for the novel in some of our members.
Professor Sarah Berry
The final meeting of the Society’s year was a socially-distanced gathering of only a few members. Professor Theresa Kenney delighted us with a talk on her comparative analysis of Rebecca, Jane Eyre, and Crime and Punishment, with a particular focus on the heroines’ varying reactions to the confession of crime from the man they love. During our first meeting of the year, one of our members shared her personal correspondence with Daphne du Maurier from many years ago, in which the author wrote that one of her favorite stories was The Brothers Karamazov. How fitting, then, to end the year exploring the Russian literature that may have inspired her. Dr. Kenney’s talk was (as always) insightful and deeply engaging, and we are grateful to have spent an afternoon learning from her. To cap off our rather unconventional year, we toasted Daphne du Maurier with glasses of Dubonnet and hoped that next year would offer the opportunity to safely gather more of our members together. Next year we will focus on The Scapegoat and Don’t Look Now, two stories sure to spark interesting conversation.
On the twenty-first of October, a small group of the Society’s members gathered together at a member's home to have dinner and watch the newest film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. We had all been looking forward to the film for some time - it was a bright spot in these dreary pandemic days. Most of our members adore the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of the novel but are always delighted to indulge in another take on the story. There have been many adaptations of Rebecca into film, television, plays (even an opera), and we pursue them as eagerly as Mrs. Van Hopper pursues aristocratic company. A particular point of interest for us was the anticipation of seeing a film of Rebecca not constrained by the Hays Code, as Hitchcock’s was. Our enjoyment of previous adaptations was no barrier for us dreamers. We walked enchanted, and nothing held us back. We had a lively discussion about the film after watching it together. As with any adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s work, our members had varying opinions as to the quality; however, we all greatly enjoyed seeing Manderley and the Cornwall coast brought to life on screen in such a lush, vibrant way. One of our members, Cindy Jones, created a survey about our thoughts of the film, and has written a lovely review of it for the dumaurier.org website, which can be found here: https://www.dumaurier.org/news_details.php?id=717&nc=2. We concluded the night with thanks that we were able to gather together and to spend an evening watching one of our favorite stories unfold.
Members of the Society gathered at the Angelika Theater in Dallas on the thirteenth of October to watch a special (socially-distanced) showing of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, based on the Daphne du Maurier short story of the same name. While the film’s plot is a departure from the written tale, it is nonetheless a classic. This was the first time that some members of our group had ever seen the film in a theater - the big screen certainly heightens the terror! We nervously ate our perfectly salted popcorn and shrieked at every rustling of a feather. Needless to say, we traveled back to our vehicles in groups once the film ended.
The Daphne du Maurier Society of North America held its first meeting on the first of March in Dallas. During the two-hour luncheon, President Shirley Kinney led a discussion concerning the by-laws of the society, and member Charlene Howell delighted the group by displaying a letter she received from Daphne du Maurier in 1958. Ms. Howell, a trained librarian who worked for the Federal Reserve Bank, has read one book every five days for the past fifty-three years. She has had a deep passion for reading since childhood. Ms. Howell shared a story from her childhood about circumventing her local library’s age requirements after she had read every book in the children’s section, a tale evoking imagery of Roald Dahl’s Matilda. When she was thirteen years old, she wrote to Daphne du Maurier, inquiring if the author had a favorite book. Quite incredibly, Charlene still has the response, protected lovingly in a slipcover. The letter is hardly even crinkled after sixty-two years. In slightly askew typewriter font, Daphne du Maurier claimed that there was not one novel she thought “[stood] above all others”, but she did note a particular fondness for The Brothers Karamazov. She also provided a few lines of thoughtful reflection about some of her most recognized works.
Each member took time to admire and read the letter as Ms. Howell told us about Daphne du Maurier’s life and extensive body of work, noting that the author was the most popular writer in England during the forties. A lengthy discussion followed about which of her short stories was most enjoyable, though no one publication was agreed upon by the end of the lunch. With the by-laws discussed and our minds ready to read (and re-read) the works of this author, the members of the Daphne du Maurier Society of North America said goodbye, already talking eagerly of the meetings to come - little did we know how much the world would change in the following days. Now those future meetings may be farther off than we had planned. Ah well, reading is a perfect activity for social distancing.
Photos of letter obtained with Charlene Howell’s consent