Angela Du Maurier

NPG x138986; Angela Du Maurier by Hay Wrightson

It is a common misconception that all three of the Du Maurier girls; Angela, Daphne and Jeanne, should have been boys. While it is true that Daphne hankered after her make-believe persona Eric Avon ‘the boy in the box’, and Jeanne had the ‘sturdiness’ of the boy-child she should have been, Angela was happy to be a girl. Though, as content with her sex as she was, Angela felt inferior as the ‘plain, unremarkable’ sister – a feeling emphasized by her father’s (the actor-manage Gerald Du Maurier) incessant need to mock and tease her. A gentle, naive child, her innocence lingered long after she was grown up, and it was those qualities in which her sisters and parents tried to extinguish. For example, as imaginative as Daphne could be, she did not believe in the after-life and was exasperated by Angela’s longing to be reunited as spirits in another realm. I suppose Daphne would have agreed to such dreams, so long as the setting of the after-life resembled Cornwall. Holding onto the fantasy of Father Christmas until the age of twelve, and fearful of growing up, Angela recorded in her diary: ‘The finish of security. Doubt lies ahead. Adieu les jours heureux.’


The business of growing older, into ‘double figures’, I disliked. I was unhappy when I was told I was too old to wear my nice white socks in the summertime, and made to wear horrible brown stockings…one was a fish out of water, too young to listen to sophisticated conversation, at the same time not wishing to play cricket on the lawn with younger sisters and their friends…pulled both ways, misunderstood at times by young and old alike, and not always understanding oneself.


Nurturing an ambition to appear on the London stage, Angela played Wendy Darling to Gladys Cooper’s Peter Pan. To her dismay she made a hopeless actress, but she plodded on for two seasons, the unsuitability of her professional becoming clear when she took off her on invisible wire, crashed into the footlights and landed in the orchestra pit. She then turned her attention to politics, having met Peter Macdonald, MP for the Isle of Wight, backstage at a play. Becoming a Young Conservative, Angela threw herself into campaigning for the Conservative Party, travelling to darkest Southwark to campaign for the Tories. Appalled by the sights of poverty and inhumane conditions the people endured, Angela questioned her Tory views. Many doors were slammed in her face, and when a gruff man shouted that he voted Labour and ‘always would’, she sighed and answered: ‘Yes, so should I.’ A converted socialist, Angela argued with Peter, who had become ‘the love of her life,’ about their opposing ideologies, and quite ignoring that he was married, she struck a deal. If the Tories won, all would be well with them; if Labour won, they would be over. Labour won, and the General Election of 1929 became the watershed of her romantic life.


Although she dreamed of marriage and children, Angela was repelled by the biological factor of sex. As a child, when she learned of reproduction, she felt sickened by the details – ‘my father would never do such a thing’ – and betrayed by her parents ‘because the truth was so HORRIBLE that they couldn’t bear to tell it to me’. She never cared for parties, or for her finishing school in Paris, and was content to sit at home, write in her diary, and live off her parents’ allowance of £150 a year. At the age of thirty, she was still child-like, though she felt repressed by the confines of her family-life and the watchful eye of her father – ‘I wanted to be Angela, and not merely Gerald’s daughter.’ When he died, she finally felt free and, engulfed by her feelings of guilt at such a thought, she set off for Italy where she fell in love with her older, married female friend (the relationship remained platonic), and was horrified at Mussolini and his army of fascists.


The onset of World War 2 gave Angela a purpose, and settling in Cornwall she worked the land with Jeanne. Daphne, of course, was reaping the financial rewards that Rebecca had brought her. And, world famous and an in-demand writer, she was pursuing the literary career Angela had dreamed of, but in spite of her younger sister’s success, she was not bitter about it. The Little Less, Angela’s first attempt at a novel, was rejected by several publishers – a bitter pill to swallow given Daphne’s first attempt at fiction, The Loving Spirit, was published around that time. But with the success of Rebecca, Angela’s second novel, The Perplexed Heart, was accepted, thus allowing The Little Less to see the light of day. The latter, when it was first written a decade before, provoked parental outrage that the sheltered Angela should write a novel about a young woman’s love for another. The Du Mauriers sentiments matched those of the publishers’ rejection letters: the lesbian theme was ‘too unpleasant’.


With a literary career of sorts, Angela went on to write eleven books, including two autobiographies, the most well-known of which was It’s Only The Sister, its title inspired by her exchange with admirers of Daphne’s work. ‘It’s only the sister,’ she overheard the admirer say. Somewhat fulfilled with writing her novels, Angela’s close friendships with other women developed into relationships, and for the first time since the infatuations of her youth, she had begun t0 live the life she dreamed of. Interestingly enough, when writing her autobiographies, friends warned Angela to censor her life as to avoid offending readers. Censor it she did, though it was far from dull.


Outliving both of her younger sisters, Angela died a month before her ninety-eighth birthday in 2002.





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