Bookshelf Travelling: 25 July 2020

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness hosts Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times. This week I’ve been looking at my Daphne du Maurier books. It was my mother who suggested I read Rebecca years ago. I loved it and read as many of her books that I could get my hands on. And over the years I’ve collected this pile of her books and also read her biography by Margaret Forster.

I’m only going to write about one of these books today – Mary Anne, a novel about du Maurier’s great-great-grandmother Mary Anne Clarke, a blend of fact and fiction.

I have a Penguin paperback (the second book from the top) that was published in 1962. This was the copy I read in my teens. And I also have a hardback copy published by Heron Books in 1971 (the second book from the bottom) that I bought a few years ago – it’s in much better condition than my old paperback with its brown, fragile pages.

Mary Anne (1776 – 1852) was born in poverty and became the mistress of the Duke of York, the Commander-in-Chief of the Army during the Napoleonic wars. Actually, as I last read it many years ago I don’t remember the details, just that I really enjoyed it. Looking at it today, I see that at the beginning it looks back at the people who were close to her and what they remembered about her as they came to their deaths.

I love the opening paragraphs:

Years later, when she had gone and was no longer part of their lives, the thing they remembered about her was her smile. Colouring and features were indistinct, hazy in memory. The eyes surely were blue – but they could have been green or grey. And the hair knotted in Grecian fashion or piled high on top of the head in curls, might have been chestnut or light brown. The nose was anything but Grecian – that was a certainty for it pointed to heaven; and the actual shape of the mouth had never seemed important – not at the time, or now.

The essence of what had been was in the smile. …

The rest was forgotten. Forgotten the lies, the deceits, the sudden bursts of temper. Forgotten the wild extravagance, the absurd generosity, the vitriolic tongue. Only the warmth remained, and the love of living. (page 9 in the paperback)

They all died. First her brother, Charles Thompson, followed by William Dowler, ‘faithful to her for 25 years’, a witness at the trial of the Duke of York, then the Duke of York himself, and finally Joseph Clarke her ‘drunken sot’ of a husband.

Mary Anne outlived them all:

But the owner of the smile had the laugh on them, right to the end. She was not a ghost, nor a memory, nor a figment of the imagination seen in a dream long vanished, breaking the hearts of those who had loved her unwisely and too well. At seventy-six, she sat at the window of her house in Boulogne, looking across the Channel to the England that had forgotten all about her. Her favourite daughter was dead, and the second lived in London, and the grandchildren she had nursed as babies were ashamed of her and never wrote. The son she adored had his own life to lead. The men and women she had known had passed into oblivion.

The dreams were all hers. (page 18)

I’d really like to read this book again!