Partner Angela Halliday
Cannon Hall, 14 Cannon Place, Hampstead NW3 1EH
Ferryside, Slipway, Bodinnick PL23 1LX, UK
St. Winnow Churchyard St Winnow, Cornwall Unitary Authority, Cornwall, England
Angela du Maurier (1 March 1904 – 5 February 2002) was an English novelist who also wrote two volumes of autobiography, It's Only the Sister (1951) and Old Maids Remember. She was the sister of Daphne du Maurier.
The eldest of three daughters of the actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and actress Muriel Beaumont (maternal niece of William Comyns Beaumont), she was born in St Pancras, London. Her grandfather was the author and Punch cartoonist George du Maurier, who created the character of Svengali in the novel Trilby. Although three years older than her better known sister Daphne, she outlived her by thirteen years. Originally aspiring to follow the family tradition of acting, she planned to be an actress and spent two seasons on the stage. She played Wendy Darling alongside both Gladys Cooper and Dorothy Dickson as Peter Pan. She worked on the land in Cornwall during the war and travelled extensively in Europe. She later turned to writing, with the release of her earlier works coinciding with the publication of her sister's Rebecca and Jamaica Inn. Her works of fiction include The Road to Leenane, Pilgrims by the Way, The Perplexed Heart, Reveille and Treveryan.
Her first novel, The Perplexed Heart (1939), was accepted by Michael Joseph soon after Daphne's fourth, Jamaica Inn (1936), had had a great success and just before the even greater impact made by Rebecca (1938). It was bad luck for Angela and she knew she could not hope to compete. She went on to write seven more novels, a volume of short stories and two autobiographies, It's Only the Sister (1951) and Old Maids Remember (1966). Here she did have a minor triumph over Daphne, whose own memoir, Growing Pains (1977), as Daphne herself acknowledged, was not nearly so witty or entertaining as Angela's.
By far the most interesting and significant of Angela's novels, and one which, if it had been published when it was written, might well have brought her a certain kind of attention, was The Little Less (1941). This was actually the first novel she had submitted but, because it had a lesbian theme, and because Radclyffe Hall's The Well of Loneliness (1928) had just appeared, no one would take it. It was eventually published as her third novel. Daphne thought it not suitable for her children's nanny to read.
She lived at Ferryside, the family house in Cornwall, for most of her life. In spite of envying Daphne's success, Angela was not made bitter by it and the sisters remained devoted to each other. They both loved Cornwall, where their father had bought a house at Bodinnick-by-Fowey in 1926. Angela was with Daphne the day they explored and discovered Menabilly, the house which became the setting for Rebecca and in which Daphne lived for 25 years.
It was Angela, too, who was with Daphne when they first spotted the handsome "Boy" Browning as he sailed into the Fowey estuary. Angela pointed him out to her sister, who was instantly smitten and went on to marry him, in 1932. Angela herself never married. After her father's death in 1934, she lived with her mother just across the water from Menabilly, and was a great help and support to her sister. Sometimes, Angela was the only one Daphne saw socially and she became quite dependent on her in times of need. On one occasion, in a panic over a visit from the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, Daphne called upon Angela to be there and was relieved when Angela chatted away with aplomb, while Daphne herself felt paralysed with shyness.
Once their mother had died and Daphne in 1965 had been widowed, the sisters became even closer, with strictly established routines of telephoning and visiting. They were never intimate confidantes, but staunchly loyal to each other. Angela had several close women friends, among them Naomi Jacob, but was scathing about those who drew what she considered unwarranted inferences from these relationships, writing that all sorts of exotic, vicious interpretations are levelled at the most innocuous friendships . . . if two people share a house . . . the whispering campaign starts . . . the men are "queers" and the women's abode is a lesbian ménage. She was equally irritated by those who considered that spinsters such as herself must know nothing of love and sex. She recounted how from the age of six to 25 she had fallen repeatedly in love "without a trace of sex coming into it" but that later she had thought it foolish "to live in ignorance of one of life's pleasures . . . to be as white as the driven snow at 30 is just damn silly".
Naomi Jacob dedicated Me - and the Stags (1964) to Angela du Maurier, who is also recalled in Nancy Spain's Poison for Teacher (1949) which features a school called Radclyffe Hall. From the outset Angela du Maurier had hankered for marriage, but her lack of success with men may well have turned her towards her own sex. Angela was a serial faller-in-love. In the summer of 1929, when she was twenty-five, she fell madly in love with ‘X’, a man whom she described as Mr Right; unfortunately nobody else agreed, including X’s wife. The affair, like all the others, ended in tears. The following year she met her ‘twin’, Angela Halliday. It was as if their identities had become blended from the outset, for they were both born on the same day, 1 March 1904; both their mothers were named Muriel, and both their fathers went to Harrow. Their nurses were both called Nurse Pierce, and as babies both were wheeled in their perambulators around Regent’s Park. However, they differed by being ten inches apart in height. In her autobiography du Maurier is cryptic, but the clues are there; she appears to have found her true orientation. From that point on, there is little talk of relationships with men; instead she sits down to write her first novel, The Little Less, the story of a lesbian love affair. Later in life, when she came to write a second volume of memoirs, Old Maids Remember (1966), Angela took good care to remind her readers that the Bible – in the story of Ruth and Naomi – acknowledged female love. In the memoir du Maurier persisted in claiming that her relationships were innocent, and it may well be that they were. It infuriated her to think that a same-sex ménage was always immediately assumed to be debauched. Living on your own was the only way to ensure an unsullied reputation, and who in their right minds would settle for that? So what could a middle-aged old maid possibly tell anyone about love? More than you might think, was the implication of her defended reply. Sex was a justifiable pleasure in life, and after all, in her words, ‘to be white as the driven snow at thirty is just damn silly’. For Angela du Maurier discretion was the key, and there are plenty of examples of lesbian women who quietly and discreetly settled down with their chosen partner for a lifetime of tender intimacy and rewarding hard work. Angela du Maurier didn’t pretend that she liked it; sixty seemed to her a dreadful age to be. It conjured up ‘a stout, high-busted party with woollen stockings and golf-shoes, hair in a bun, clothes too tight, a jolly laugh, ever so hearty… And, of course, a spinster.’ The contrast with her youth both appalled and amused her. Privileged, pretty, prim, but always, always in love, the young Angela’s life had been a stream of romances, parties and dreamt-of kisses. She recalled her tiny wardrobe stuffed with evening dresses, and how after every ball she used to toss aside her silk stockings to be darned by the housemaid… in those days she had taken for granted a fairytale future, married to a viscount with six children. Forty years later Angela was an English maiden lady in tweeds, a bit down on her luck, eating kitchen suppers and doing her own ironing. ‘I laugh to myself as I realise that such a future as it conjured up to me at twenty-odd would have brought me almost to the verge of suicide.’ And yet the simple compensations amounted to true happiness: ‘The joy of early bed and a good book to read. The bliss of saying on the telephone, “I don’t go out at night any more”.’ It was worth anything not to be such a gauche flapper.
Angela died in Wandsworth, London, aged 97.
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