Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier

The last day I was at my library branch, March 19, I happened to check out Daphne Du picture_20200409_133224590Maurier’s 1954 novel Mary Anne, on a whim, because I was in the mood to read another of her books after loving Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel so much. Little did I know that would be my last day at the library until at least July (although who knows anything at this point, really?) I’m awfully glad I picked it up because it enabled me to easily participate in Ali’s Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week blog event. 

She set men’s hearts on fire and scandalized a country.

An ambitious, stunning, and seductive young woman, Mary Anne finds the single most rewarding way to rise above her station: she will become the mistress to a royal duke. In doing so, she provokes a scandal that rocks Regency England.

A fictionalized account of Du Maurier’s great-great-grandmother, this is a sweeping historical saga that I was easily absorbed in. Growing up poor in London, aware that her mother had once enjoyed a better standard of living in her previous marriage, Mary Anne was determined not to repeat her mother’s mistakes. She is aware from an early age that women are dependent upon the protection and productivity of men for their lives. But she is intelligent, and can read, and uses those two strengths as her first way of bettering her circumstances.

Injustice – there was always injustice between men and women. Men made the laws to suit themselves. Men did as they pleased, and women suffered for it. There was only one way to beat them, and that was to match your wits against theirs and come out the winner. But when, and how, and where?

img_5624After a disappointing first marriage to an alcoholic, when she was very young and naive, Mary Anne saw herself repeating patterns of her mother’s disastrous marriage, and she wanted to do anything she could not to follow her path. A relative of an old school friend with connections to the Royal Family offers her a way out: a great beauty, she can be a high class prostitute.

This new life was easy. No cares and no worries, and, the first shock to pride overcome, the next step was simple. Men were simple, straightforward, direct, and grateful for little. Amusing to talk to at supper, but generally tipsy. After nine years with Joseph the last was rally no hardship – a few clumsy embraces, followed by snores on a pillow. The snores of a peer grated less than the snores of a mason, and a peer was lavish with presents, which tipped the scales higher. The point was, she made her own choice and took whom she wanted. It wasn’t a question of waiting, and hoping for callers. Two dozen cards in the mirror, and all invitations, so what was the best proposition? It was as simple as that.

Du Maurier writes sympathetically of Mary Anne, perhaps unsurprisingly. The character is not easy to love, in that she is obstinate, brassy, very pragmatic, not very “nice,” but those same qualities are the ones that help her rise above her station in life and keep fighting for what she wanted for herself and her family. She is a real fire-cracker, a force of nature, using whatever means she had (her intellect, her body, and her sexuality) to gain a better standard of living for her children.She really does love her children and try to do well by them.

I liked this novel, but didn’t love it the same way I loved Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel. Maybe it’s because no character in Mary Anne felt as fully realized or as interesting and ambiguous as the characters in the other novels. I don’t know if Du Maurier felt constrained in some way by writing about people who actually existed, it’s possible. The last one hundred pages or so were so filled with legal proceedings that I skimmed pages because I just didn’t find that part as interesting. And the very end of the book felt rushed to me. But those quibbles aside, I am glad that I read this and still would recommend it to fans of historical fiction or Du Maurier. ⭐ ⭐ ⭐

30 thoughts on “Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier

  1. Oooh, fictionalized stories of our grandparents are always wonderful. I have so many romanticized and adventurous stories of my relatives that have been passed down over time.

    This sounds like the first two thirds (?) are great. Why does du Maurier start to get deep into legal proceedings? That doesn’t feel like her typical style. Then again, I’ve only read Rebecca. If I had known about Daphne du Maurier Reading Week, I would have jumped on this. At least, I hope I would have (quarantine reading and all) — I need an excuse to read her, but I find that discussing with others makes her writing more enjoyable.

    Great review!

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    1. Oh thanks Jackie. It was a hard book to review. Yes, the first 2/3 was thoroughly worth it. Then the character gets involved in a drawn out legal fight over hinges she’s written about the Duke and others, and it for boring for me. The human interactions are what kept me reading.

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  2. I meant to check out My Cousin Rachel but didn’t get to it before the library closed. Next year! I’ve only read Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and The House on the Strand. I don’t have strong memories of any of those, but I think Jamaica Inn was probably my favorite for the atmosphere.

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  3. I think I have read this at some point, but many many years ago now. When I had my big clear out before moving here I let my du Maurier novels go so I’m afraid I can’t join in this week but I’m glad you’ve enjoyed this.

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  4. What luck to have grabbed this one! Like you, I loved Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. I’ve struggled to get into her other work though. I’m glad to see that you stumbled upon a good one!!

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      1. The only other one was Jamaica Inn and I had a difficult time with it. But I’ve come to accept that I don’t typically like “classics,” so don’t let my opinion change your mind!

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  5. Great review,Laila. i haven’t read this one but can see what you mean about writing about characters who are based on real people, must be contrictive in some way. Glad you still enjoyed this one though.

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  6. I loved Rebecca, And My Cousin Rachel sounds equally as entertaining, but this book comes acrross as very different from her other more well-known books, so not surprising you didn’t love it the way you loved her others!

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  7. It sounds as though this novel leans more twould direct Realism than the novels Du Morier is most associated with. I wonder if this is one of the reasons why it is not so widely read? Mary Anne sounds like a fascinating character though, so I might try to get hold of this sometime.

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    1. Yes, I think it must be more challenging in some ways to write a novel about a real person, especially a distant relative! I can’t wait to try more of her fiction. I’ve read so many amazing reviews.

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  8. I thought Mary Anne was a wonderful character. I didn’t always agree with her choices, but I couldn’t understand why she did all the things she did.

    I wonder if du Maurier’s personal connection to the topic made her feel compelled to give a detailed account of the legal proceedings. That whole section really took away from the book, but I could see how a writer, having thought it all through, would find it interesting and maybe assume readers would, too.

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  9. I read this so long ago that I don’t remember it very well. Did she eventually sell her influence and get caught?

    I was lucky that one of my libraries stayed open two days later than the rest and I was able to grab an armful of books. However, I wish I had planned better. Not that I don’t have an houseful of unread books. . .

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    1. What landed her in jail was the bribery and writing about the Duke and their affair. She got away with it once but then kept pushing and had a less favorable judge the second time. I was surprised she actually did hard prison time. Sounds ghastly, what little du Maurier wrote about it.

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  10. This was one of my contenders for this week’s reading but I didn’t get to it. I’m still going to reread Rebecca (and rewatch the film, which I’d also planned for this week) though. How fortuitous that you snatched this up while everything was still operating as usual, even without knowing about the upcoming event! I grabbed a couple of other books on impulse on the last day that I was in too, to pick up holds mainly, and I was so pleased afterwards to have done so. I actually really love reading trial settings in stories, so maybe I would actually enjoy that last third, but it does depend on the story, so maybe not. Good to have it mind for when I do get around to reading it though.

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