Sometimes there is a special magical feeling that can take over you as you start a book. The writing has you, the characters have you, it is all just working and you know within between five and ten pages that this is going to be a book that you are going to love. I had this tingling sensation from the very start of ‘Mary Anne’, a novel by Daphne Du Maurier that I have to admit I simply thought was going to be her ‘having a crack at the historical genre’. I wasn’t sure I would be convinced, even though it was Daphers at the helm, I was (of course) promptly and utterly bowled over by it. In fact I loved it so much that I lingered over it and almost didnt finish it in time for today’s planned post. Oops.
‘Mary Anne’ is a historical novel set in the Regency period. I was not familiar with this period, which is a period in British history from 1811 – 1820, before I started the book now however I am desperate to know much more. Daphne Du Maurier steeps the book in atmosphere from the very first pages which had me hooked as they were told from the death beds, and last memories of the four main men in Mary Anne’s life. After this we begin with her poor start in life in the grotty streets of London as she learns her charms and how to use them for her ascent, for that is really the initial part of the story, and how, after a rather disastrous marriage, Mary Anne becomes a prostitute (though a rather exclusive one) and the lover and mistress of the Duke of York. That isn’t the end of the story though, and doesn’t really cover the start if I am honest. I am just highlighting the tale but there is so much more to read it for, honest.
In attempt to avoid any spoilers I will say that once she becomes the lover of the Duke of York she gets rather overly used to the life of a rich woman and all its spoils, yet soon she wants more and more and so starts to do some rather underhand dealings in the name of the Duke which leads to a huge scandal. There is also that saying of ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ and when the Duke decides that he is finished with Mary Anne, she isn’t so sure she is finished with him.
What makes this story all the more fascinating is that it is based on Daphne’s own great-great Grandmother, Mary Anne Clarke. Some might say ‘well where is the originality or plot design in that, writing about your own family history’ or indeed people might say ‘if it is about her own family isn’t she going to be biased’. With regard to the first point I would say a lot of authors write what they know and there was a great deal of time between Daphne writing this novel in 1954 and her great-great Grandmothers scandal. Plus the story is only part of the book, the atmosphere is incredible and I went from feeling like I wasn’t bothered about the era to now wanting to throw myself into more of it.
I do think that the fact Daphne was clearly fond of Mary Anne, in part because she was fascinating and also because she was part of the family, I did feel that there was a slight biased angle to the novel. I loved the character of Mary Anne, she is forthright, intelligent, ballsy, saucy and very witty (in fact I kept thinking it must have run in the family) and I loved spending time with her. I found the way she used her looks and charms to get what she wanted gave you that ‘tart with a heart’ twist which has made novels like ‘Moll Flanders’ etc so successful. However when the ‘scandal’ breaks she almost becomes a victim and I found myself thinking ‘hang on, this might not quite have been the case’. I then shrugged this off and got lost in the tale again.
I really enjoyed ‘Mary Anne’, my only criticism (or warning) would be that there is rather a lot of ‘courtroom drama’ towards the end of the book and I did find this a little wooden and research filled, but then I think all things courtroom based are quite dull (I was a legal secretary for a while in my early twenties and used to hate the court case work), its rare an author makes them exciting it’s a shame this was towards the end of the novel as it did slightly, though only very slightly, dull the books overall charm, though thankfully it didn’t become the lasting or lingering impression the book has on you.
I can’t hide the fact that I am thoroughly enjoying this Daphne-a-thon and cannot wait to get into ‘The House on the Strand’ for next weeks ‘Discovering Daphne Read-along’ on Sunday the 16th. In fact as it is so gloomy, foreboding, chilly and rather windily auntumnal outside today, I think the timing is perfect to pick it up right now.