I'll Never Be Young AgainDaphne Du Maurier
I'll Never Be Young Again
DAPHNE DU MAURIER
Table of Contents
VIRAGO MODERN CLASSICS 515
PART ONE: - JAKE
PART TWO: - HESTA
VIRAGO MODERN CLASSICS 515
Daphne du Maurier
DAPHNE DU MAURIER (1907-89) was born in London, the daughter of the famous actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and granddaughter of George du Maurier, the author and artist. A voracious reader, she was from an early age fascinated by imaginary worlds and even created a male alter ego for herself. Educated at home with her sisters and later in Paris, she began writing short stories and articles in 1928, and in 1931 her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published. A biography of her father and three other novels followed, but it was the novel Rebecca that launched her into the literary stratosphere and made her one of the most popular authors of her day. In 1932, du Maurier married Major Frederick Browning, with whom she had three children.
Besides novels, du Maurier published short stories, plays and biographies. Many of her bestselling novels became award-winning films, and in 1969 du Maurier was herself awarded a DBE. She lived most of her life in Cornwall, the setting for many of her books, and when she died in 1989, Margaret Forster wrote in tribute: ‘No other popular writer has so triumphantly defied classification . . . She satisfied all the questionable criteria of popular fiction, and yet satisfied too the exacting requirements of “real literature”, something very few novelists ever do’.
By the same author
The Loving Spirit
I’ll Never Be Young Again
The King’s General
My Cousin Rachel
The Birds and other stories
The Glass Blowers
The Flight of the Falcon
The House on the Strand
The Rendezvous and other stories
Gerald: A Portrait
The Du Mauriers
The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë
The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, His Rise and Fall
Myself When Young
The Rebecca Notebook
I'll Never Be Young Again
DAPHNE DU MAURIER
Published by Hachette Digital 2010
Copyright © The Estate of Daphne du Maurier 1932
Introduction copyright © Elaine Dundy 2005
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Introduction to this Edition
Devotees of Daphne du Maurier will find in I’ll Never Be Young Again a rich source of self-revelatory material.This second novel with its world-weary title was completed in 1930, when the author was all of twenty-three years old. Young as she was, however, it is all there, yet at the same time none of it is. She is a beginner. Nevertheless, it contains the strengths that will make her one of the great monologists in twentieth-century fiction, most endearing are the twists, turns and shocks of her plots, which are done in such a way that the reader grows to accept them as reasonable. It also reminds us again what a strong influence James Joyce had on our writers in the 1920s and ’30s, with his stream of consciousness, a technique du Maurier uses to her great advantage.
Two decades later, about her novel in progress, The Scapegoat, she will write to her publisher Victor Gollancz describing her task as ‘simply to take a fantastically impossible situation and make it read with utter conviction’, a target which she hits bull’s-eye in most of her novels, including this second one.
In form the novel is episodic; if a film, it would be called a ‘road movie’, with the self-described male narrator, Dick, driven from crisis to crisis. Starting as a would-be suicide on a London bridge, he moves to a posh cruise of Scandinavia. From there, as a deck hand, we find him on a run-down tug boat about to sink. Having survived, he goes on to Paris. Settling into café life, he enters into a year-long love affair with an American girl, simultaneously embarking on becoming a writer, buoying himself up on hot dreams of fame and fortune. His bubble bursts when a noted publisher tells him he has no talent. Then, when he returns to Paris, his girlfriend walks out on him. In a surprise ending, he becomes happier than he has ever been in his life as a bank clerk in London, listening to a bird who seems to be singing over and over, ‘I’ll never be young again.’
True, Dick is rather unsympathetic. Du Maurier will rarely make that mistake again. At the same time she will magically retain the weaknesses, dishonesties and peccadilloes in her characters that are unsympathetic, as she does with Dick. Fifty-seven years later, in her novel The House on the Strand, there is also a narrator called Dick who is similarly unsympathetic. Coincidence? Subconscious? Provocative?
This early novel is a forerunner of the later ones in that, as with all prolific writers, du Maurier employs favourite words in it which she will use throughout her work. It’s fun to see which words here will become staples of her style. ‘Fool’, ‘child’ and ‘brandy’ are three. Her characters feel like fools, as often as they call other people the same. The word ‘child’ denotes everything from innocence to tantrums while brandy is, universally, the only drink characters swallow to pull themselves together. It is fascinating to see some phrases evolve: ‘I’ll never be young again’ progresses to the second Mrs de Winter’s ‘I’ll never be a child again’. Biting one’s nails under stress, which appears as early as her second novel, turns up again full force in the second Mrs de Winter, who says, ‘I didn’t like it. I began biting my nails. No, I did not like it.’ Nail-biting will apply throughout her oeuvre. In The King’s General, one person even gets around to biting his hands. Daphne herself bit her nails when growing up. A touch of reality.
Another reality in du Maurier’s books is that pe
ople die in them, sometimes in profusion! She kills them off with the brio of Dickens and Shakespeare. Babies, mothers and grandfathers fall dead just when we are becoming fond of them. Only two people die in I’ll Never Be Young Again, but they are the two most important to Dick. Reading her novels, we become alerted to the real and present dangers that threaten her characters every time they mount a horse, climb a hill, step into a car or carriage, scramble up a balcony - or even walk out of a front or back door.
Important also are du Maurier’s unhappy endings (which her husband teased her about). They leave us to ponder how invariably fate pays us back for our transgressions. Though her books were advertised as ‘romances’, boy rarely gets girl; in fact it is rare that two main characters go off together into the sunset. We realize she feels it would be morally wrong if they did. Du Maurier, schooled in the ways of the world, makes this sound sense, leaving a reverberation that haunts us; whereas a happy ending would merely signal closure.
After reading Margaret Forster’s biography documenting du Maurier’s hitherto unknown bisexuality, I confess that it sent me straight back to her novels sleuthing for clues of this interesting facet of her personality. And there are plenty. Nowhere is it more blatant and confusing than in I’ll Never Be Young Again, when narrator Dick explodes about how he wished his father had treated him like a boy: ‘I wanted to use my fists against the faces of boys,’ he says, ‘to fight with them, laughing, sprawling on the ground, and then run with them, catching at my breath, flinging a stone to the top of a tree.’ The confusion here is that the author has mixed up her real-life plight with that of Dick’s, and writes like a woman yearning to be a man. This kind of thing runs through her work. Often her heroines will declare they wished they were a man.
Looking for a context in which to place du Maurier in a literary and historic time frame, I suddenly came across a phenomenon I might otherwise have missed. Until recently, it seemed to me that all the full-drawn female characters such as Becky Sharp, Hedda Gabler and Scarlett O’Hara disappeared after the nineteenth century. I see now that the twentieth century, specifically the 1920s and 1930s, produced two other star woman writers, who created wonderful female characters as did du Maurier; I am talking about Virginia Woolf and the poet Edna St Vincent Millay, both of whom were also Sapphically inclined. In order of their appearance,Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), in whose Orlando the protagonist begins a three-hundred-year journey as a man, but metamorphoses into a woman and who, in another work, gives us the arresting psychological insight that ‘Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size.’ (A Room of One’s Own)
As for Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950), whose wit, candour and genius made her the hottest ticket in the poets’ lecture circuit, unseating Robert Frost; when a college girl, she asked herself the question: What will a scholarship student several years older than the other girls at a top women’s college, Vassar, do to get noticed? The answer: use her attraction to and by women and fix on the same-sex spell they were all under. Her poem, ‘A Few Figs from Thistles’, containing the stanzaMy candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But, ah, my foes, and, oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light.
endeared her to females around the world and possibly gave rise to Dorothy Parker’s comment: ‘If the prettiest girls at Vassar were laid end to end, I shouldn’t be surprised.’
Bisexuality surely added to their originality, idiosyncrasies, imagination and talent.Yet of equal significance was their strong sense of reality which is manifest to anyone who begins to study their careers. There was nothing fey about them. In fact, they were noticeably grounded. All needed a special place to lay their heads and all got it: du Maurier at Menabilly, a mansion in Cornwall, Millay at Steepletop, a farmhouse in upstate New York - two houses set in impressive surroundings. Both women renovated them to suit their own will. With Woolf, it was simply A Room of One’s Own, yet I speculate it stirred up more emotion in women than the two other grander houses.
Another similarity: all three did a lot of suffering in their childhood, which seems to have stiffened their resolve to make up for it by working towards a kingdom, a power and a glory in their art.
As for husbands, each chose hers with a sense of practicality. We have all heard of Trophy Wives but not enough of Trophy Husbands.These three realists chose husbands that they loved and were proud of. Virginia married a publisher, Edna a Dutch businessman, Daphne a much-decorated war hero who masterminded an important wing of World War II Air Force and became a valued member of Queen Elizabeth’s and Prince Philip’s staff, for which he was knighted.
All three women on their own were powerful and entitled, yet desirous of what they saw fame could not purchase: respectability and acceptability. They married what seemed to them stable, non-participants in the arts, although appreciators of them. The men seemed the embodiment of what these women wanted - someone to lean upon, someone to guide them. Ironically, all three of the ladies became the breadwinners of the family.
And yet . . . suppose I ask us to forget, erase, wipe out all I’ve been writing before. Lest all self-revelations, the deconstructions and any other clues lead us astray from the only thing close to our heart: what’s on the page? When we open books, we don’t care about the mood of the authors, the events surrounding their creations or the people they loved and hated at the time. Who cares if they were unhappy, if they give us the finished masterpiece? For this special event, the trio not only achieved Trophy Husbands, they achieved Trophy Editors. They put themselves not in harm’s but in help’s way. Once writers have given themselves to the right person’s eyes, something else happens. It also happened that these editors - Victor Gollancz, Daphne’s publisher and editor; Edna’s high-ranking editor at Harper’s, and Leonard Woolf, Virginia’s husband - became fathers, mothers, bankers, messengers and advisors. Cases in point: Virginia’s homage to Leonard Woolf, ticking off in her acknowledgements all the ways in which he was vital to her novel Orlando; Edna’s editor, always at hand to come to her financial aid when needed.
But best for me were Daphne and Victor Gollancz’s flirty, sunkissed, delirious exchanges concerning a short-story collection. One story, ‘The Birds’, he called a masterpiece, but he didn’t like and wanted her to drop two further stories, one of which jarred on him while he thought the other poor. She was ‘one of the few authors . . . with whom I can be frank’. Daphne accepted his judgement and dropped them, adding that he was ‘dynamic, exuberant, tender, intolerant and the only publisher for me’. To which Victor returned that she was ‘beautiful, adorable, gracious, charming and good’.
Most of all, these Trophy Editors gave Virginia, Edna and Daphne the respect, adoration and veneration due to them.
‘If it must be so, let’s not weep nor complain
If I have failed, or you, or life turned sullen.
We have had these things, they do not come again,
But the flag still flies and the city has not fallen.’
When the sun had gone, I saw that the water was streaked with great patches of crimson and gold.They formed a ripple under the bridge that was part of the wake belonging to the barge. She was perhaps two cables’ length from me now, low in the water, deeply loaded with timber, the brown sail flapping uselessly against the mast.There was scarcely a suggestion of a breeze, and it was the ebb-tide that carried her downstream. I could see one man aboard her, his arm flung carelessly over the tiller, his legs crossed, and a cap on the back of his head.
His pipe must have gone out, for I saw him bend swiftly and fumble in his pocket, steadying the tiller with his knee, then he cupped the pipe in his hands, and threw away the match. I imagined myself in his place, glancing half-curiously in the wake of the barge, where the little match drifted wi
th the tide.
The air to this man would be strong with the harsh smell of tobacco, and the peculiar sweet flavour of well-seasoned timber that clings to a barge. His hands and his clothes would be of it too, the sticky mixture of tar and cutch, and a burnt rope’s end dangling near an empty barrel.
While beyond all these things, so intimate a part of his life, there would come floating up to him, from nowhere in particular, the old unchanging smell of the river, borne from the mud flats beneath the wharves and the dingy warehouses; a smell of refuse left on these beaches to be carried away by the tide, a hint on those mysterious houses where no faces are ever seen and whose dark windows look out upon the Lower Pool, a whiff of oil upon the surface of the water cast by some passing tug-boat.
And strange and unbelievable, mingled with the smoke of London rising into the hazy orange sky of the spent day, a suggestion of some world farther than the tired City and the river, a world where there would be no stretch of buildings flattened in a half-light with the spire of St Paul’s companion to a warehouse chimney, but a grey sea not encompassed by the smallest ridge of land, cold and white-crested, under a grey sky.
Now the barge was no more than a black smudge amongst the traffic in the Pool, a tug-boat was frothing in her wake, smoke screaming from her stout funnel, her propeller churning the water as she went astern.
The iron of the bridge felt hot under my hand. The sun had been upon it all the day.
Gripping hard with my hands I lifted myself on to the bar and gazed down steadily on the water passing under the bridge.