Daphne is a marvelous story of literary fascination and possession; of stolen manuscripts and forged signatures; of love lost, and love found; of the way into imaginary worlds, and the way out again. The book is written in three entwined parts, which follow Daphne du Maurier herself, the beautiful, tomboyish, passionate author of the enormously popular Gothic novel Rebecca; John Alexander Symington, eminent editor and curator of the Brontës' manuscripts, who by 1957 had been dismissed from the Brontë Parsonage Museum in disgrace after being accused of stealing and forging Brontë manuscripts and who became Daphne's correspondent; and a nameless modern researcher on the trail of Daphne, Rebecca, Alexander Symington, and the Brontës.
Former BritishVogue editor Picardie (My Mother's Wedding Dress) gives us a fictional life of Rebecca novelist Daphne du Maurier (1907 1989) that founders in obsession. In the late 1950s, du Maurier, determined to establish herself as a serious writer, researched and wrote a biography of Branwell Bront , the often-overlooked real-life brother of sisters Emily and Charlotte. Flash forward to the present, in which a nameless graduate student seeks out lost secrets about the relationship between du Maurier and John Alexander Symington, the Bront expert and curator to whom du Maurier dedicated her eventual Bront book. Picardie's novel quickly becomes a tangle of redundancies, as the student, in one plot line, grows increasingly obsessed with du Maurier and loses touch with reality. Meanwhile, in another thread, du Maurier and Symington both flirt with madness in their separate Branwell quests. Du Maurier's fictional characters, especially Rebecca, haunt the story unproductively, as do the Bront s, Bront protagonists, and Barrie's Peter Pan and the Lost Boys (who were inspired by du Maurier's cousins). Picardie does best with Symington, whose career ended in scandal: she portrays his dissolution coldly, letting observations rip in a way she never quite manages with the fictive Daphne.