Daphne du Maurier: “The place has taken hold of me”

Manderley, the fire-wracked mansion in the unforgettable movie, Rebecca, was more than a figment of the author’s romantic imagination. It’s a dream that became an obsession.

Adapted by Frank Morris

Daphne du Maurier discovered the haunted mansion which became the scene of her most acclaimed novel, Rebecca, while rambling about her beloved country retreat with sister, Angela. The author little dreamed that the house she longed to fill with life would one day become her own.

Du Maurier was a lively mix of tomboy and dreamer. She was only 13 years of age. She was often given to scribbling romantic poetry in her diary among the descriptions of a wildly imaginative play, a critic wrote.

The book, Myself When Young, written by du Maurier in 1977, sums up the obsession the “young” teenager thought about. Little did she realise that the house called Menabilly would one day be hers.

In her book, she writes: “And looking north, inland from the Gribbin, I could make out the grey roof of a house there, set in its own grounds among trees. Yes, Angela and I were told that would be Menabilly. It belongs to Dr Rashleigh, but he seldom lives there.

“Our friends, the Quiller-Couches, gave further information. They used to visit it for garden parties in its heyday. And I gleaned snatches of family history. And there were the original 16-century builders; the Stuart royalists who suffered for their King; the Tory landowners with their white wigs and their broods of children; and the Victorian landowners.

“I saw them all, in my mind’s eye, down to the present owner, who would love his home; and when I thought of him it was not of an elderly man, a respectable justice of the peace, but of a small boy, orphaned at two years old, coming for his holidays in a Eton collar and tight black suit.”

Du Maurier wrote in her diary: “Menabilly, haunting, mysterious … The place has taken hold of me. I must go back there next time I come down.”

She “trespassed” once again in the grounds of Menabilly. “The place called to me, I felt I just had to peep at the house, if only for a moment,” she wrote in her book.

In 1943, du Maurier’s dream came true. Menabilly was hers.

As an author, Daphne du Maurier has been described as a “poetic writer” but some critics have failed to see this. Other critics and historians have her “fantastically moody and resonant” and her sweeping novels and plays are a “bit like a myth or fairy tales.”
Daphne du Maurier’s death was a blow to all who loved her. Du Maurier died in Cornwall, England in 1989. She was 72.

Twenty-five years later, there’s is a lot happening on the du Maurier scene.                                       

The BBC have an upcoming adaptation of Jamaica Inn. Also in the pipeline is the new Rebecca movie with Colin Firth and Meryl Streep. The novel is about a naïve woman who marries a brooding British nobleman and finds she must live in the shadow of Rebecca, his beautiful first wife.

In the 1940 version of Rebecca, director Alfred Hitchcock deftly combines the romance, suspense and mystery into an excellent film. The stars includes Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders and Judith Anderson.

[“A Place has taken hold of me” appeared in The Saturday Evening Post, December 1977. Frank Morris used excerpts from Myself When Young by Daphne du Maurier.]

Natural Born Columnist: Writing a column for a newspaper is a daunting task!


The American historian, Jerry D. Lewis, said columnists are “the stars of the newspaper business.” Lewis also labelled the daily column as “literature in a hurry”. That’s why writing a daily column is a daunting task. John Pringle chose Charmian Clift because Clift “could maintain a good literary tone.” Charmian’s biographer wrote: “He (Pringle) was never to regret his choice of Clift … who made the column into a great personal success.”


Pringle describes a columnist’s writing as “deceptively simple”

The celebrated newspaper editor, John Pringle, was staunch an admirer of Ross Campbell. Pringle, in his book of essays, On Second Thoughts,* expostulated that there is no excuse “for ignoring one of Australia’s best writers.”

The editor said of Campbell, that “his writing is deceptively simple, both in style and subject matter. I say “deceptively” because, of course, this extreme simplicity conceals considerable art as well as a very shrewd perceptive view of life.”
Pringle, in his second tour of duty as editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, from 1965 to 1970, introduced a weekly column in the paper’s women’s pages written by the exceptionally talented Australian writer and novelist, Charmian Clift. Pringle’s choice turned out to be a master stroke.

Clift’s brief was that she could write about anything that took her fancy; and because she was a writer and not a journalist, Pringle correctly surmised that Clift’s reputation could “maintain a good literary tone”.

Writes Garry Kinnane: “He (Pringle) was never to regret his choice of Clift … who made the column into a great personal success.”

*Angus & Robertson, 1971.

MacDougall’s column was lauded a “hallmark” in Australian journalism

The columnist who thrived on people as well as humour was the redoubtable Jim Macdougall. Jim seemed to be forever part of the Sydney landscape. The name Jim Macdougall was as well-known as any landmark in Sydney! His long career began as a cadet reporter on the Melbourne Herald in 1924.

After a while he was sent to the paper’s London bureau.

When he returned to Australia, he was assigned to write a front-page column for The Sun, which was lauded as a “hallmark” in Australian journalism. Over the next four decades his column moved to the Daily Telegraph, and later, the Daily Mirror.

Macdougall died on his 92nd birthday in 1995.

Colleague Matt White’s tribute in The Australian says it all. “In an age where the word columnist conjured up all the glamour of newspaper reporting, and when regular by-lines in the daily press were reserved for the giants of journalism, Jim Macdougall, columnist, was supreme.”

White describes Macdougall’s column as a “mixture of humour, humanity and some incredible predictions.” In 42 years at the job, Macdougall turned out more than 10,000 columns, many of which broke important news in a couple of paragraphs long before the stories became front-page headlines.

When Macdougall departed the Daily Mirror in 1975, it was the end of an era. His column had appeared every day for 14 years.

A few years later, he wrote: “It’s not until evening does one realise how splendid a day has been. As I look back, it has indeed been a splendid day.”

McNicol v. Penton: Penton helped hone his column into “punchy short sentences, active voice”

During the scourge of the “dull and politically correct,” David McNicol, poet, journalist and writer, penned the famous Talk of the Town column from 1945 to 1951. Modelled on the style of column pioneered in the US by Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson, it appeared on the front-page of the Daily Telegraph.

McNicol’s mentor in the early days of the column was the great editor Brian Penton. Penton helped him to hone his style – punchy short sentences, active voice.

When Penton died, McNicol went on to become editor-in-chief of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph. He remained in this role for almost 20 years.

McNicol resumed his old career as a columnist, on The Bulletin, when Packer sold the paper to Murdoch in 1972.

[Adapted from Australian Book Collector, October, 2001.]



1902: The “Candlestick” phone: In the second year of Federation, with 3.8 million population, women were enfranchised for Federal elections. A Pacific telegraphic cable was completed which linked Southport, Queensland, with Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. Work was just about finished on one of Australia’s earliest major engineering feats, the construction of a 350 mile pipeline. This pipeline was equipped to carry water from Perth to the Kalgoorlie-Coolgardie goldfields. A break came when Australia’s severest and most widespread drought partially came to an end. Over the past seven years of the Federation Drought, more than 50 million sheep have died. – FM.

Flashback, 1975: The Gough Whitlam Government takes a bow – “We’ve been sacked!”


Former Prime Minister Gough Whitlam died last Tuesday, October 21. He was 98.

Whitlam led his country through massive change from 1972 to 1975, before being ousted by the Governor-General Sir John Kerr.

The nation literally went in to shock when the Governor-General stepped in and sacked the Whitlam Government. But the fact remains: Sir John Kerr was forced to make a move to rescue Australia from political deadlock where it was heading.

And he made it – he sacked the Government!

The Governor-General’s decision was certainly a courageous one, to say nothing of it being momentous and unprecedented.

But was in the right or wrong decision to make?

In 1975, Queensland newspaper, The Courier-Mail, summed up the whole issue. “The GG made a courageous decision and well knew he would make bitter enemies. He has made an implacable of one in Mr Whitlam.”
That he did.

[“Lang Sacked”. The headline that rocked Australia when the Governor of NSW, Sir Philip Game “dismissed” the Premier of the Labor Party, Jack Lang in 1932. ]

Flashback, 1984: “Thousand miles from care” – Going to Manly is an adventure!

In 2014, Manly NSW, a cosmopolitan beachside maze, is no different to what it was in 1984. Perhaps a little different with all the mod cons. There are higher building, finer streets, brighter pubs, more bars and nightclubs. The beach hasn’t changed, and Manly Ruby League club is still the toast of the town for eating, entertainment and jackpots. Here is the latest news: A beach-based children’s fun-park, built in 1981, has been nominated for the Australian Heritage Lists. That’s Manly!


There’s no better way – or place – to find some solace than paying a visit to Manly. As the famous old saying goes, “you’ll be seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care.” Sydney writer, Joseph Glascott, described going to Manly as “an adventure.”

Some years ago, he wrote: “A trip to Manly retains the special flavour of a visit to the seaside. “Manly evokes the charm of the sea rather than the pounding of the beach waves.”

The hub of Manly, apart from the holiday-style sea side attractions, is The Corso. Its mall, with pavement cafes, fish shops and coloured awnings, had become the focal point of the village.

Manly’s history is also a fascinating talking point. The first life-saving club, the Manly Surf Bathers, was founded in 1907.

Earlier this century, newspaper publisher, William Gocher, defied the law by bathing at daylight “and won freedom for the public to bathe” in the ocean after 6am.

Were the natives a manly lot?

Governor Phillip could not be blamed if he looked back on his visit to Manly with some displeasure. It was there that Phillip was speared by a native Willemering while speaking to another native, his new-found friend Bennelong.

Luckily, at Phillip’s side was the colony’s assistant surgeon-general, William Balmain, who extracted the spear. Phillip refused to punish the offender.

Manly was so named because of the “manly appearance” of the natives first encountered there. So come to
Manly, where, as the music hall refrain goes, “you’ll be beside the sea, beside the sea.”

[From Cab Talk, April 7, 1984.]


Auschwitz – The past and the present. It’s important that everyone knows about Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. The past and the present will not go out of fashion … Girl Guides Australia is on the rise and some neighbourhoods even have waiting lists. Does your young relative have what it takes to be a Girl Guide or leader? … Men’s Sheds – Are you a member? It’s where you can do a zillions things or just a friendly talk. Many Men’s Sheds need new members – so join.

Posted in: Grand Years with Frank Morris at 24 October 14

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