As many of you may know, Simon of Savidge Reads and Polly of Novel Insights are hosting Discovering Daphne this month. When they first announced it many, many months ago, I wasn’t really thinking too much about participating. For some reason I have had a bias against Daphne du Maurier for as long as I can remember. I have never read anything she has ever written so I wasn’t quite sure where the bias came from.
But then I remembered an incident in high school. In the spring of my senior year I had a class on European literature. It was supposed to have been an advanced placement class but what happened in class that trimester couldn’t really have been called much more than advanced loafing and advanced lameness. At first it seemed like it was going to be a great class. The class was a little smaller than most and most of the students in the class were friends of mine or were at least fun and friendly. And most importantly, given the supposedly advanced nature of the class, there weren’t any bullies in class–at least not the kind that made picking on me their life’s work.
I was also kind of excited because the teacher had always been billed as one that students just love. And at first she did seem like a lot of fun. But it didn’t take long for the lameness to kick in. First off, she didn’t have much of a syllabus for the course, and what little outline she did share with us was fairly quickly abandoned in favor of a general aimless drift in her teaching methods and subject matter. There was a literature anthology for class and there were days when, in lieu of doing any real teaching, she would sit in front of the class and page through the anthology until she found something that caught her eye and then she would read a sentence or two and then move on. This was all interspersed with lots of chit-chat and stories that had nothing to do with anything.
Now don’t get me wrong, in the final months of high school, I didn’t care too much that she was being totally lazy and not teaching us a thing. But then there was a bit of a situation. We had been waiting to get back a graded assignment for some time. She kept telling us we would get it back tomorrow, and then the next day, and then the next week etc. Well, we only had one other large assignment that was going to count for the majority of our grade and feedback on the earlier assignment seemed pretty crucial in knowing how to move forward. So one day, after many, many delays in returning our graded assignments she delayed yet again. So I chimed in: “How do you expect us to be responsible to keep deadlines when you aren’t responsible to us?” (I still remember the exact words to this day.) So how did she respond? She burst out crying (somewhat of a put on in my opinion) and gives us a big sob story about how she is going through a divorce.
So half the class, taken in by the sob story, look at me like I am evil. Like I had been the one who had said something out of bounds and inappropriate. But being roughly the age now that the teacher was then I still don’t have much sympathy for her. I can’t imagine a grown adult thinking it appropriate to burst out with such a story in a classroom full of 16 and 17 year olds. And I have a hard time believing that she had no family, friends, or co-workers in whom she could have confided and let off emotional steam related to the divorce. But why did I expect much from a teacher whose popularity was high among jocks, cheerleaders, and legions of underachievers who thought she was such a great teacher that she was our graduation commencement speaker?
What does any of this have to do with Daphne du Maurier? Well, that very same teacher went on and on about how much she loved du Maurier (pronounced “do more-year”). So you can imagine that I didn’t feel much of an urge to discover what this lame teacher thought was so great.
But now. 24 years later, I know so many readers whose taste in fiction I trust who also love du Maurier. So maybe it is time to give Daphne a try. About 40 pages into Hungry Hill I am beginning to think that my lame teacher may have been right about at least one thing.