I read a biography of J.M. Barrie (the man who wrote Peter Pan) a couple of weeks ago, and the book was enthralling. It’s called Neverland, by Piers Dudgeon, and it really dug into all of the corners of Barrie’s life and focused quite a bit on the Du Mauriers, a family Barrie had ties with.
A lot of the subject matter interested me – hypnosis, “dreaming true” (I’ll explain that another time), and just the characters’ lives, and it was all made better by the fact that it was nonfiction. But the thing that caught my attention the most was the concept of “alchemical texts” and Daphne du Maurier’s “writing people out of her life.” Initially the alchemical texts were Barrie’s, as he wrote his plays and stories to mirror the feelings and personalities of the people in his life and influence them to act differently subconsciously. He was a very unsound and manipulative man, and desired control in all aspects of his life.
Now, I’m not saying I blindly subscribe to everything Dudgeon said, but a lot of elements make sense. And the way Daphne used the concept of alchemical texts as she grew up was really interesting. Her relationship with her father was very odd – not something I want to go into right now. Gerald Du Maurier was an actor, and someone over whom Barrie had much influence. Daphne saw the power of words and imagination firsthand as she witnessed Barrie’s plays staged around her father, and she put this to use when she wrote her first book (at age 15, I think) in which a father-daughter relationship was central. The book had a profound effect on Gerald.
Seeing this, Daphne continued to use the technique throughout her life, my favourite application being when she “wrote two women (whom she had loved, or at least cared about) out of her life.”
We all know how it feels to not be able to get over someone, to have the thought of them plaguing you constantly, to cry over them at night, to want to move on, to never feel fully committed to your next partner because their ghost follows you around. I may have exaggerated a bit, but getting over somebody isn’t easy. Daphne’s feelings may have had to do with guilt or regret as well as lingering love, but it’s still applicable. She combined the personalities of her two former lovers into one character, Rachel, and wrote a novel about her, killing her off in the end I think. In this way, she freed that part of her mind that the two women had occupied. I suppose it makes sense…. if you spend that much time working on a book, creating a story line with someone who features in your real life, making it all real and controlling what they do, maybe you really can flush them out of your system.
Daphne’s work and life are more complicated than what I’ve said, as was the situation with Barrie, parts were certainly just Dudgeon’s theories, and I’ve written this strictly from memory and what I gathered from the biography. But it still makes for a fascinating idea, something I’d love to try if I had an talent at fiction writing and loads of time on my hands.