Monday, May 24, 2010

du Maurier on Fame

by Julia Buckley
Long before the age of book tours and blog tours and author websites, Daphne du Maurier complained of the public's growing desire for authors to be seen by the world. "Living as we do in an age of noise and bluster," she wrote, "success is now measured accordingly. We must all be seen, and heard, and on the air." (from The "Rebecca" Notebook: And Other Memories.)

du Maurier, a private person who became even more reclusive after her literary success, felt that writers should be just the opposite. "Writers should be read," she contended, "but neither seen nor heard."

I think of this now and then when I contemplate the world of publishing--all its joys and sorrows, its ebbs and flows, and its growing trend of bringing the author to the forefront in a way that du Maurier would have hated. Of course, she had the option of simply saying no. She lived in a grand estate which rivaled her fictional Manderley (and on which, it is said, Manderley was based). Her privacy was secured by her wealth and her remote Cornwall location.

In a moving obituary to du Maurier, Richard Kelly revealed that du Maurier felt her success itself was "a very personal thing, like saying one's prayers, or making love." It was certainly not something for the public's consumption.

But the public is a hungry animal, as modern writers know. It must be fed, not only with books, but with photographs and personal anecdotes and live appearances. J.K. Rowling is a household name and a familiar face because her books thrust her into the limelight in a way that she, an equally private person, could not have expected or wanted.

Still, if du Maurier saw the world as full of "noise and bluster" in the 2oth century, she would perhaps see it as noisier now.

How many writers, I wonder, wish for a world more like du Maurier's, where one could allow one's fantasies to unfurl on the page and then could turn them over to a publisher, and eventually to a reading audience, without ever really having to leave that realm of fantasy?

(Image from Daphne du Maurier page)


Paul said...

It is one thing to be appreciated, but it is altogether different to be possessed. This always makes me think of J.D. Salinger who simply wanted to write and became famous for not being famous.

Julia Buckley said...

Good example--and he maintained that seclusion until the end.

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Privacy is not an option for the writer in today's world. Every writer wants his or her work to be distributed and read. Even the wealthiest can't have that without promotion--or, alternatively, self-publishing and spamming the world with free copies.

That said, I'm a gregarious soul who loves to schmooze, and while I don't like having my ability to remain published depend solely on my salesmanship, I do love getting out there and connecting with readers, especially those who tell me my work made them laugh, cry, and/or think.

Julia Buckley said...

I agree, Liz--maybe it wasn't even an option in her world, at least for most writers.

But it's an appealing idea. :)

Having said that, I always like finding out more about authors myself, so I guess what's good for the goose . . .