A Portrait


By Daphne du Maurier

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Sir Gerald du Maurier was the preeminent actor-manager of his day, knighted in 1922 for his services to the theater. Published within six months of her father’s death, Daphne du Maurier’s frank portrait was considered shocking by many of his admirers-but it was a huge success, winning her critical acclaim and launching her career. Here, Daphne captures the spirit and charm of the charismatic actor who played the original Captain Hook, amusingly recounting his eccentricities, his humor, as well as his darker side.

“A remarkable book…brilliant comic writing.”-The Times (UK)


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When the du Mauriers were first married, they lived in rooms in Great Russell Street, Bloomsbury. The house was new, and rather damp, and not very comfortable, but these things did not worry them because they were young and happy. Surroundings did not matter very much to Kicky then. He had never known luxury, and did not expect it. The studio he had shared with Whistler was scarcely furnished at all, and had a rope slung across it, hung with a piece of brocade, to shut off the corner used as a bedroom. There had been little furniture in Antwerp either, or in the old Quartier Latin studio, but so long as there was room for an easel, and perhaps a chair to sit on, one did not demand anything else. The du Mauriers lived carefully in Great Russell Street, for Kicky was never a spender, and he reminded Pem that, although he was contributing regularly now to Once a Week and occasionally to Punch, and was to illustrate Sylvia's Lovers for Mrs Gaskell, the future could never be an absolute certainty because of his eyes.

He was only twenty-nine, but his left eye was lost for ever and there was always the dread that the sight of the right eye might go too.

There was, though, no immediate worry, and in the meantime life was a pleasant enough thing, what with work, and one's friends, and dear Pem proving herself a wife in a thousand.

Friends were necessary to Kicky's existence. He needed the warmth of their voices, the quick laughter. He did not mind how many of them crowded into the small studio, chaffing him, arguing, criticizing.

There were so many things to discuss and to question, so many riddles that would never be solved. And it was fun working like this, with a friend at his elbow and two more on the floor; and he would smoke innumerable cigarettes while the light slowly faded, and Pem would scold him for using his eyes so late, and remind him that supper was getting cold and would be spoilt.

Then two of them—Tom Armstrong, perhaps, and Lamont—would stay, and there would be more talking; of books, of pictures, of old days in Paris, of music; and one of them would say, 'Sing to us, Kicky. Sing "Noel". Sing "Vin à quatre sous".' And he would sing to them in the sweet tenor voice that had been his father's before him, while Pem would bend over her needlework and murmur the words silently with her lips, looking up now and again and catching his eye, smiling, and very happy. 'I think I should make a better actor than I do an artist,' Kicky would say later when the others had gone. 'I've often fancied myself on the stage'; and he would strut up and down like a young cock, very pleased with himself, full of talk and in excellent spirits, and Pem would agree tactfully that he would have made a splendid actor, thankful in her heart that he was no such thing.

It had been a jolly day, he would say; full, with no empty moments; and tomorrow would be the same. There would be work in the morning, and lunch with maman belle-mère. Then more work, with Tom or one of the others dropping in perhaps, and dinner with Millais and his wife. He had had no eye worry then, thank goodness; the ghost lurked in the shadows and had not shown its face. And he could lean out of the window and wink at a star, singing softly, 'Je n'ai jamais autant aimé la vie,' and kiss Pem on both eyes and whisper 'Bon soir.'

For all the doubts and fears that arose in him at times, his sight remained good. It was not long before he was sending weekly drawings to Punch, and, on Leech's death, he succeeded him at the Punch table, a great honour and tribute to his workmanship. From that moment success was his.

This was in '65, and, with better prospects and a growing family, life progressed calmly, with no financial worries. The children were a great delight to him, appearing regularly every year like the lambs and the first snowdrops. First Trixie, then Guy, then Sylvia; crawling on the floor, knocking against his easel, breaking his spectacles, they never worried him, and he liked to have them near. Of course, they were an anxiety at times. There was the time when Guy was sick all night and when Sylvia broke out in a rash; and they were for ever catching colds and giving Kicky and Pem a fright that it would turn to bronchitis. Pem was like a hen clucking after her chicks, wrapping them up for fear of draughts and dosing everyone within sight, including Kicky, with cod-liver oil; scolding the irrepressible Trixie when she made too much noise, quelling Guy's occasional outbursts of temper. Then, when they were safely tucked up in bed for the night and work was over for the day, she used to come and sit beside Kicky in the studio and read aloud to him. They dined out a good deal and made more friends every year; there was Leighton, and Millais, and Val Prinsep; Jimmy Whistler, of course, and Swinburne; William Morris, Burne-Jones, and Arthur Sullivan. There were musical evenings at Arthur Lewis's where Kicky sang Gounod and was much applauded, and, fanned with success, borrowed somebody's hat and sang comic French songs in a high falsetto and was not funny at all. There were evenings at the theatre to see John Hare or Charles Matthews, and once a week the Punch dinner, where discussions were lively, the gaiety sometimes uproarious, and Kicky, with his friends, would drive back very late in a cab, rather tight after two glasses of burgundy. 'Who would be père de famille?' he used to sigh, as Trixie, excited as usual and refusing to sleep, called to him from her room, 'Papa! Papa!' and in he used to go to kiss her good night while the dawn was already in the sky.

Next day he would be in bed until lunch, having caught a cold from the draughty cab, and Pem must wrap a stocking round his throat and give him gruel, and put his feet in hot water—all very depressing and lowering to the spirits. And, although he drew for Punch in the afternoon, he would feel dissatisfied with his work, declaring he was not improving, that he was paid too well for his petits bons hommes et bonnes femmes; that his eye was worrying him. A quoi bon vivre? Ce n'est pas gai.

His demon of depression was always ready to close in upon him and stifle him, shutting out the beauty and loveliness of life, reminding him that blindness would one day be his, turning his little world to darkness. He used to hold out his hand before his eye. 'Pem, it's not so clear as it was. I can't focus when I look this way. It's getting worse, I tell you.'

'Nonsense, love,' she would soothe him, 'it's your imagination. Neither can I see if I hold my hand that way.' And she would make a little play of showing him to prove him wrong.

'Are you sure?' he used to ask anxiously, like a child demanding comfort. 'Are you sure?'

Little by little she would calm him, chatting quietly, bringing his mind round to other things, questioning him on the Punch dinner, discussing the children—how forward Guy was for his age, how Trixie was growing—and gradually his nightmare would withdraw to the shadows, his cold would no longer be so heavy, and because it was a fine evening, they would venture for a stroll in Soho market, Kicky well wrapped up in a muffler. At dinner they would have a little celebration to themselves, tapping a bottle of Hock for the occasion and feeling very extravagant, and afterwards at home, perhaps, Pem would read aloud Froude's essay on the science of history. This would lead him to talk of the stars, of the universe, of the queer unsatisfied longings that one could not explain and did not understand (which, Pem would say, shaking her head, she did very well without; and, anyway, it was past bedtime). And she would go upstairs softly, so as not to awaken the children, while Kicky would follow slowly behind, at once elated and depressed, and yearning for the infinite.

Apart from eye trouble and occasional secret depressions that arose from the depths of an unknown inner self, his spirits were tremendous in those days. His enjoyment of life was spontaneous and his gaiety infectious. He had a bubbling sense of humour that saw something ridiculous in every sort of situation: the tedium of a musical party enlivened by the outbursts of an ignoramus; the snobbery of the nouveaux riches when giving their first 'At Home'; the passionate declarations of preciosity from the young aesthetes when contemplating their own works of art; the embarrassing naïveties of his own children before strangers; and the indiscretions of his friends. It was inevitable that he should use these personal impressions for his weekly page in Punch, and the world and posterity benefited accordingly. Du Maurier's drawings became the fashion, the latest thing, the usual light topic of conversation in society drawing-rooms. The very people who were ridiculed were amongst his most fervent admirers, and clamoured for his acquaintance.

It amused him to move amongst them, listening to their superficialities, remarking their insincerities, observing the beauty of the women and the self-satisfied pomposity of the men.

He watched them, a smile on his lips, his eyes twinkling behind his glasses. And then back to his own home and his studio, with veal cutlets and curried sole for supper, and a tremendous romp on the floor with Trixie, as usual on top of the world and growing like a rose trémière; and afterwards smoking innumerable cigarettes, which he made himself, and thinking of tomorrow's work at his easel, while Pem read aloud The Scarlet Letter. Every day brought scenes that appealed to his sense of humour and which sooner or later served for Punch.

There was the time when a Jewish friend of his was married, and he and Pem attended the wedding at the synagogue, Pem in a dress of her mother's, hideous but rich-looking and well suited to the occasion. The service was impressive, but he did not feel much moved, and keeping his hat on seemed very strange. There was music, and all the improper parts of the service were in Hebrew. Kicky felt Baruch was all very well, but Shallaballah was not a word to say before ladies.

They had hired a brougham for the occasion, and drove in the Park to show themselves, but unfortunately none of their friends were about, so they went on to the wedding breakfast, where they sat down sixty to table. 'Beastly wealth,' said Kicky at the Punch dinner that night, 'horrible colours, and, by gum! the curtains and carpets. I took a Miss Elias in to breakfast, and there was turtle soup and speeches. An old rabbi praised the well-stored minds of bride and bride-groom, and Sir Benjamin got up and bowed and raved for hours about friendship and pecuniary success. The young couple left in the middle, so I and some others joined them, and kissed the bride, and flung a shoe when her back was turned, and Pem whispered hopefully in my ear. "They may be happy yet.' "

Then there was the memorable occasion when Kicky's acting ambitions were realized and he played in Box and Cox for charity at the Adelphi Theatre, with the permission of Arthur Sullivan. The performance was given entirely by amateurs (they did it later in the year again in Manchester), and Kicky played Box.

He used to rehearse his part every evening with Pem, who told him he was not natural enough, and forced his voice, and over-acted generally, and he said he found it far easier acting before a large number of strangers than in front of an audience of one, who was his wife at the same time. The whole company gave a dress rehearsal at Arthur Lewis's, Kicky very nervous and managing the singing successfully but a hopeless bungler at the funny business—he was damped by one or two people being cold in their applause.

The night before the great performance he slept with a cold water compress round his throat and gargled with ginger essence. He was fidgety all the morning, and arrived at the theatre as early as half past twelve, taking a glass of stout to calm his nerves. The theatre filled in an incredibly short time, and before he knew it had happened he was alone on the stage and singing the 'Lullaby'. It was a terrible moment; the theatre all a mist because he was not wearing his glasses, and in one brief second he caught sight of Pem in a box. During the duet he recovered his self-possession, and the scene went off in grand style amidst loud applause, the serenade duet being encored. Kicky was delighted, though secretly relieved when his performance was over and he could change and go round to the front of the house and visit his friends in the stalls, all of whom were very civil and highly flattering, protesting he could not have played better had he been a professional. The Terrys were there, and Meggie Coyne, and John Hare; and Hare it was who suggested that when he did it again he should paint his nose red, which Kicky thought rather unkind.

The evening finished with more songs, Kicky changing again and appearing on the stage to sing 'Les Deux Aveugles'. While he waited in the wings for two of the company to finish a last duet he felt so elated that directly the curtain fell he tripped on to the empty stage and performed an extravagant pas seul, whereupon the stage manager amiably made a sign to the curtain lifter and up it went again, disclosing Kicky for all the world to see, clad in a flannel vest and a dirty pair of white ducks.

It was a tremendous success. After dining with a crowd of friends and discussing the performance from start to finish, he and Pem went home in a cab, dead beat, Kicky so overwrought and excited that he did not sleep at all.

Those were the days, said Kicky, irresponsible, lively, gay; days when to be a Bohemian meant that you were genuinely artistic and not a fourth-rate idler sans talent, when wit was spontaneous and not offensive, when manners were informal but never forgotten, when women were attractive without being vulgar, when laughter was effortless and boredom unknown.

Pleasures were simple then, and Kicky's world found happiness in little things. There were summer days when, treating himself to relaxation from his work, he and Pem and a party of friends took cabs to Waterloo and train thence to Richmond Bridge; and, there embarking in three boats, they rowed up to Teddington, the ladies seated gracefully in the stern and on the way back begging to take an oar and performing uncommonly well in spite of their frills and furbelows. And then to dinner at the Star and Garter, finishing the evening at a friend's chambers—potatoes and pie and music—and so home in another cab, Pem much disgusted because a young widow who was sharing it with them had the audacity to put her feet up on the opposite seat.

'But it was such a pretty foot,' pleaded Kicky. 'I don't care for forward women,' said Pem, shaking her head. 'I very much fear J—is sweet on her.'

It was quite true, Kicky admitted afterwards to Tom Armstrong, that the way one of their friends had licked his lips over the widow's beauty was in no sense fit for the drawing-room.

'It all depends how that sort of thing is done,' he argued; 'the way I lick my lips would not call a blush into the cheek of seventeen, and the way you lick yours, old fellow, would not desecrate a church!'

Kicky loved beauty. He clamoured for it in women and children, and even in men. People had to be tall; they had to be graceful; they had to have a certain charm and dignity about them, whether they were street urchins, duchesses, or cab-drivers.

'We called on the Fenns this afternoon,' he wrote in '67, 'and then drove in the Park to see the folk and to bow to our carriage acquaintances should any pass. Met Mrs F and her sister-in-law. Qu'elle est jolie, jolie, jolie! Mais pas mon genre. Haw-haw and that sort of thing. Met her once before, years ago, and she has since been to Tasmania and got prettier. We chatted for a while, and then it came on to rain, and Pem got her feathers ruffled. Then in the evening to Mrs Graham, to meet the Duchesse d'Anmal by express invitation. The D-d'A didn't come after all thro' it being some Bourbon's death day, but ordinary English duchesses were plentiful enough, and a few countesses and that sort of thing—they were so common I lost all my native respect for them. Grisi sang very well, so did Mandin, I refused to sing after such swells, at which Pem was disappointed!

'We went on to the Haden's. Mrs H. played and madame Lehman sang exquisitely.

'Then home in a cab with the Poynters, delighted with our evening and with everybody.'

For all his eye worry and consequent mental anxiety, there was a sense of tranquillity and peace possessed by Kicky that those who came after him would never know. He belonged to that age of sublime security when the present appeared enduring and the future held no fears. Time was not an enemy then. It was a friend with whom he dallied; a friend who moved in step slowly, sedately, who saw to the furthering of his plans. Faith was not lost then, nor belief in mankind; friendship was lasting, and men and women trusted one another.

Prosperity could be counted upon then; there was a certainty that after the lean years came harvest, and it was with a complete trust in his own judgement that provision was made for the grandchildren, some of whom he would never see.

The countryside was not yet desecrated, nor had turmoil come to the streets of London. Walking was pleasant; there was a sort of sweetness in the air in summer; a scent of pink chestnut, and later lilac unharmed by dust or petrol fumes; the good honest smell of horses; and with this were curiously mingled the pleasing sounds of London, distinct from mere noise—the roll of carriage-wheels, the crunch of gravel drives, the light and easy patter of a hansom cab. Flower-boxes, gay with geraniums, caught the passing eye, and window-blinds at noon. Luncheon was leisurely and agreeable; conversation was intelligent; parlourmaids passed silently, wearing billowy aprons and large caps with flying streamers.

Gossip was amusing and occasionally malicious, but there was no breath of slander, no interminable plunging into the privacy of others. Voices were softer; the nasal twang and the high-pitched cackle were not yet born. Hustle was an unknown word; people thought more slowly, moved more slowly, lived more slowly. Women knew how to listen, how to be motionless; they had not yet learnt stridency nor restlessness; and their skins were clean. Nails were not dipped then in coloured varnish, nor dresses saturated with scent. Women took pains with their toilet. Their hair was brushed for twenty minutes at a time. Even the gowns they wore were not impersonal, but belonged in some unmistakable way to the wearer, impregnated with her individuality, her body, bearing for ever the odour of unscented soap, rain-water, and sweet lavender.

The men of Kicky's day respected their women, courted them and won them. They lay side by side at night; they confessed their little hopes and fears and looked forward calmly to another day. Not for them the hunger before dawn, the doubting hours of midnight, the ever-present fear of the future and the shadow of insecurity; worries about money, worries about plans; the very uncertainty of life itself, born from the horrors of wars.

Kicky was blessed in his generation. He enjoyed great beauty, and was spared much pain. Patience was his, and dignity, and a quiet kindliness. They had strength, the men and women of his time, but their fortitude was untried and of another kind. The burdens that they carried were cast in a different mould. Their sorrows and their joys were personal, were familiar; the little occurrences of day to day. No universal hunger bore them down; they trod their prosperous paths with measured steps, untroubled and serene, trailing a bright, unfevered gaiety, smiling with God as their sons would never smile.

The du Mauriers decided that they were outgrowing the rooms in Great Russell Street, and moved to Earl's Terrace, in Kensington, where they lived for four or five years.

The children, especially Trixie, were becoming obstreperous, and needed more room, and in Earl's Terrace they could live on a slightly larger scale. Extra help would be needed, of course. Servants were inclined to be difficult. Martha objected to late dinners, and Jane was known to have gone out one evening without permission. It was all rather fussing. Kicky did not like to be too severe with them, because they sat to him willingly when he wanted a model, and he could not complain that the cutlets were underdone if Martha had left her cooking to oblige. The children liked Kensington because it meant occasional journeys in the underground, and frequent visits to the gardens. Pem, too, was within easy calling distance of her mother.

Earl's Terrace was not ideal, however, and when the next baby came—another girl, May (christened Marie Louise)—both Pem and Kicky were conscious of hankerings towards the country: somewhere not too far, because their friends must visit them, and within easy reach of town and the Punch office. The children were looking pale, though; they needed fresh air and space. Kicky went once or twice to Hampstead, and fell in love with the old houses, the great expanse of heath, the bare unspoilt beauty of it. Somehow it reminded him of Passy and his boyhood; the ponds where the children sailed their little boats were like the small lakes in the Bois de Boulogne where he had played so often as a boy, and it came to him that he must live in Hampstead; that it was his place, his plot of earth, his home; that he would be happy there, he and Pem and the children; that somehow they would all belong there as once he had belonged to Passy.

He succeeded in letting the house in Earl's Terrace. It was not entirely a success, because the people who moved there had the audacity to hammer picture-nails into the precious Morris wallpaper, and 'Although we spoke them fair,' Kicky wrote to Tom Armstrong, 'and never made any remark about it, we are boiling over with indignation. To nail pictures on to the bard's paper without consulting us seems a great liberty. What do you think about it? We sent in to the landlady of this house to ask whether we could put a nail in the bare wall of the pantry, and were by no means sure of her answer. Well, here we are since Saturday, "than which", as they say, a lovelier situation, a more genial old house, and pleasanter state of things altogether, if it could only last, could not be found anywhere.

'There is a spare bedroom facing the west with the most beautiful view in Middlesex, so mind your eyes; you will want to live here altogether.'

This was Gangmoor House, standing on the very summit of Hampstead Hill, facing the White Stone Pond, with a clear, uninterrupted view towards every point of the compass, the peace and seclusion seeming wonderful to them after the bustle of Kensington. (Gangmoor stands today untenanted; even the walled garden is no proof against the constant stream of traffic towards the north, and on most days in summer the cars are parked in rows beside the pond where Guy and Trixie sailed their boats.)

It may be that Gangmoor was too exposed to the four winds and Pem feared bronchitis for the children, or perhaps the house did not altogether suit them, for they were living further down the hill in three years' time, at No. 27 Church Row, and they did not settle into their final home, New Grove House, where they lived for twenty-one years, until 1874.

Church Row is a short avenue with trees in the centre, leading out of Heath Street, and terminating in the parish church, and on either side there are still tall, sedate Queen Anne houses, that might have graced a novel by Jane Austen. No. 27 had a flight of steps leading to a green door, and the front windows looked out upon their placid neighbours, while to the left the squat spire of the old church gleamed between the leafy branches of the trees. There were several floors to the house. Leading up was a long flight of stairs, and from the top windows at the back you could catch a glimpse of London lying far below, long and straggling, like another world.

When Pem and Kicky had dined with friends or maybe visited a play and had come home late at night—and this not often, because the drive was a lonely, tedious one, not altogether safe after dark in that slow climb up the hill—they would peer from those top windows and endeavour to trace the way they had come, which seemed to them now, from their summit, a jumble of chimney-pots and little winking lights.

And Kicky said sometimes, with a sigh, that Hampstead was healthy but a little dull, and they were too far from their friends, and, sensed from above like this, there was a glamour about London that you lost when you were near; a glamour that was partly the lights of the theatres and the street lamps, and partly the bustle and chatter that you heard, music, and the laughter of your friends.

He wondered always if he were missing something that might be happening in London below. It lay so full of promise, like a jewel, and he feared they had lost the art of good living, of conviviality, of social understanding, through breathing the pure air of the four winds. Had they gained so very much in exchanging the lights of London for the stars? He was never quite certain, never quite reconciled. But Pem was very well pleased. Pem professed herself content. Already, in her big generous heart, she planned parties and gaieties for the children; she saw them grow steadily and happily to maturity, held in check by her wisdom, wrapped in her love and secure from all danger. And Kicky stood by the window, looking down upon London, the thought coming to him that next birthday he would enter his fortieth year, that he would be middle-aged, that in spite of his success as an artist he had not achieved all that his dreams had whispered.

There was so much that he would never do, so many worlds that he would never know. He thought of Paris with a ghost of a smile—the noise and clatter of the studio, all the old gay carelessness of youth that would never be his again. He was settled now, a man of means, anchored to his family and his profession, and he did not want to wander again. Fate had been good to him, giving him Pem and the children, and sparing him his eye. He had no grudge against mankind, and he was happy in his friends. Somewhere, though, he did not know why, for all his gaiety and contentment, there was a little seed of melancholy in him, fretful and unappeased.

The last of Kicky's children was born on the 26th of March, 1873. He was a boy, and they christened him Gerald Hubert Edward. For some reason Pem kept the wire that the Punch office sent to Kicky. It ran: 'Welcome big little stranger. Health just drunk with all the honours. Homage and congratulations to madame.'


At first view there is nothing remarkable about New Grove House. It is of a certain age, and stands in a byroad, attached to another house older and more attractive than itself. The entrance is on the very road, and the house is not set back in any way.

You would call it tall and yet poky, large yet awkwardly planned. There was no bathroom, and when the du Mauriers lived there the back rooms looked out upon a little square of slum houses.

From the front they could see the high wall of Fenton House opposite, and to the right the road led to the summit of Hampstead Hill and they might catch a glimpse of the White Stone Pond.


On Sale
Dec 17, 2013
Page Count
272 pages

Daphne du Maurier

About the Author

Daphne du Maurier (1907–1989) was born in London. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, appeared in 1931, but it would be her fifth novel, Rebecca, that established her as one of the most popular writers of her day. In addition to novels, du Maurier wrote plays, biographies, and several collections of short fiction. Many of her works were adapted for the screen, including RebeccaJamaica InnMy Cousin Rachel, “Don’t Look Now,” and “The Birds.” Du Maurier spent most of her life in Cornwall, the setting for many of her books, and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1969.

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