02 October 2011

Bad Teacher Delays Daphne Discovery By 24 Years

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.


  1. That stinks that your teacher wasn't able to keep her personal life from affecting her teaching. It sounds like an unpleasant situation all around.

    My freshman English teacher was so awful, we didn't read The Great Gatsby -- we watched the movie! Same with Romeo & Juliet. I think the only two books we completed the whole year were To Kill a Mockingbird and The Heart of Darkness. I do remember some good stories from our anthology text, especially "The Interlopers" by Saki, whom I recently rediscovered to my delight. And I am sorry that she kept you from Du Maurier who is wonderful. Rebecca is still one of my favorites (and I only read it because my mother let me watch it with her on Masterpiece Mystery).

    I do have a Du Maurier I want to read for RIP so that fits in nicely. I don't know anything about Hungry Hill so I look forward to your review.

  2. That teacher sounds horrible but she did have good taste in literature. I think you will find that DuMaurier is well worth reading. My favorites are Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. I've heard her short stories are really good too.

  3. How wonderful that you will finally 'discover' Daphne! She is one of my favorite authors. There's no one who can write quite like her. In terms of building atmosphere and transporting readers, I have to say she is the best.

  4. We had an English teacher who was notoriously wonderful in the same way... we did absolutely nothing in her class. The students loved her so much, our yearbook was dedicated to her! Oh well, better late than never with Daphne. Glad you're enjoying Hungry Hill. I'd love to read My Cousin Rachel later this month.

  5. Ok, I don't care what you think of any or all the other Daphne du Mauriers you may or may not read - you HAVE to read Rebecca. It's brilliant. I simply refuse to believe that you won't agree.

  6. Have fun discovering Daphne du Maurier! I have read almost all her works and she is quite amazing in many ways. Start with Rebecca which was her rise to fame and the movie is a must(Laurence Olivier is in it!). After Rebecca do read - The House on the Strand, Frenchman's Creek, My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat,and The King's General. These are my favourites..let me know which ones become yours.
    Would have loved to re-read along but am travelling and won't be able to take all her books with me.
    I'm going to London...any good places where I can buy cheap books?

  7. I'm still debating whether or not to have another go at Daphne - I want to love her but have never managed to finish a book or story of hers.

  8. Great story. I am actually currently reading "Jamaica Inn", which isn't on the "Discovering" Daphne list of books to discuss...with good reason probably. It isn't very good, IMHO. But I can second (or third) "Rebecca" as a great read. Or watch the Hitchcock film...or do both. One of the more memorable opening lines I have ever read, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again..."

  9. Karen: I can't imagine reading The Heart of Darkness in high school. I probably would have hated even more than when I read it this year for the first time.

    Kathleen: I kind of wonder what I would think of her taste now. Maybe she has slipped into James Patterson...

    Mrs B: I look forward to finding out.

    JoAnn: Given the make up of the students in the class and the topic, it is one class where doing nothing was disappointing.

    Simon: I am reading Rebecca this month as well. I have it on my shelf ready to go.

    Fahreen: Lots of people talk about a bookshop in Notting Hill that has really good cheap books but I don't know what it is called. I am pretty sure Simon of Stuck in a Book would know. You might also check out the book tables set out on the South Bank near the Royal Festival Hall. I have found good stuff there.

    Hayley: It is hard when everyone loves something that you just don't.

    Ruth: As I am now further into Hungry Hill I am enjoying it, but I am not transported by it. Maybe that is yet to come. And I have high expectations for Rebecca later this month.

  10. What a shame that you had such a miserable experience with that teacher who ended up spoiling your whole experience with Du Maurier. Her short stories are a favorite of mine (Don't Look Now or The Blue Lens). I just finished Rebecca a few weeks ago and enjoyed that as well. I think I might try Jamaica Inn next.


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