Daphne du Maurier and the General

Daphne du Maurier

The tale of how Major Frederick Browning met and courted Daphne du Maurier would seem to belong to one of the novelist’s less likely plots.

The Major had read Du Maurier’s first novel, The Loving Spirit.  Inspired by her description of the coastline of Cornwall, and also dreaming of possibly meeting the novelist herself, he visited the county to go sailing.

He did indeed met her; and she liked what she saw.  But as the months passed they both baulked for one reason or another at marrying. In the end it was she who proposed to him. The church they wed in was the very church where an important fictional marriage had taken place as part of the story told in “The Loving Spirit.   And that fictional marriage in the book had itself been based on a real one. So a real marriage inspired a fictional one in the novel, which in turn brought Major Browning to Cornwall, where he met and married the writer.. in that same church. It is like one of the loops of intertwined fates which occur in several of her stories.

The Army, the Battle of Arnhem and the bridge too far

As with all career soldiers, Browning’s army postings took him away from home often.  As WWII advanced, he rose in rank to be a General. He believed in air power and he formed the First Airborne Division. This division served in Tunisia, Sicily, Italy and Normandy. By 1944, he commanded the First Allied Airborne Army at Arnhem. The battle turned out to be a ghastly defeat.

Browning’s  decisions and actions before and during the Battle of Arnhem are still debated among enthusiasts of military history. Some of them claim much of the defeat was his fault. Yet, it was he who had given the famous warning to General Montgomery, to no avail, that Operation Market Garden was reaching for “a bridge too far”.

The General and his travelling companions

The General ended his all hastily scribbled letters home to his wife, son and daughters with “kisses from the Boys”.  The “Boys” were his childhood bears who travelled everywhere with him, packed in a briefcase.

This material is from my reading of “Daphne du Maurier, A Daughter’s Memoir, by Flavia Leng.

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