ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: Mary Anne Clark by Jo Manning – Part Four

Mrs M.A.Clarke, as drawn & engraved by C.Williams, published Feb 25, 1809
by S.W.Fores, 50 Piccadilly

In the above print, titled “Committee of Inquiry” (available for £180 @Grosvenor Prints in Hampton, Middlesex), the descriptive text from Grosvenor Prints has Mrs. Clarke “standing in the lobby of the House of Commons, a section of which is seen through the partly open door: the corner of three tiers of empty benches and the gallery, with a strip of the Speaker’s chair, showing his right elbow.” Mrs. Clarke wears a blue pelisse over a simple white dress; on her head rests a straw bonnet with a lace veil. With her left hand she raises the hat’s veil from her face. The very, very large object on her right hand is a fur muff. Again, as per the description, “She is elegant, alluring, and assured.”
But where was Mary Anne Clarke during the period of the trial and through 1813, when, under the terms of her annuity from the Duke of York, she had to leave England for the Continent?
In her questioning at the 1809 trial she stated that she was a widow living in “Loughton Lodge, in the county of Essex.” So, apparently – or, according to her – her husband, Joseph Clarke, the philandering drunkard, is deceased. But was she actually living where she said she was? The truth and Mary Anne Clarke were never friends, so some skepticism is in order.
According to an article by one Richard Morris in the March/April 2008 newsletter of the Loughton Historical Society, there are some doubts as to her residence in the area at all, though Morris, covering his bases, does write at the end of his piece:
“I am, however, convinced that there must be some truth in the story, if only because of Daphne du Maurier’s relationship to Mary Anne Clarke, her reputation as a novelist, the research she did for her book, and the many references in it to Loughton and Loughton Lodge.”
Bless the man, to have such faith in an author’s research! But we know from what Du Maurier said in the preface to her novel Mary Anne that she relied on someone’s “notes” and on the library research of two others. Dicey. So, here’s the dubious part:
“There are in total nine references to Loughton in [the] novel, and one refers to Mary Anne Clarke looking out of the window at Loughton Lodge: ‘at the neat box-garden, the gravel drive, the trim smug Essex landscape’. This can only considered as author’s licence as Loughton Lodge stands on top of Woodbury Hill with its front facing what is now Steeds Way…in 1809 [it] would have given clear views over the Roding Valley and beyond, and the rear which overlooks an attractive part of the Forest.”
The reference in the last line is to Epping Forest, a considerable parcel of wooded area. Hard to overlook.
Morris goes on to say that he can find no specific evidence of Mary Anne Clarke’s time in Loughton, even though a local street – in acknowledgement of her supposed time in the town — was changed from Mutton Row to York Hill in 1850. When Mary Anne was supposedly in residence at Loughton Lodge, though, it belonged to a family named Shiers. True, she could have been a lodger at the Lodge, but lodging in someone else’s digs was never Mary Anne’s style.
And what of this Loughton Lodge today? Turned into an old folks’ home after World War II, it was subsequently divided into two separate houses. I have not been able to find an image of it, either as it was then, or as it is today. Nor was I able to verify that “a blue plaque” was affixed to the building in April of 2009.

In 1811, wherever Mary Anne was, she did one other thing for posterity, that is, she commissioned the Irish-born sculptor Lawrence Gahagan to sculpt a marble bust of her (now in London’s National Portrait Gallery). It’s very beautiful.

Mary Anne Clarke rises from the open petals of a sunflower. She’s thought to represent Clytie, the abandoned lover of the sun god, Helios, changed into a sunflower so that she could follow her perfidious lover’s progress across the sky each day

So, we come to the question… Do all old English courtesans die impoverished – and disgraced — in France? Grace Dalrymple Elliott died there, in the village of Meudon, and, if not in poverty, close to it; Dorothy Jordan definitely died in awful poverty in Saint-Cloud; Mary Robinson didn’t die in France – she died at home, in England — but she died as poor as it was possible to be; likewise Emma Hamilton, who met her sad demise in Calais.
And then there’s Mary Anne Clarke. Yes, she died in France – after extensive travels through Italy and Belgium — in Boulogne-sur-Mer, but decidedly not in poverty. That generous annuity from the Duke of York saw her through, as it did her daughter Ellen Clarke Busson du Maurier, who raised her family on it.
The irony – there’s always the irony – is that poor Ellen Clarke (said to be as unattractive as her mother was beautiful, with sallow skin and sharp features) apparently was under the illusion for years that she was the by-blow of the Duke of York, but though she was probably not the daughter of her mother’s husband Joseph Clarke, neither could she have been the daughter of Frederick. Her mother – though she certainly knew many men intimately between Clarke and Frederick – did not meet the Duke of York until Ellen was at least six years old. Her biological father is a mystery.
Ellen, so unlike her mother in every way – save perhaps for the sharpness of her tongue — married the inventor Louis-Mathurin Busson du Maurier, a charming, talented dreamer (said to have a beautiful singing voice) who never amounted to anything and was prone, as were others in his family, to depression. His so-called inventions were laughable and he was forever in debt. Although it appeared to have been a love-match, it was disastrous. Ellen had to borrow from her mother and her sister-in-law Louise all her married life. When she came into the annuity in 1852 – either in whole or in part — upon the death of Mary Anne Clarke, she still found it difficult to make ends meet, as her children seemed to have a hard time making decent livings.

George Du Maurier, author of Trilby

Late in his life, however, her eldest child, and her favorite, George Du Maurier, became a successful cartoonist for Punch and other political publications of the day, and, at age sixty, he wrote a bestselling novel, Trilby, inspired by his experiences as an art student in Paris. His son, Gerald Du Maurier, the well-known actor-manager, was the father of Daphne Du Maurier. (There is a marked resemblance in the image above between George and Daphne. Look at their noses.)

Gerald Du Maurier, respected actor-manager and father of Daphne Du Maurier, by Augustus John

Quite a legacy, this of the Busson du Mauriers and the Clarkes. It was a spirited one, for sure, thanks largely to Mary Anne. Daphne Du Maurier, whose attitude towards her ancestor I find somewhat ambivalent, summed up this legacy in The Du Mauriers:
“The pleasant, sweet-natured, melancholy Bussons of Sarthe had not such fortitude. These fighting qualities were bequeathed…by a woman, a woman without morals, without honour, without virtue, a woman who had known exactly what she wanted at fifteen years of age, and, gutter-born and gutter-bred, treading on sensibility and courtesy with her exquisite feet, had achieved it laughing – her thumb to her nose.”
As for the blog post by Kristine comparing Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, to Mary Anne Clarke? Mary Anne could have taught her a thing or two, methinks. Yes, Mary Anne was as greedy as they come, but she was a whole lot smarter and a good deal more conniving. The greed and love of luxury ultimately brought her down – as, indeed, it appears to have brought down this 21st century Duchess – but, while Mary Anne was down, dear readers, she was never really out. The spunky baggage was a survivor, as so many of her courtesan sisters were not. A dreadful woman, but one has to admire her survival skills. I think that, in the end, her great-great-grand-daughter surely did.
Her last words to her son and daughter-in-law were said to be, “It is high time we had another party.”

The novelist Daphne Du Maurier as a young woman

The End

Originally published on October 28, 2010


ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: Mary Anne Clark by Jo Manning – Part Three

The Duke of York set Mary Anne up in lavish accommodations in a mini-palace at 18 Gloucester Place, and by 1805, as his official mistress, she was entertaining, as one source put it, “sumptuously”. She was said to have had twenty servants, which included a housekeeper, five/six maids, two butlers, six or more other male servants (probably footmen and coachmen), and three/four chefs. She had two coaches and at least ten horses. There was also “an elegant mansion at Weybridge” for her sole use.
‘The York-minuet’ (Frederica Charlotte Ulrica Catherina, Duchess of York; Frederick, Duke of York and Albany) by James Gillray (1791)
The prince was married. He was the first of King George II’s children to get married. He’d wed his cousin, Princess Frederica of Prussia, a woman noted for her extremely tiny feet, in 1791. Frederica was petite, very short, not at all attractive, and said to have bad teeth. The duke was no prize himself, described as “a giant of a man…with [a] great bluff red face…bulging eyes…ponderous belly [and a] prominent nose.” Even more detailed is this from another source: “a red, blotched face…a great paunch…a purple, bulbous nose”.
Though Frederica, known as Freddie, was lively, praised for her “neatness”, and considered to be a sensible woman, the couple did not mesh and the marriage was not a success. They lived apart, she at Oatlands Park in Surrey, with eighteen dogs; she had many friends, among them the famous Beau Brummell. (Romance novelist Rosemary Stevens, a few years back, played with Freddie and the Beau’s relationship in a series of mysteries with Brummell as a kind of Regency Sherlock Holmes. Check them out, they’re fun to read!)
At Gloucester Place, Mary Anne Clarke was said to have eaten off exquisite china plates that once belonged to the family of the Duc de Bern, and to drink from crystal wine glasses that had cost upwards of “two guineas a-piece.” (A guinea is a pound plus a shilling.) How much did all this cost to maintain? Mary Anne was never one to stay within a budget, as her past so well illustrates. Her talent – or one of them, at any rate – lay in extravagance.
According to Mary Anne, she received from £1,000 to £1,200 annually from the Duke of York, in monthly allotments, for the maintenance of this enormous household. (Bear in mind that, at that time, one pound was worth seventy to eighty times what it is worth today.) This is at odds with the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer at the 1809 trial that she was actually paid £6,000 yearly. Mary Anne countered that her payments from the Duke were irregularly doled out. (It is interesting to note here that the royal brothers received many complaints from their ladybirds over the years that payments were not always forthcoming; this has been documented by the experiences of Mary Robinson and Grace Dalrymple Elliott, among others.)
So, to supplement her income, the avaricious, luxury-loving Mary Anne Clarke hit upon a scheme. She would take the lists of army men up for promotions that were sent to her lover and add the names of soldiers who would pay her for the surreptitious promotions. Only a few each time, added at the very end of the lists to which she was privy, thanks to Frederick — who carelessly kept them lying around — so as not to arouse suspicion. But she got much too greedy…and she was caught. By 1809, the jig was up.
The Bishop And His Clarke Or A Peep Into Paradise… The Duke of York, Commander-in-Chief of the army (and titular Bishop of Osnabruck, as per this reference) being solicited by Mary Anne Clarke to obtain promotions for her paying clients and friends. The caricature is by Rowlandson, printed by Tegg, 1809.
In January 1809, a little-known Welsh MP, Colonel Gwyllym Lloyd Wardle, alleged in the House of Commons that Frederick, as Duke of York — the “spare” after his brother the heir to the throne — and Commander-in-Chief of the Army, “had sanctioned, facilitated, and personally profited from the illicit trafficking in army commissions that his former mistress, Mary Anne Clarke, had engaged in while under his ‘protection’.” (The Duke of York Affair, Philip Harling, The Historical Journal, 39, 4 (1996), page 963.)
Captain Gronow, in his gossipy memoirs, states that Wardle got wind of Mary Anne’s dealings owing to becoming “intimately acquainted with her… [and was] so great a personal favourite that …he wormed out all her secret history, of which he availed himself to obtain a fleeting popularity.” Interesting, but, as with anything Gronow says, one has to have the salt shaker handy.
The modern Circe or a sequel to the petticoat”, caricature of Mary Anne Clarke by Isaac Cruikshank, 15 March 1809. Her lover Frederick, Duke of York resigned from his post at the head of the British Army ten days after the caricature’s publication.
Nevertheless, the charge was sensational, leading to not one but three trials from 1809 to 1813. The first one was the major trial; the subsequent ones were libel suits brought against Mary Anne Clarke and some pamphleteers. Eight specific – and serious — cases of selling commissions were brought out in the 1809 trial, and are examined minutely in the AAIM, for those who want the sordid (and fascinating) details, but, briefly, it came down to Mary Anne Clarke letting it be known that she would use her influence over the duke to secure commissions and preferments, whether deserved by the petitioners or not, and if this was done with the full knowledge and/or encouragement of the Duke of York. The prices for her intervention into this Army business ranged from £2,600 for promotion to Major to £400 for a mere Ensign. (In the drawing above of the Bishop and his Clarke, the army lists are shown pinned to the almost-conjugal bed shared by Frederick and Mary Anne.) The caricaturists had a field day!
As noted in the caption above, Prince Frederick was forced to resign as Commander-in-Chief of the Army owing to the scandal, but he was reinstated shortly after he was found to be innocent of all the charges brought against him. Another widely circulated caricature was this, attributed to C. Williams and showing Mary Anne with the infamous promotion list in her hand standing before the “York Commission Warehouse”:
Colored etching, published 1809, shortly after Colonel Wardle had exposed the army commissions scandal in the House of Commons, this satire shows Mrs Clarke with a price list for the sale of commissions. On the right is her intermediary, Domenico Corri, a music master; above him hangs upside down the Duke of York’s portrait. Mary Anne is saying that she has bargains for sale but they have to be taken advantage of now because her partnership is dissolving!
The manner in which Mary Anne carried on at the trial was said to have been a tour de force worthy of any seasoned stage performance; her quick wit parried and thrust all questions sent her way and impressed spectators. But her reputation – such as it was – was forever ruined. The Duke of York was able to come back; she wasn’t. It was not a good thing to be identified from thence forward as a friend of Mary Anne Clarke’s; she became a pariah, shunned by the society she in which she’d once played such a large part.
Gillray got into the act, too:
Pandora Opening Her Box, colored aquatint by James Gillray, published by Hannah Humphrey, 1809
After the trial, undaunted, Mary Anne let it be known that she intended to publish Frederick’s love letters. Like his brother George in the case of his mistress Mary Robinson, Frederick had been indiscreet. The boys made too many negative remarks about their family members, the royal family. Sir Herbert Taylor was engaged to enter into negotiations with Mary Anne’s lawyers for the purchase of the letters and the destruction of all other papers still in her hands.
Mary Anne received an enormous annuity – on top of an immediate £7,000 cash settlement — her son George’s schooling and subsequent Army commission was paid for, and the annuity would pass on to Ellen Clarke, Mary Anne’s daughter, at her death. (Similar to the arrangement with Mary Robinson and the Prince of Wales, but Mary and her daughter got nothing in comparison with the monies paid out to Mary Anne Clarke.)
The terms of the annuity also insisted that Mary Anne quit England and reside on the Continent. She was not to publish anything about the royal family, nor was she to say anything that could be deemed disrespectful about them. Though, much later, she once attempted to break the terms of the arrangement, having been approached by a publisher who promised her many thousands of pounds, her lawyers persuaded her to keep the fat bird in her hand rather than seek ephemeral birds in the bush.
The MP who made the initial allegations against the Duke of York, Colonel Wardle, did bring suit against Mary Anne and two pamphleteers for libel – her name was attached to one of the pamphlets – but they were all acquitted. In 1813, however, Mary Anne again went too far and was once again sued, this time for libel of a powerful politician; she was unable to talk her way out of the predicament – the evidence was too strong against her – and she was convicted, spending nine months in prison, supposedly in solitary confinement.
Part Four Coming Soon!

Originally published on October 26, 2010

ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: Mary Anne Clark by Jo Manning – Part Two

Mary Anne Clarke was a beautiful woman. Not all courtesans were beautiful – some relied on wit more than beauty — but she was amongst the beauties. Her features – the wealth of soft, dark, curly hair, the changeable eyes (probably hazel), tip-tilted nose, red lips, dimpled chin, the superb white neck and shoulders and a full bosom — were admirably painted in the miniature on ivory by Adam Buck at the beginning of this piece. Her figure was petite, her feet tiny, and her smile (and laugh) as described by her great-great-grand-daughter, above, infectious and memorable. She was also said to be intelligent and quick-witted, known for her skill at repartee and the sharpness of her remarks.
Mrs Clarke the York Magnet”, hand-colored aquatint by unknown artist, published 1809
But she was a vulgar piece of work, this girl from the mean streets of London, often coarse in language and behavior, impudent, provocative, feisty, tough, possessing a “gutter loveliness,” Du Maurier noted, that was perhaps all “the more alluring because it was ill-bred.” Those not taken in by her smile described her as being “an actress…completely unscrupulous in every way.”
From the 1809 source Authentic And Interesting Memoirs of Mrs Clarke, From Her Infamy To The Present Time, Likewise A Brief Account of Mr Wardle’s Charges Relative To His Royal Highness The Duke of York: Together With The Minutes of Evidence As Taken In The House Of Commons From Authentic Documents… anonymously published in England (and abroad), there is much biographical information…most of it dubious. (I will abbreviate this source as AAIM.) The unverifiable nature of most of this material, however, has not kept it from being repeated as fact in articles relating to the life of Mary Anne Clarke.
From the AAIM, we are told that she was born circa 1776, in an area of London called Ball-and-Pin Alley, near White’s Alley, Chancery Lane (it’s sometimes cited as Bowling Inn Alley or Bowling Pin Alley). It was a humble upbringing, to be sure, a place of ill-kept and dirty lodging-houses, where poverty reigned. Her maiden name is given as Thompson, and we are told that her father was a tradesman who died when she was young. There was a stepfather named Farquhar who’s described as a compositor/corrector at a print-shop owned by a Mr. Hughs in Fleet Street.
The narrative of this so-called memoir relates that Mary Anne would go daily to the print-shop to collect her stepfather’s work, and that she’d undertake the necessary correcting, thus becoming the mainstay of her struggling family. This assumes, of course, that she’d been taught to read and write – and did both well — before she took this upon herself. The narrative goes on to say that a Mr. Day, the overseer of the print-shop — attracted by her vivacity and charm, no doubt — sends her to a school at Ham, in Essex, to be educated. His motive, we are told, is that he had “a view of making her his wife at some future period,” but when she returns, after supposedly spending two years in Ham, things do not work out for Mr. Day. Wedding off! (And, really, it is hard to believe this sending-away-to-school scenario ever happened.)
At this juncture, the Thompson/Farquhar family moves to Black Raven Passage, Cursitor-street, in Holborn, and the narrative goes on to tell of her dealings with a pawnbroker, a Mr F—ll–d, who gives her exorbitant sums of money, to the extent that she eventually ruins him and his business. Undaunted, Mary Anne then sets her sights on another man, Joseph Clarke, the second son of a wealthy bricklayer in Angel-Court, Snowhill, with whom she elopes to Pentonville. She is probably about seventeen years old; they supposedly married in 1794. Clarke’s father sets him up in a business, a stone yard in Golden-lane. (Captain Gronow, in his memoirs, says that Clarke was “a captain in a marching regiment” which has no substantiation whatsoever; Gronow’s memoirs are a wealth of information on the Regency period, but he is often careless with his facts.)
In two years, however, Joseph Clarke is bankrupt and there are tales of philandering (“amours”), and that he is “careless and drunken.” There is no money, but there are, according to the narrative, four children, which is at odds with everything else I have seen that says Mary Anne only had two children, George and Ellen, with Clarke. (A recent article by a writer who was comparing Fergie, the divorced Duchess of York, to Mary Anne Clark – an interesting comparison, but one that can go only so far — stated there were three children. George and Ellen, however, are the only two names that come up consistently. I’ve never seen a reference to a third or fourth child.)
And – are you ready for this? — now we have Mary Anne on the stage, supposedly playing a Shakespearian role, Portia (!), in The Merchant Of Venice, at the Haymarket Theatre. That is extremely hard to believe! There are some asides to her as an actress, character-wise, but verifying that she was indeed on stage – and in a leading role, yet — is problematic. (It should be kept in mind, too, that many streetwalkers and courtesans falsely claimed to be actresses.)
What’s more likely is that she took to the streets after breaking up with Clarke. She had to support her children, after all. Below is a cartoon that speculates on this premise. This contemporary cartoon I saw had what appeared to be penciled in scribbling that might be “M— A—? Clarke”; it shows an ugly old bawd sending a beautiful young streetwalker (who doesn’t look all that much like Mary Anne), out to work; it is undated but bears the caption, Launching A Frigate.
Image is by Rowlandson
So, while any career on the streets is difficult to confirm, what is known is that she soon climbed up the well-trodden whore’s ladder and began to consort with eminent and wealthy men. Among the men named in the AAIM narrative are: Sir Charles M—ln—r; Sir James B.; and an army agent, a Mr. O.; a ne’er do well from Bayswater who’d supposedly seen her on stage, Mr. M—l—y; and a high-roller named Mr. Dowler who takes her to Brighton. The dates don’t add up at all, but this bit is priceless:
“At Brighton under the protection of Mr. Dowler, it is said that she distinguished herself as an excellent swimmer, and occasionally to float on the liquid element to the great astonishment and admiration of the spectators.”
The bathing beauty dumps Mr. Dowler – no doubt after bankrupting him, too – and flees to London with Mr. O – now referred to as Mr. O—l—e, the army agent. They set up house in Tavistock Place. Again, the dates don’t make sense, because the attachments mentioned are all up to 1808, and by 1803/4, she’d already met the Duke of York.
The house below is said to be where she was living before meeting Prince Frederick; it is not Tavistock Place. It’s Chester House, formerly called Manchester House, in Exmouth. The lack of verifiable facts abound, as can be seen in the blue plaque put up on the house by the local historical society:
The blue plaque can be seen to the right of the front door. Note that it is not one of the famous – and usually a bit more accurate! — blue plaques put up by English Heritage. This one states that Mary Anne Clarke “died in disgrace and poverty in Paris in 1813.” Au contraire, as we shall see, for she died in her dotage — quite well off, despite her many extravagances — in Boulogne, in 1852 or 1853. (Daphne Du Maurier, despite having cited the use of three researchers, has her death date one way in The Du Mauriers and the other way in Mary Anne. In the recent Christine Hand article contrasting Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York to Mary Anne, gives the latter’s date of death as 1882, which would have made her 106! She was actually about seventy-six.)
Chester House (Manchester House) with the blue plaque at the side of the front door
So, circa 1803/1804, Mary Anne Clarke, after quite a whirl with quite a large number of men, begins a relationship with Prince Frederick, Duke of York, the brother of Prince George (later King George IV), the Prince of Wales. Frederick was the Commander-in-Chief of the British Army, hence the nursery rhyme of “the grand old Duke of York” (The origins of this ditty actually pre-dated this particular Duke of York, possibly going back to the 14th century, but it has been associated solely with him in recent memory.)
The undated print below shows the two princely sibs with their father, the king.
Part Three Coming Soon!

Originally published October 24, 2010

ONCE AGAIN WEDNESDAY: Mary Anne Clarke by Jo Manning – Part One

”Mary Anne, Mary Anne,
Cook the slut in a frying-pan”
— Sung in the streets of London following the fall from grace of the courtesan Mary Anne Clarke
The Grand old Duke of York he had ten thousand men

He marched them up to the top of the hill

And he marched them down again.

When they were up, they were up

And when they were down, they were down

And when they were only halfway up

They were neither up nor down
— Old children’s nursery rhyme associated with Prince Frederick, Duke of York, in the early 19th century
When I was researching My Lady Scandalous, the biography I was to write of the royal courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, I came across tales of many other royal (and non-royal) courtesans of the era. One of the most colorful and controversial was the mistress of King George III’s brother, Prince Frederick Augustus, the grand old Duke of York. Her name was Mary Anne Clarke.
Portrait of Mary Anne Clarke, by Adam Buck, 1803. Though not widely known these days, the Irish-born Buck was an accomplished miniaturist painter and a favorite of the aristocracy. He had a studio in Soho at the time this was painted.

What fascinated me was not just that Mary Anne Clarke was involved in one of the major political scandals of the late 18th-early 19th centuries, involving the sale of army commissions for her private gain, but that she was the direct ancestor of the popular novelist Daphne Du Maurier. She was Du Maurier’s great-great-grandmother!
Du Maurier has always been one of my favorite popular writers. The woman was a brilliant storyteller, as evidenced by the remarkable novels Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, and the short stories The Birds and Don’t Look Back.
All of these have been made into excellent, classic films; my particular favorite the most recent retelling of the uber-romantic Frenchman’s Creek, starring Tara Fitzgerald and Anthony Delon. Sorry, I have to digress with this photograph:
I’ve been here! The Frenchman’s Creek of the book title, on the Helford River, near the town of Helford, Cornwall, at low tide
And who among us can forget the evocative opening line of the suspenseful gothic novel Rebecca: “Last night I dreamed of Manderley again…” as the camera lingers on the ruins of a once-gorgeous mansion shrouded in the flowing mists of sad remembrance and regret. Unforgettable.
But did you know that Daphne Du Maurier also wrote biographies? She wrote a biography of her father, the acclaimed actor-manager Gerald Du Maurier, Gerald: A Portrait, shortly after his death in 1934. Her 1937 family biography, The Du Mauriers, tells the story of a famously talented and eccentric group of actors, novelists, and artists who were descended from Mary Anne Clarke and, on the other side, from the marriage of her daughter Ellen into a family of French émigré glassblowers, the Busson du Mauriers. (She also wrote separately about this French family in The Glass-Blowers, published in 1963.)
In 1954, the fictionalized biography of Mary Anne Clarke, simply titled Mary Anne, was published. The opening pages of this novel immediately draw the reader into the story. It is good fictional writing at its best. Though the opening below is a long passage, not one word is wasted, and the reader immediately learns all one needs to know about the flamboyant creature Mary Anne Clarke:
“Years later, when she had gone and was no longer part of their lives, the thing they remembered about her was her smile. Coloring and features were indistinct, hazy in memory. The eyes, surely, were blue – but they could have been green or grey. And the hair, knotted in the Grecian fashion piled high on top of the head in curls, might have been chestnut or light brown. The nose was anything but Grecian – that was a certainty, for it pointed to heaven; and the actual shape of the mouth had never seemed important – not at the time, or now.
“The essence of what had been lay in the smile. It began at the left corner of the mouth and hovered momentarily, mocking without discrimination those she loved most – including her own family – and those she despised. And, while they waited uneasily, expexting a blast of sarcasm or the snub direct, the smile spread to the eyes, transfiguring the whole face, lighting it to gaiety. Reprieved, they basked in the warmth and shared the folly, and there was no intellectual pose in the laugh that followed, ribald, riotous, cockney, straight from the belly.
“This was what they remembered in after years. The rest was forgotten. Forgotten the lies, the deceit, the sudden bursts of temper. Forgotten the wild extravagance, the absurd generosity, the vitriolic tongue. Only the warmth re
mained, and the love of living.”
Part Two Coming Soon!

Originally published on October 22, 2010