Rebecca by Daphine du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
Gollancz, 1938; Virago (present publisher).

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier’s best known novel, has never been out of print in 82 years. It’s generated sequels, retellings, films, tv series, an internationally staged musical, fanfiction, and a system of codes used by a Nazi spy. Some are better than others – but they keep coming.

Only one character in the novel – the villain – is openly lesbian. But to those in the know, the novel was probably always part of queer culture.

Book cover: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (Penguin paperback edition) 1962
Penguin paperback edition, 1962

It’s a novel of two women who fight for a beautiful, ancient house. The male character, Maxim, wears the trappings of a gothic hero. But the story is about the power of Manderley and the war between the female characters: the 21 year old second wife and the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, who claims the house for the dead first wife, Rebecca.

The story works on many levels and there is something in it for everyone. But gradually the queer content has emerged and, if anything, increased the novel’s appeal.

After du Maurier’s death in 1989, biographies revealed her bisexuality. She saw her creative side as ‘the boy in the box’. He escaped in fantasy and sometimes, in reality. Married with children, she quietly had affairs with women.

Meanwhile, the book, once viewed as a superficial gothic romance, is now seen as a classic – a brilliantly plotted mystery whose characters, like Rebecca herself, have survived – and deepened – long after their time.

This is a summary of a much longer blog which is a queer insight du Maurier and Rebecca. One more book in the Lavender Menace Queer Books Archive.

Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs

The Hot-Blooded Dinosaurs: A Revolution in Palaeontology by Adrian Desmond
Blond & Briggs, 1975.

QUEER DINOSAUR DISCOVERED! Some people may remember the ITV series based on this illustrated science book, now found mainly in charity shops. The queer dinosaur in the story of this book wasn’t a reptile, he was a human being – an eccentric from another time, who loved publishing, art, boyish girls and girlish boys.

Title page: The Hot-Blooded Dinosaur

Anthony Blond who founded Blond & Briggs in 1960 was born into a wealthy family who didn’t like him much. His company published everything from classics to trash and liked giving new writers their start. He rescued Simon Raven from drink and debauchery by paying him a salary to write and stay away from London. Raven had earlier written the classic The Feathers of Death, about gay obsession in the military, which was republished by Gay Men’s Press in 1998.

Blond’s autobiography, Jew Made in England (2004), also in the archive, tells the story of his hot-blooded life honestly.

This is a summary of a much longer blog which is in preparation on Anthony Blond and his queer publishing career.

Welcome to our new Lavender Menace Queer and LGBT+ Books Archive blog

When we opened in 1982, one person asked shyly, ‘Are there were really enough lesbian and gay books to fill an entire shop?’.

Today, there are enough queer books (as we would call them now) to fill an enormous library. Small presses such as Onlywomen, Gay Men’s Press, and Brilliance Books opened the door. Larger publishers followed and created such classic bestsellers as Rubyfruit Jungle and A Boy’s Own Story.

Interior of McDonald Road Library showing book display including What Belongs to You
Interior of McDonald Road Library Edinburgh, featuring book display including What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

Forty years on the queer library has so many floors, attics, cellars, corners, and balconies, that some of them are hard to find. The rise of the internet and changing fashions in publishing have meant that the original presses have closed – of all of them, only Virago Press still exists. Many of their books are now out of print and unknown.

But at the same time there are new queer writers and new shops and publishers. After 20 years which saw independent bookshops in decline, two queer booksellers have set up business in the UK since 2018 – Category IS Bookshop in Glasgow and Portal Bookshop in York. We don’t seem to have to worry about having enough books or readers.

This blog will wander through the queer library, climb the ladders to some of the inaccessible shelves, try the keys to rooms which aren’t usually visited, and help visitors make their own maps. We’ll call on guest bloggers to take us where we haven’t been before. We want to use our knowledge of the start of queer bookselling to connect the older books and writers with the new ones – it’s all one story.

We’ve already started blogging about the books in our growing archive – found in our own and friends’ collections and secondhand shops.  And we invite you to comment – tell us about your part of the queer library and take part in readers’ conversations which wouldn’t have been possible when we opened the shop in the 1980s.