The Glass-Blowers by Daphne du Maurier (1963)

The Glass-Blowers by Daphne du Maurier

For The Glass-Blowers (1963), one of Daphne du Maurier’s later novels, the author drew upon her own family history. Her ancestor, Robert Busson du Maurier, who was in the glass business, escaped to London from France at the start of the French Revolution.

The story is through letters written by Sophie Duval, the sister of the fictional version of Robert (also so named). They follow the family trajectory from her mother’s marriage into the family of glass blowers in 1747 through Robert’s death in 1811.

From the publisher of the 2004 edition (Time-Warner Books):

“‘Perhaps we shall not see each other again. I will write to you, though, and tell you, as best I can, the story of your family. A glass-blower, remember, breathes life into a vessel, giving it shape and form and sometimes beauty; but he can with that same breath, shatter and destroy it.’

Faithful to her word, Sophie Duval reveals to her long-lost nephew the tragic story of a family of master craftsmen in eighteenth-century France. The world of the glass-blowers has its own traditions, its own language — and its own rules. ‘If you marry into glass’ Pierre Labbe warns his daughter, ‘you will say goodbye to everything familiar, and enter a closed world’.

But crashing into this world comes the violence and terror of the French Revolution against which, the family struggles to survive. The Glass-Blowers is a remarkable achievement — an imaginative and exciting reworking of du Maurier’s own family history.”

The Glass-Blowers, unlike du Maurier’s better-known works such as Rebecca (1938) and My Cousin Rachel (1951) is strictly historical, without her customary elements of romantic intrigue. Still, many readers of du Maurier continue to find much to admire in this novel, even as contemporary reviews have been on the more mixed side. The 2015 review in She Reads Novels, for instance, concludes:

“One of the things I usually love about du Maurier is her descriptive writing and the way she creates a strong sense of time and place – and this is something that I thought was missing from The Glass-Blowers (apart from in the Vendée scenes, as I mentioned above). This hasn’t become a favourite du Maurier book, then, but in my opinion even her weaker novels are still worth reading.”

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Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier

You might also enjoy: Rule Britannia — du Maurier’s last novel
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A 1963 review of The Glass-Blowers

From the original review in The Winona Daily News, March 1963:  The distaff side of any list of popular writers is incomplete without a mention of Lady Browning, better known by her maiden name, Daphne du Maurier.

Her charming, detailed style has, over the past quarter century, provided many people with pleasant, leisurely reading.

The Glass-Blowers deals in a fictional vein with Miss du Maurier’s ancestors. She has obtained good mileage from her French relatives in several books. Her roots go back to the minor aristocracy of pre-revolutionary days, and the Chateau du Maurier still stands near the Loire River southwest of Paris.

A family through three generations

The Glass-Blowers is the story of the Busson family through segments of three generations, viewed at a glance rather than from the depth of an epoch. Their relationship to the du Mauriers, if any, is not disclosed. The family lived at the time of the French Revolution, and much of their lives are loosely involved with this event.

For insight into the workings of the Revolution itself, The Glass-Blowers is so removed from all the fracas and violence that it is sometimes difficult to recall in context that it was a dramatic time in history. The guillotine is barely mentioned, the mobs of Paris and their rioting and carnage are mostly hearsay.

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The Glass Blowers by Daphne du Maurier

The Glass Blowers on Amazon*
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Unrest and uncertainty during the French Revolution

What is nicely focused is the feeling of unrest and uncertainty which existed throughout the land. The Glass-Blowers views of the Revolution is provincial. Its people are aware of the events, though not necessarily their significance, but still tend to be more concerned with their everyday lives and the troubles of their kinfolk than with the burning issues of the day.

Anyone encountering Miss du Maurier’s story of the close of the 18th century with no previous exposure to these turbulent times (if such a thing is possible) might well wonder what all the fuss was about.

The general tone of The Glass-Blowers is so far from that of such works as Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and similar melodramas that they do not seem to be covering the same revolution.

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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier is best known for Rebecca (1938)
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Momentous happenings in a microcosm

It is by no means a dull book nor a bad book, but does deal with momentous happenings with a rather small-town outlook which is not only fascinating but probably not far from accurate.

In an era of primitive communication, people removed from any event, no matter how earthshaking, were probably more immediately concerned with their own affairs. The minor financial ventures of an elder brother thus tend to overshadow a nation’s upheaval and the birth of the Republic tends to take a back seat to the birth of grandchildren.

Daphne du Maurier has treated her people with understanding and, characteristic of her style, allows the reader to become very much at home with them. 

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2 Responses to “The Glass-Blowers by Daphne du Maurier (1963)”

  1. Thank you for your comment, AnneLouise; sorry for the delayed response. Daphne du Maurier was a wonderful writer. It makes it all the more interesting that she had some glass-blowers in her family history. There was also some glass business in The Scapegoat as well. Have you read that?

  2. I was delighted to discover your site!

    I am writing an historical novel series set in the above-mentioned timeframe. As part of my research, I read the book and appreciated the insights it provided on the part of people initially distanced from the chaos. Eventually, that chaos-as it always does, came closer and they could not remain unaffected.

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