Review: The Glass Blowers by Daphne du Maurier


‘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, it’s 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.

My Review

This was a surprising historical fiction story about du Maurier’s own family, taking place during the French Revolution. It was unique in many ways. First of all, her ancestor is not a hero; Robert is a bit of a rogue, having squandered his money, lied about his past, abandoned his family, and fled to England to escape his creditors. Sophie, the narrator of the story and Robert’s long-suffering sister, wrote the history in an effort to set the record straight for his son. It was important to her that the son didn’t think his father was an emigrant aristocrat, for this kind of person was anathema to her. This is another surprising departure from our usual perspective of the Revolution. People who emigrated, whether they were aristocrats or political dissidents, were considered traitors by the folk left behind.

When reading about the French Revolution we usually learn about Paris, but this book takes place in the country, and we see how the events took a catastrophic toll on everyone. Sophie’s father was a successful glass-blower and intended to hand down his trade to his three sons. This was a close-knit profession employing many workers, and Sophie’s best memories were of a family atmosphere where her mother took care of all the workers’ families as well as providing guidance to her own children. But the Revolution changed all that, eventually turning the workers into sullen, insubordinate laborers before bankrupting almost everyone. The country folk didn’t really comprehend what was going on, politically, but were tossed about by rumors, fear, and disinformation. Even Sophie’s own brother Michel became a fanatic for the cause, leading violent gangs that forced their will on anyone who disagreed with the party in power—only to become disenchanted like everyone else. It is a very complicated story and I found it to be an eye opener. It’s a bit of a departure from du Maurier’s more famous novels, but equally enjoyable in its own way.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *