The Parasites

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
First US edition (Doubleday)

The Parasites is a novel by Daphne du Maurier, first published in 1949.


In this novel, Miss du Maurier tells the story of the Delaney family. The Delaneys led complex and frequently scandalous lives; their strange relationship with each other closed their circle to all outsiders; the world in which they lived was sophisticated, gay, and sometimes tragic.

Maria Delaney was a beautiful, successful actress, the wife of Sir Charles Wyndham. Niall Delaney wrote the songs and melodies that everyone sang and played. Celia their sister, generous and charming, took care of their father and delighted in Maria's children. Between Maria and Niall there existed a strange affinity—sometimes physical, sometimes spiritual. They were both subtly aware of it, and so was Sir Charles. Perhaps it was this that impelled Maria's husband to exclaim bitterly:

"Parasites, that's what you are. The three of you. You always have been and you always will be. Nothing can change you. You are doubly, triply parasitic; first, because you've traded since childhood on that seed of talent you had the luck to inherit from your fantastic forebears; secondly, because none of you have done a stroke of honest work in your lives but batten on us, the fool public; and thirdly, because you prey on each other, living in a world of fantasy which bears no relation to anything in heaven or on earth."


The novel has a beautifully crafted structure – ostensibly one long series of flashbacks, but cleverly weaving the present and the past of the three siblings ('the parasites') together, and using the unique (it is thought) device of the first person – and yet not defining which of the three at any time is narrating. Indeed, since the narrator – who must be one of three – mentions all three in the third person during his or her narrations, then at the same time technically can't be one of them! An intriguing and highly successful device.

Some readers[1]may have found the end of the novel, which suggests the death of one the siblings, to be unsatisfactory. Yes, one is left in the air and yet each of us can guess what happens to the other two. The main thing is that the death of one of the three would break that absolute bond which they were unable to break all their lives to that date – and thus end the cycle of events. The bond was so strong because the children were thrown together from earliest days by parents who were always on tour (a theatrical family), and not sent to school. Obviously the author could draw upon her own vivid memories as life as the child of one of the most successful actors of the day, Gerald Dumaurier.