Working Class Princess - My Manderley

Submitted into Contest #51 in response to: Write about someone who returns as an adult to a place they last visited as a child.... view prompt



The opening line of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca is like being inside my own memories. For I’ve also returned to a house of that name. Our family home a rambling 50s villa was christened by my fey grandmother Catherine Frances Beale nee Prendergast. She named it for the storybook version. When I was born my parents brought me home there, and for years I imagined it passing to me regaling the neighbourhood kids with fanciful tales of life as its mistress.

”They don’t even use that word nowadays Dumbo.”

This from long-suffering brother and only sibling Richard.

”Do so too numb nuts.”

Meanwhile it was my fairytale kingdom, a mansion every bit as grand as the original. Even more so for being real, with me at the centre as its reigning Princess. We were never royalty, but my grandmother a throwback or so she claimed to the better classes nicknamed me her her little Working Class Princess. For some reason my brother wasn’t accorded princely status. Not that it bothered him. So it’s quite ironic that his chosen career involves working for the real McCoy. I’m talking Princes of the authentic, blue blood royal variety. He crews on superyachts, loves the gypsy life and is far too independent to settle down. As for the former Princess life’s a lot more ordinary.

While grandad and my parents brought home the bacon m grandmother raised me on outings and stories. As a three income family we seemed rich, with a small fortune lavished on my fifth birthday. “Fit for a Princess.”, my grandmother announced.

Completely over the top according to my parents. A marquee was erected in the front yard, there was a clown, catered food, and a three tier Castle Cake served by a lady dressed as The Sugar Plum Fairy and just before I was handed the first slice she made an announcement.

on my last real life visit to Manderley, this time as an outsider I pictured what came next. I’m back there seated along a trestle table inside the marquee. How hot and stuffy I’m feeling in my frothy ‘Princess dress’ of with it’s 3/4 pink and lilac tulle skirt, strappy satin top, matching shoes and lilac fairy wings,

All I want is to go and play under the trees in our huge back yard. That’s where I’d wanted to have the party. My grandparents said it’d be easier for the caterers close to the house. I hadn’t wanted caterers. Just fairy bread, sausage rolls, red sausages and sauce. “Nonsense”, my grandmother had told me “That’s no party for a Princess.”

So I acquiesced and now grandad’s there carrying a velvet Stewart Dawson box. It meant nothing to me at the time, but I saw mum lean over and hiss. “Dad, what’s that?” Then, “Mum what are you up to now?”

She shakes her head as grandad calls for silence, then in a booming voice he exclaims “Ever since our daughter Patricia brought this little lady home”, at which point he pats me on the shoulder ”we’ve considered her our Princess. So I figured that bow she’s young lady going off into the big wide world we should give her her own crowning ceremony,”

Then from the box he takes a tiara, of modest size but of obvious value. There were gasps from the adults, the kids bug eyed as he placed it on my head.

”Oh for goodness sake dad”, mum hisses “she’s a child,”

”Ssh Patricia”, my grandmother replies as the crown is placed on my head.

Then someone shouts “For she’s a jolly good fellow.”, with the entire assembly taking up the chorus. Then the air rings with cheers and claps Yet at closer quarters I can’t escape the rumblings. “Of all the stupid, harebrained ideas.” , dad shouts. “Stewart Dawson jewellery for a five year old, You could’ve bought a toy tiara at a fraction of the cost.”

”Some piece of tin or plastic Made In China? Call that a crown fit for a Princess. I’m surprised at you Brad, and you Patricia begrudging our working class princess.”

I’ve tuned out the rest, but it passed into neighbourhood legend. Then 7 years later we moved to our own place. Mum was glad to be away from Manderley and her parents’ eccentricities. Against my pleas the Stewart Dawson tiara stayed behind in its box. Until at sixteen I wore it at my school ball. For one night I was a Princess again dancing in the arms of my own working class prince aka Ben Thomas. Five years later I wore it as a bride, changed my name to his and allowed my grandparents to host a garden reception for our Princess. It was their last gesture, because a year later having put off visiting her doctor my grandmother was diagnosed with late stage stomach cancer. She was given three months, lasted six and planned her own funeral. We buried her to strains of Summer Time from the musical Porgy & Bess, I Dreamed A Dream from Les Miserables and at her specific instruction a jazzed up version of When The Saints Go Marching In. Birds sang in the trees at Waikumete Cemetery, sunshine streamed down and outside our bubble of grieving life carried on. How dare they. A legend had slipped these earthly bonds.

why doesn’t God send an eclipse to make Auckland pause, or herald angels to announce the passing of Catherine Beale nee Prendergast a great lady, Mistress of real life Manderley, maker of Princesses.

Even her sceptic daughter and son-in-law gave her her dues at last, agreeing that yes she’d been one a kind.

As had Manderley which was has also passed into legend. Grandad sold up 2 years later. By then I was a mother, and when a developer purchased Manderley I became a Princess without a kingdom, He entered a retirement home, said he felt years younger without that millstone around my neck and enjoyed delighting his great-grandchildren with stories of Catherine Beale nee Prendergast Mistress of real life Manderley, maker of Princesses.

My own somewhat magical daughter Neve loves his stories, especially the one about my fifth birthday. I’ve already said No to a real tiara the payoff being a Frozen party complete with Elsa costume off Ebay. Grandad’s sparked a real princess obsession, because she never tires of asking “Mummy were you really a Princess?”

To which I reply, “To my great grampies I was, and you’re mine.”

Giggles and then, “Grampy says you grew up in a castle called Manderley and it was named after a book.”

”That’s right”, I nod “a book for grown ups. It was your great grandmother’s favourite and there was a big old house called by that name.”

”And my great nana named called her house the same,”

Instead of the usual bedtime story fare this is Melissa’s usual request, a story she will no doubt tell her own daughter to be repeated through succeeding generations of our family.

Once upon a time in a house called Manderley the real one there lived a little girl; and Manderley was her kingdom and she was it’s princess. A little working class Princess.

Because that’s all it can be now, a story. The developer purchased an entire block of five houses of which Manderley was just one. They were levelled to make way for an engineering factory, so that when I last paid a visit it was gone. So that for me to my Manderley is now just the stuff of stories, mine and Catherine Beale nee Prendergast’s.

July 24, 2020 10:03

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Anna Rogers
11:05 Jul 30, 2020

Whoops, having just reviewed my work I see the perils of a “rush job,”. Towards the end I give her daughter the name Neve, then a few lines down it reverts to Melissa, Whoops, and note to self - next time, take my time and proof read before clicking on to Submit.


Show 0 replies
08:16 Jul 30, 2020

I can imagine this as a longer story, with the reemergence of the tiara at different stages. It feels rushed with the word limit we have on these. Then we can get to know the character even better. I look forward to the novel.


Anna Rogers
10:54 Jul 30, 2020

Thank you for the feedback Becky and yes you’re correct about it being rushed due to the word limit. My original is a longer story, a hilight of which is the grandmother taking her for high tea at the top floor restaurant in Auckland’s former Farmers Trading Company building in Hobson Street. The tiara was an extra that evolved with a re write and yes I like your suggestion of its reemergence like at the school ball, her wedding and perhaps on other occasions. As to a novel you just never know, Actually you might like to know that the h...


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply