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||Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) - married name Lady Daphne Browning|
English novelist, biographer, and playwright, who published romantic suspense novels, mostly set on the coast of Cornwall. Du Maurier is best known for Rebecca (1938), filmed by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940. Orson Welles's radio adaptation from 1938 also paved way for its success. The novel has been characterized as the last and most famous imitation of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre (1847).
"Adventure was here. Adventure was there. Adventure was in picking up a posy dropped by a lady and offering it to an old gentleman who patted her head and gave her two-pence. Adventure was in gazing into pawnbrokers' windows, in riding in wagons when the carter smiled, in scuffling with apprentice boys, in hovering outside the bookshops, and when the bookseller was inside, tearing out the middle pages to read at home, for prospective purchasers never looked at anything but the beginning and the end." (from Mary Anne, 1954)
Daphne du Maurier was born in London into an artistic family.
She was the granddaughter of caricaturist
George du Maurier, her mother, Muriel Beaumont, was an actress, and her
father was the actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, who turned to
writing and created the mad hypnotist Svengali. Gerald
decided to call her daughter Daphne after the actress Ethel Daphne
Barrymore, whom he had wanted to marry, several years before he met
One of Daphne du Maurier's ancestors
was Mary Anne Clarke, the mistress of the duke of York, second son of
King George III. She later became the heroine of du Maurier's novel Mary Anne (1954). In 1831 Mary Anne
Clarke's daughter married Louis-Mathurin Busson du Maurier.
Her father du Maurier portrayed in Gerald
(1934), which she began to write immediately after his death. Du Maurier herself entered the book only in the third person. The Glass-Blowers (1963)
was a novel about the Busson family. Of her grandmother she said: "Pem
was like a hen clucking after her chicks, wrapping them up for fear of
draughts and dosing everyone within sight, including Kicky [George],
with cold-liver oil." Her mother, from whom she felt unarticulated
hostility, worried Gerald's "horrid colds."
Du Maurier grew up in a lively London household, where friends
like J.M. Barrie –
Gerard had played Captain Hook in his play – and Edgar Wallace visited
frequently. She was a
voracious reader, fascinated by imaginary worlds. Her uncle, a magazine
editor, published one of her stories when du Maurier was only a
teenager and got her a literary agent. Like the Brontë sisters, the du
Maurier girls were drawn to imaginary worlds. Especially Peter Pan
had a strong influence in their childhood. Daphne's elder sister Angela
was a prolific writer of letters and she wrote some books, too. Her
first novel, The Well of Loneliness,
rejected by publishers, was about a woman's love for another. The
youngest sister Jeanne, who was a fine pianist, became a painter. Her
long-time partner was the poet Noël Welch.
Keenly aware that of her father's desire for a son, du Maurier grew up wishing that she had been a boy. However, she was her father's favorite, partly due to her literary talents. Her masculine alter ego she called "Eric Avon." As an adult, she wore trousers, like Marlene Dietrich in the films Morocco (1930) and Blonde Venus (1932), a provocative costume at that time. Du Maurier also had a male narrator in several novels. Later in life she wrote in a letter, "And then the boy realised he had to grow up and not to be a boy any longer, so he turned into a girl and not an unattractive one at that, and the boy was locked in a box forever."
Du Maurier attended schools in London, Meudon, France, and Paris. Her first book, The Loving Spirit, came out in 1931. It was followed by Jamaica Inn (1936), a historical tale of smugglers, which was bought for the movies, and directed by Alfred Hitchcock, who later used her short story, 'The Birds,' a tense tale of nature turning on humanity, for another film production. Also du Maurier's Frenchman's Creek, a pirate romance, and My Cousin Rachel (1951), were successfully filmed. The latter examined how a man may be manipulated by a woman, who perhaps has murdered her husband. Ambrose Ashley meets the beautiful Rachel Sangaletti, marries her and died six months later. He has sent letters to his nephew Philip, the narrator, who first hates Rachel, and then is bewitched by her. Du Maurier leaves open the question, is Rachel a poisoner, or an innocent victim of Ambrose's and then Philip's paranoid fantasies. The author herself was as puzzled as her readers, did Rachel kill Ambrose. "Sometimes I think she did, sometimes I didn't - in the end I just couldn't make up my mind," du Maurier said. Rachel dies, taking the secret with her, but Philip's role in her death is clear, and perhaps he is the real murderer of the story.
Before du Maurier married Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Arthur Montague Browning II in 1932, she had sexual liaison with the director Carol Reed. Browning, who was knighted for his distinguished service during World War II, died in 1965. Though their union appeared perfect on the surface – they were married for thirty-three years and had three children – she felt uncomfortable with other army wives. In 1947 du Maurier fell in love with Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher, who remained her lifelong friend, and then with the actress Gertrude Lawrence.
Du Maurier was made dame in 1969 for her literary distinction. In 1977 she received the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America. Du Maurier died at her home in Cornwall on April 19, 1989. Her pictorial memoir, Enchanted Cornwall, appeared posthumously in 1992. With her son, Christian, she published Vanishing Cornwall in 1967. Like Rebecca, many of her novels and short stories were set in Cornwall, England's westernmost county, whose wild, stormy weather and wild past inspired her imagination. "Here was the freedom I desired, long sought-for, not yet known," she wrote in Vanishing Cornwall. "Freedom to write, to walk, to wander, freedom to climb hills, to pull a boat, to be alone." Du Maurier's home was at a seventeenth-century mansion, Menabilly, overlooking the sea, for a quarter of a century. The house became the scene of her historical novel The King's General (1946).
Rebecca's opening line, "Last night I dreamt I went to
Manderley again," is among the most memorable in twentieth-century
literature. The story centers on a young and timid heroine. Her life is
made miserable by her strangely behaving husband, Maxim de Winter, whom
she just has married. Maxim is a wealthy widower, whose first wife Rebecca
has died in mysterious circumstances. His house is ruled by Mrs.
Danvers, the housekeeper, who has made Rebecca's room a shrine. Du
Maurier focuses on the fears and fantasies of the new wife, who
eventually learns that her husband did not love his former wife, a
cruel, egoistical woman.
Because of the familiar plot, suits of plagiarism were brought against du Maurier, but they were dropped when the widespread use of the theme, beginning from Charlotte Brontë's works, was established. Rebecca has also similarities with Carolina Nabuco's book A Sucessora (1934). Du Maurier's story, on the other hand, inspired Maureen Freely's The Other Rebecca (1996), in which the enigmatic Maxim de Winter appears as Max Midwinter.
Du Maurier started to write Rebecca while traveling in
Egypt. First the work progressed slowly, but then du Maurier poured all
of her own emotions in the central character after learning about her
husband's earlier life and his great love, Jan Ricardo, who had been an
exotic, dark beauty. Ricardo died tragically during the war; she
committed suicide by throwing herself under a train.
Hitchcock's film version, Orson Welles made a radio dramatization of Rebecca.
It was performed in December 1938 by The Campbell Playhouse
sponsored by Campbell Soup. The adaptation starts with Bernard
Herrmann's waltz-laden score, but is then interrupted by an "important
message from a man who keeps one eye on the dining table and another on
the pantry..." Welles played Maxim de Winter and Margaret Sullavan the
second Mrs de Winter. The producer David O. Selznick sent a transcript
of the broadcast to Hitchcock. "If we do in motion pictures as faithful
a job as Welles did on the radio," Selznick wrote, "we are likely to
have the same success the book had and the same success that Welles
had." Robin Wood said of Hitchcock's first Hollywood film that it
"fails either to assimilate Daphne du Maurier's book, and it suffers
further from Olivier's charmless performance, which finally destroys
our sympathy with the heroine, doting on such a boor." When Neville
Chamberlain flew to Munich to meet Hitler in 1939, he was said to have relaxed with du Maurier's Rebecca on the plane trip.
Besides popular novels du Maurier published short stories,
plays, and biographies, among others Branwell Brontë's, the brother of
sisters Anne, Charlotte,
and Emily. Her biography of Francis Bacon,
an English statesman in the 1500s and 1600s, came out in 1976. Du
Maurier's autobiography, Growing
Pains, subtitled The Shaping of a Writer, was published when she was 70. In the late 1950s, du
Maurier began to take interest in the supernatural. During this period
she wrote several stories, which explored fears and paranoid fantasies,
among them 'The Pool,' about a young who girl glimpses a magical world
in the woods, but is later barred from it, and 'The Blue Lenses,' in
which a woman sees everyone around her having the head of an animal.
Not After Midnight (1970), du Maurier's second collection of short stories, included
'Don't Look Now,' a tale set in Venice, involving a psychic old lady, a
man with the sixth sense, and a murderous dwarf dressed in a red coat.
Nicholas Roeg's screen adaptation from 1973 was photographed with
expressive use of colour. In his previous films, Roeg had acted as his
own cameraman, but on this this complex production he collaborated with
the cinematographer Anthony Richmond.
For further reading: Daphne Du Maurier by Richard Kelly ( 1987); Daphne: The Life of Daphne du Maurier by Judith Cook (1991); The Private World of Daphne du Maurier by Martyn Shallcross (1992); Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster (1993); Daphne Du Maurier: A Daughter's Memoir by Flavia Leng (1995); Daphne Du Maurier: Writing, Identity and the Gothic Imagination by Avril Horner, Sue Zlosnik (1998); Mystery and Suspense Writers, vol. 1, ed. by Robin W. Winks (1998); Daphne Du Maurier, Haunted Heiress by Nina Auerbach (1999); The Daphne du Maurier Companion by Helen Taylor (2008); Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters: The Hidden Lives of Piffy, Bird and Bing: The Hidden Lives of Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters