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Who is Daphne Du Maurier?

Daphne du Maurier was a masterful British author whose gothic tales like "Rebecca" and "Jamaica Inn" captivated readers with their suspense and psychological depth. Her storytelling transcends time, inviting us into shadowy realms of romance and intrigue. Discover how her legacy continues to enchant and provoke — what secrets might her narratives reveal to you?
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) is one of the finest suspense authors of the 20th century. She is best known for her novel Rebecca, the semi-gothic tribute to Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Most of her novels fall into the suspense category, some as chilling as anything composed by Edgar Allen Poe. Du Maurier also wrote non-fiction works lauded by both critics and fans. The relatively quiet life of du Maurier is in strict contrast to her fictional works.

Du Maurier was born to famous actor and theater manager, Gerald du Maurier. Her literary heritage extends to her grandfather who was an illustrator and writer of the novels Trilby and Peter Ibbetson. She received an education at home with her siblings and then was sent to Paris to “finish” her education.

Novelist Charlotte Bronte.
Novelist Charlotte Bronte.

Her first works were written when du Maurier was barely 21. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit was published in 1931, when du Maurier was 24. Du Maurier’s initial works did not receive much notice. However, her biography of her father, Gerald: A Portrait was considered exceptional, and was noted for being a particularly frank and honest evaluation of her father’s life. Jamaica Inn, published in 1936, won her a reputation as a worthy novelist. In 1938, the publication of Rebecca would further amplify du Maurier’s reputation, with most considering her one of the best novelists of her age.

Rebecca was so popular that it was immediately considered for a screenplay. The 1940 film adaptation directed by Alfred Hitchcock, featuring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, won him his only Oscar for best picture. It should be stated however, that the film adaptation was not pleasing to du Maurier, especially since the location was moved to America, instead of remaining in Cornwall. A BBC production in the 1980s, and one in the 1990s were both more faithful to the novel.

It is fair to say that du Maurier never again quite approached the success of Rebecca in her writing. However, several of her novels and short stories enjoyed immense popularity in her lifetime, although they are now read infrequently. Several other novels and short stories saw film adaptations, including Frenchman’s Creek, Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat, and the short stories Don’t Look Now and The Birds. Most of the works of du Maurier were set in her beloved Cornwall, fueling an interest in what was already a popular tourist location.

Du Maurier also wrote many non-fiction works. She was very interested in the life of the Bronte sisters and wrote a biography of their brother Branwell. Perhaps her most interesting non-fiction work is The Vanishing Cornwall, published in 1969, where she describes in loving detail her memories of Cornwall as a child, and the glory that still exists there. One frequently sees du Maurier quoted in travel brochures for Cornwall.

Unlike her heroines and heroes, du Maurier was happily married to Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Montague Browning in 1932. The couple had three children and no hint of trouble or scandal ever touched the marriage, which lasted until Browning’s death in 1965. Perhaps it was this loving and beloved life that made it possible for du Maurier to write so prolifically. She published a novel, biography, or collected short stories virtually every year. Her autobiography, published in 1977, is an interesting evaluation of her life.

Du Maurier was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II and named a Dame of The British Empire. When she died in 1985, her ashes were scattered upon the Cornwall cliffs, as she had requested. Since her death a sequel to Rebecca, titled Mrs. De Winter, was authored by Sally Hill. The reviews of the second novel are scathing. Since du Maurier disapproved of sequels written by others, it is doubtful she would have sanctioned this novel.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who was Daphne du Maurier and why is she significant in literature?

Daphne du Maurier was a renowned 20th-century British author known for her richly atmospheric works, often set in the county of Cornwall, England. Her significance in literature stems from her ability to blend elements of romance, suspense, and gothic horror, creating captivating narratives that have stood the test of time. Her most famous novel, "Rebecca" (1938), is a classic that has been adapted into several films and remains a staple in the canon of English literature.

What are some of Daphne du Maurier's most famous works?

Aside from "Rebecca," which won the National Book Award for favorite novel of 1938, Daphne du Maurier authored several other notable works. These include "Jamaica Inn" (1936), a historical thriller; "Frenchman's Creek" (1941), a romantic adventure; and "My Cousin Rachel" (1951), a mystery-romance. Her short story "The Birds" (1952) inspired Alfred Hitchcock's famous film of the same name, showcasing her influence on both literature and cinema.

How did Daphne du Maurier's personal life influence her writing?

Daphne du Maurier's personal life and experiences heavily influenced her writing. Her love for Cornwall, where she lived for much of her life, is evident in the vivid descriptions of the landscape in her novels. Her complex relationship with her father, the actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, and her exploration of identity and sexuality are themes that recur in her work, providing depth and psychological insight into her characters.

Has Daphne du Maurier received any awards or honors for her work?

Yes, Daphne du Maurier received several awards and honors throughout her career. Her novel "Rebecca" won the National Book Award for favorite novel of 1938, and she was made a Dame Commander in the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1969 for her literary contributions. Her legacy continues to be celebrated with the Daphne du Maurier Festival of Arts and Literature, held annually in Cornwall.

What impact has Daphne du Maurier had on modern literature and culture?

Daphne du Maurier's impact on modern literature and culture is significant. Her novels have inspired countless adaptations, including films, television series, and plays. Her storytelling techniques, particularly her ability to create suspense and a haunting atmosphere, have influenced many contemporary authors. Moreover, her works continue to be read and studied for their complex characters and themes, ensuring her place as a prominent figure in the literary world.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent PublicPeople contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent PublicPeople contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

Learn more...

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Discussion Comments

anon326770

I am interested to know: did Daphne Du Maurier picture the Bronte sisters in any of her novels' characters? I know the influence the Bronte sisters had on Du Maurier's writings, and I know that Du Maurier wrote "The Infernal World" about Branwell Bronte". What I would like to know is how far this influence of the Bronte sisters on Du Maurier went?

anon157183

Some people will never rest until they've cast the shadow of a doubt over the sexuality of anyone who's ever been brilliant, talented and creative. Especially if that person was a woman!

anon34230

Don't forget Du Maurier's love affairs with women (Gertrude Lawrence, most notably). Rather than a side-note to her life, her hidden sexuality and struggle with it played a large role in her intense writings.

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    • Novelist Charlotte Bronte.
      By: Georgios Kollidas
      Novelist Charlotte Bronte.