If you enjoy reading then you’ll most likely recognise the name Daphne du Maurier as that of the author behind Rebecca: a hugely famous gothic romance featuring the wealthy Maxim de Winter, his creepy housekeeper Mrs Danvers, and his haunting ex-wife, the extremely popular and beautiful Rebecca. If this novel has somehow evaded you so far in life, despite its bestselling status and strong presence in modern culture, it’s an absolute classic and I’d recommend it to just about everyone. However, there is far more to the author than this one renowned novel and, after beginning research into the world of Daphne du Maurier in preparation for my dissertation, I have stumbled across a few interesting facts that I think more people should know about this intriguing writer…
She wrote ‘The Birds’, later turned into the famous horror film by Hitchcock
Daphne du Maurier provided the inspiration behind Hitchcock’s award-winning movie when she wrote ‘The Birds’: a short story included in her 1952 collection The Apple Tree. The story describes the supernatural and vicious behaviour of flocks of birds who turn against humans and themselves in a series of self-destructive missions, inciting fear into the hearts of all onlookers, victims, and readers alike.
She wrote ‘Don’t Look Now’, also adapted into a hugely popular film
‘Don’t Look Now’ is a 1973 thriller starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, who play the story’s central characters: a married couple holidaying in Venice in an attempt to move on after their daughter’s death. However, they encounter a pair of elderly twins, one of whom is psychic and experiences a vision of their dead daughter sat between them, and their trip to Italy doesn’t end well…
Her father, Gerald du Maurier, was a famous actor
Gerald du Maurier starred in many films and co-managed Wyndham’s Theatre for fifteen years. He became well known after starring in two plays by J. M. Barrie (the author of Peter Pan), playing both George Darling and Captain Hook in 1904. Gerald’s nephews were in fact the inspiration behind Peter Pan as well as other male characters created by Barrie, and he named his daughter Angela (Daphne’s older sister) after one of Wendy Darling’s middle names. She later went on to play Wendy Darling onstage. After growing up with an actor for a father, many of Daphne’s novels explore the concept of acting and playing a role, for instance when Rebecca’s room is depicted as having ‘the appearance of a setting on the stage.’
Her grandfather, George du Maurier, was a famous author and cartoonist
George du Maurier is best known for his cartoons in Punch, the British satirical magazine in which he targeted Victorian society, allegedly coining the popular phrases ‘good in parts’, ‘a curate’s egg’, and ‘bedside manner’. He is also famous for his novel Trilby, a stage production of which resulted in the naming of the trilby hat.
Daphne wrote a science fiction novel all about time travel
Published in 1969, The House on the Strand is the story of Richard Young as he offers to test his friend’s newly developed drug and ends up travelling back in time to 14th Century Cornwall, taking several ‘trips’ back into the lives of people long dead. Daphne herself believed in the powers of the unconscious mind and was open to the idea of ghostly presences, as well as the retention of past impressions within buildings, which is explored within the novel.
She had a strong interest in the Brontës
Many of du Maurier’s novels mimic the gothic elements of the Brontës’ writing, in particular creepy settings such as Jamaica Inn which strongly resembles both Wuthering Heights and Thornfield Hall. Furthermore, Daphne wrote The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë in 1960: a biography all about Charlotte, Emily, and Anne’s less famous and often unknown brother.
She found her dream house in a derelict state, and decided to move in
Menabilly, an estate nearby to Fowey in Cornwall, was completely dilapidated when Daphne stumbled across it and trespassed within its grounds. She set her heart upon it and was granted a lease in 1943, after which she ordered its restoration and made it her home. Menabilly became the main inspiration for Manderley, the house in Rebecca, and similar buildings feature in many more of her novels.
She wrote a very weird and disturbing story called ‘The Doll’
When Daphne was twenty, she wrote a story all about a life-sized male automaton that satisfies the sexual desires of a beautiful woman whom the narrator is in love with. The doll remains a mystery with its creation and fate completely unexplained…
She is a true feminist inspiration
After marrying Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Browning, Daphne continued to write for a living and supported herself right from the start of her career. The results were frequently bestsellers and she produced a grand total of seventeen novels on top of several short story collections and a few plays, including a stage adaptation of Rebecca. Furthermore, Daphne embraced the freedom of the modern age and somewhat fulfilled her childhood desire of wanting to be a boy by rejecting skirts and dresses in favour of her usual baggy trousers. After her husband’s death, du Maurier led a largely solitary life which had always been her preferred state, finding solace in her own company and that of her dogs.
Certain people believe that she even predicted Brexit!
Daphne’s final novel, Rule Britannia, explores the impact of an alliance between Britain and the United States, in which Britain is occupied by American soldiers. She imagines a future state of economic instability in the UK after it joins then leaves the EU’s predecessor, the Common Market, following a referendum. As a result, there is great resentment felt towards Westminster elites and a pervasive atmosphere of uncertainty: scarily similar to the world of today. Professor Taylor of the University of Exeter even draws parallels between the rhetoric of David Cameron and that of the imagined Prime Minister in du Maurier’s novel!
It is clear to see that there is far more to this fascinating writer than just Rebecca. She is an inspiration both in terms of her writing and through her strong, independent character, consistently breaking boundaries and leading the way for others. Dame Daphne du Maurier could well be the first female role model that I’ve ever had.