Daphne du Maurier is often referred to as a romantic novelist, but if you’ve read her novels then you’ll know that this is not really the case. Her novels are dark, twisted and moody. There are tones of Hardy and the Brontes in her depictions of landscape, and she humanises her characters with subtlety and restraint.
Daphne du Maurier was born in London into a theatrical family, educated at home and later in Paris. She began writing short stories and articles in 1928, and in 1931 her first novel, ‘The Loving Spirit’, was published.
‘Rebecca’ made her one of the most popular authors of her day but it very nearly didn’t make it to publication. Living as an army wife in a rented house in Egypt, in 1937, du Maurier found herself unfulfilled and unhappy. She had left her two daughters behind in England, and had become increasingly reclusive and shy. Despite having four published novels under her belt, the first draft of ‘Rebecca’ lay in the bin by her desk, 15,000 words which she would later refer to as her ‘literary miscarriage’.
Indeed, du Maurier was often far from happy. Trapped within the somewhat limiting confines of femininity, she resented having to wear dresses, raise daughters and was far more comfortable partaking in physical activities and wearing shorts. She regarded herself as a man in a woman’s body, and slipped between the genders in much the same way as Virginia Woolf. Her characters are often dark and mysterious, hiding their many layers behind a mask of confusion and veiled emotions.
Many of her bestselling novels became award-winning films. She lived most of her life in Cornwall, the setting for many of her books. She died in 1989.
On a trip to the South of France, the shy heroine of Rebecca falls in love with Maxim de Winter, a handsome widower. Although his proposal comes as a surprise, she happily agrees to marry him. But as they arrive at her husband’s home, Manderley, a change comes over Maxim, and the young bride is filled with dread. Friendless in the isolated mansion, she realises that she barely knows him. In every corner of every room is the phantom of his beautiful first wife, Rebecca, and the new Mrs de Winter walks in her shadow.
“I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.”Daphne du Maurier, ‘Rebecca’
After the death of her mother, Mary Yellan crosses the windswept Cornish moors to Jamaica Inn, the home of her Aunt Patience. There she finds Patience a changed woman, downtrodden by her domineering, vicious husband Joss Merlyn. The inn is a front for a lawless gang of criminals, and Mary is unwillingly dragged into their dangerous world of smuggling and murder. Before long she will be forced to cross her own moral line to save herself…
“He stole horses’ you’ll say to yourself, ‘and he didn’t care for women; and but for my pride I’d have been with him now.”Daphne du Maurier, ‘Jamaica Inn’
Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. Jealous of his marriage, racked by suspicion at the hints in Ambrose’s letters, and grief-stricken by his death, Philip prepares to meet his cousin’s widow with hatred in his heart. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to his beautiful, sophisticate, mysterious Rachel like a moth to the flame. And yet… might she have had a hand in Ambrose’s death?
“They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not anymore, though.”Daphne du Maurier, ‘My Cousin Rachel’