Daphne du Maurier

Dame Daphne du Maurier

The young Daphne du Maurier (about 1930)
Born (1907-05-13)13 May 1907
London, England, UK
Died 19 April 1989(1989-04-19) (aged 81)
Fowey, Cornwall, England, UK
Resting place Kilmarth, Cornwall
Occupation Novelist
Nationality British
Period 1931–89
Genre Literary fiction
Notable works Rebecca
The Scapegoat
"The Birds"
Notable awards National Book Award (U.S.)
Spouse Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Browning
(1932-1965; his death)
Children 3
Relatives Sir Gerald du Maurier (father)
Muriel, Lady du Maurier (mother)
George du Maurier (grandfather)

Literature portal

Daphne (right) with her mother Muriel Beaumont and her sisters Angela (left) and Jeanne (centre), c. 1912.[1]
Cannon Hall, Hampstead, drawn by A.R. Quinton, 1911, where Daphne spent much of her childhood.

Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning, DBE (/ˈdæfni d ˈmɒri./; 13 May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was an English author and playwright.

Although she is classed as a romantic novelist, her stories seldom feature a conventional happy ending, and have been described as ‘moody and resonant’ with overtones of the paranormal. An obituarist wrote: "Du Maurier was mistress of calculated irresolution. She did not want to put her readers' minds at rest. She wanted her riddles to persist. She wanted the novels to continue to haunt us beyond their endings."[2] These bestselling works were not at first taken seriously by the critics, but have since earned an enduring reputation for storytelling craft. Many have been successfully adapted into films, including the novels Rebecca and Jamaica Inn and the short stories "The Birds" and "Don't Look Now".

Du Maurier spent much of her life in Cornwall where most of her works are set. As her fame increased through her novels and the films based upon them, she became more reclusive.

Her father was the actor Gerald du Maurier, and her grandfather was the artist and writer George du Maurier.

Early life

Daphne du Maurier was born in London, the middle child of three daughters of the prominent actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and actress Muriel Beaumont (maternal niece of journalist, author, and lecturer William Comyns Beaumont).[3] Her grandfather was the author and Punch cartoonist George du Maurier, who created the character of Svengali in the novel Trilby. Her elder sister Angela also became a writer, and her younger sister Jeanne was a painter.

Her family connections helped her in establishing her literary career, and du Maurier published some of her early work in Beaumont's Bystander magazine. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931. Du Maurier was also the cousin of the Llewelyn Davies boys, who served as J. M. Barrie's inspiration for the characters in the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up. As a young child, she met many of the brightest stars of the theatre, thanks to the celebrity of her father. On meeting Tallulah Bankhead, she was quoted as saying that the actress was the most beautiful creature she had ever seen.[4]

Novels, short stories, and biographies

The novel Rebecca (1938) became one of du Maurier's most successful works. It was an immediate hit on its publication, went on to sell nearly 3 million copies between 1938 and 1965, has never gone out of print, and has been adapted for both stage and screen several times. In the U.S. she won the National Book Award for favourite novel of 1938, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association.[5] In the UK, it was listed at number 14 of the "nation's best loved novel" on the BBC's 2003 survey The Big Read.[6] Other significant works include The Scapegoat, The House on the Strand, and The King's General. The last is set in the middle of the first and second English Civil War, written from the Royalist perspective of her adopted Cornwall.

Several of her other novels have also been adapted for the screen, including Jamaica Inn, Frenchman's Creek, Hungry Hill, and My Cousin Rachel (1951). The Hitchcock film The Birds (1963) is based on a treatment of one of her short stories, as is the film Don't Look Now (1973). Of the films, du Maurier often complained that the only ones she liked were Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca and Nicolas Roeg's Don't Look Now. Hitchcock's treatment of Jamaica Inn was disavowed by both director and author, due to a complete re-write of the ending to accommodate the ego of its star, Charles Laughton. Du Maurier also felt that Olivia de Havilland was wrongly cast as the anti-heroine of My Cousin Rachel.[7] Frenchman's Creek fared rather better in a lavish Technicolor version released in 1944. Du Maurier later regretted her choice of Alec Guinness as the lead in the film of The Scapegoat, which she partly financed.[8]

Menabilly house in Fowey was discovered in a dilapidated state by du Maurier who when granted a lease in 1943, set about restoring it and made it her home until 1969

Du Maurier was often categorised as a "romantic novelist", a term she deplored,[9] given her novels rarely have a happy ending, and often have sinister overtones and shadows of the paranormal. In this light, she has more in common with the "sensation novels" of Wilkie Collins and others, which she admired.[8] Du Maurier's novel Mary Anne (1954) is a fictionalised account of the story of her great-great-grandmother, Mary Anne Clarke née Thompson (1776–1852), who, from 1803–08, was mistress of Frederick Augustus, Duke of York and Albany (1763–1827). He was the "Grand Old Duke of York" of the nursery rhyme, a son of King George III and brother of the later King George IV. The central character of her last novel, Rule Britannia, is an ageing and eccentric actress is thought to be based on Gladys Cooper (to whom it is dedicated).

In her short stories du Maurier gave free rein to the darker side of her imagination: "The Birds", "Don't Look Now", "The Apple Tree" and "The Blue Lenses" are finely crafted tales of terror that shocked and surprised her audience in equal measure. As her biographer Margaret Forster wrote: "She satisfied all the questionable criteria of popular fiction, and yet satisfied too the exacting requirements of 'real literature'."

A more recent discovery of a collection of du Maurier's forgotten short stories, written when the author was 21, provides some insight into her mature style. One of them, The Doll, is a suspense-driven gothic tale about a young woman's obsession with a mechanical male sex doll; it has been deemed by du Maurier's son Kits Browning to be "quite ahead of its time".[10]

In later life, she wrote non-fiction, including several biographies such as Gerald, her father's biography. The Glass-Blowers traces her French Huguenot ancestry and gives a vivid depiction of the French Revolution. The du Mauriers describes the somewhat problematic ways in which the family moved from France to England in the 19th century and finally Mary Anne, the novel based on the life of a notable, and infamous, English ancestor her great-grandmother Mary Anne Clarke, former mistress of Frederick, Duke of York.

The House on the Strand (1969) combines elements of "mental time-travel", a tragic love affair in 14th century Cornwall, and the dangers of using mind-altering drugs. Her final novel, Rule Britannia (1972), plays with the resentment of English people in general and Cornish people in particular at an increasing dominance of the U.S.


Daphne du Maurier wrote three plays. Her first was an adaptation of her novel Rebecca, which opened at the Queen's Theatre in London on 5 March 1940 in a production by George Devine, starring Celia Johnson and Owen Nares as the De Winters and Margaret Rutherford as Mrs. Danvers. At the end of May, following a run of 181 performances, the production transferred to the Strand Theatre, with Jill Furse taking over as the second Mrs De Winter and Mary Merrall as Mrs Danvers, with a further run of 176 performances.

In the summer of 1943, she began writing the autobiographically inspired drama The Years Between about the unexpected return of a senior officer, thought killed in action, who finds that his wife has taken his seat as Member of Parliament and has started a romantic relationship with a local farmer. It was first staged at the Opera House, Manchester in 1944 and then transferred to London, opening at Wyndham's Theatre on 10 January 1945, starring Nora Swinburne and Clive Brook. The production, directed by Irene Hentschel, became a long-running hit, completing 617 performances. After 60 years of neglect, it was revived by Caroline Smith at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond upon Thames on 5 September 2007, starring Karen Ascoe and Mark Tandy.[11]

Better known is her third play, September Tide, about a middle-aged woman whose bohemian artist son-in-law falls for her. The central character of Stella was originally based on Ellen Doubleday and was merely what Ellen might have been in an English setting and in a different set of circumstances. Again directed by Irene Hentschel, it opened at the Aldwych Theatre on 15 December 1948 with Gertrude Lawrence as Stella, enjoying a run of 267 performances before closing at the beginning of August 1949.

Personal names, titles and honours

She was known as Daphne du Maurier from 1907 to 1932 when she became Mrs Frederick Browning while still writing as Daphne du Maurier (1932–46). She was titled Lady Browning; Daphne du Maurier (1946–69). Later, on being created Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, she became Lady Browning; Dame Daphne du Maurier DBE (1969–89).

When in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for June 1969 Daphne du Maurier was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire,[12] she accepted but never used the title. According to Margaret Forster, she told no one about the honour, so that even her children learned of it only from the newspapers. "She thought of pleading illness for the investiture, until her children insisted it would be a great day for the older grandchildren. So she went through with it, though she slipped out quietly afterwards to avoid the attention of the press."[13]

Accusations of plagiarism

Shortly after Rebecca was published in Brazil, critic Álvaro Lins (pt) and other readers pointed out many resemblances to the 1934 book, A Sucessora (The Successor), by Brazilian writer Carolina Nabuco. According to Nabuco and her editor, not only the main plot, but also situations and entire dialogues had been copied.[14] Du Maurier denied having copied Nabuco's book, as did her publisher, pointing out that the plot elements used in Rebecca said to have been plagiarized were quite common.[15]

The controversy was the subject of an article published on 6 November 2002 in The New York Times.[16] The article said that according to Nabuco's memoirs, when the Hitchcock film Rebecca was first shown in Brazil, United Artists wanted Nabuco to sign a document stating that the similarities were merely a coincidence but she refused.[17]

The Times quoted Nabuco's memoirs as saying, "When the film version of 'Rebecca' came to Brazil, the producers' lawyer sought out my lawyer to ask him that I sign a document admitting the possibility of there having been a mere coincidence. I would be compensated with a quantity described as 'of considerable value.' I did not consent, naturally."[16] The Times article said, "Ms. Nabuco had translated her novel into French and sent it to a publisher in Paris, who she learned was also Ms. du Maurier's only after Rebecca became a worldwide success. The novels have identical plots and even some identical episodes."[16]

Author Frank Baker believed that du Maurier had plagiarised his novel The Birds (1936) in her short story "The Birds" (1952). Du Maurier had been working as a reader for Baker's publisher Peter Davies at the time he submitted the book. When Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds was released in 1963, based on du Maurier's story, Baker considered, but was advised against, pursuing costly litigation against Universal Studios.[18]

Personal life

She married Major (later Lieutenant-General) Frederick "Boy" Browning in 1932, with whom she had three children:

Biographers have noted that the marriage was at times somewhat chilly and that du Maurier could be aloof and distant to her children, especially the girls, when immersed in her writing.[19][20] Her husband died in 1965 and soon after Daphne moved to Kilmarth, near Par, Cornwall, which became the setting for The House on the Strand.

Du Maurier has often been painted as a frostily private recluse who rarely mixed in society or gave interviews.[20] An exception to this came after the release of the film A Bridge Too Far, in which her late husband was portrayed in a less-than-flattering light. Incensed, she wrote to the national newspapers, decrying what she considered unforgivable treatment.[21] Once out of the glare of the public spotlight, however, many remembered her as a warm and immensely funny person who was a welcoming hostess to guests at Menabilly,[8] the house she leased for many years (from the Rashleigh family) in Cornwall.

Secret sexual relationships

After her death in 1989, references were made to her reputed bisexuality;[19] an affair with Gertrude Lawrence, as well as her attraction to Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher Nelson Doubleday, were cited.[20] Du Maurier stated in her memoirs that her father had wanted a son;[19] and, being a tomboy, she had naturally wished to have been born a boy.

In correspondence released by her family for the first time to her biographer, Margaret Forster, du Maurier explained to a trusted few her own unique slant on her sexuality: her personality, she explained, comprised two distinct people the loving wife and mother (the side she showed to the world) and the lover (a decidedly male energy) hidden to virtually everyone and the power behind her artistic creativity. According to the biography, du Maurier believed the male energy fuelled her creative life as a writer.[22] Forster maintains that it became evident in personal letters revealed after her death, however, that du Maurier's denial of her bisexuality unveiled a homophobic fear of her true nature.[20]

The children of both du Maurier and Gertrude Lawrence have objected strongly to the suggestions about their mothers. Michael Thornton maintained that Forster did not know du Maurier; those who did knew that she was not lesbian, although there was a good deal of 'play-acting'.[23] "It was Menabilly, her 'house of secrets', and her father, that remained the enduring loves of her life, not Gertrude Lawrence or Ellen Doubleday."[24]


Du Maurier died on 19 April 1989, aged 81, at her home in Cornwall, which had been the setting for many of her books. Her body was cremated and her ashes scattered at Kilmarth.[12]

Cultural references




See also


  1. NPG x44904. National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 1 July 2015.
  2. Kate Kellaway, The Observer, 15 April 2007. "Daphne's unruly passions", theguardian.com; retrieved 12 May 2016.
  3. Daphne du Maurier profile by Richard Kelly (essay date 1987), "The World of the Macabre: The Short Stories", Daphne du Maurier, Twayne Publishers, 1987, pp. 123–40.
  4. Bret, David (1998-01-01). Tallulah Bankhead: a scandalous life. London/Jersey City, NJ: Robson Books ; [Parkwest Publications]. p. 34. ISBN 1861051905.
  5. "Book About Plants Receives Award: Dr. Fairchild's 'Garden' Work Cited by Booksellers", The New York Times, 15 February 1939, page 20. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2007).
    • Du Maurier participating in the Hotel Astor luncheon by transatlantic telephone from London to New York. She called for writers and distributors to offset, in the literary world, the contemporary trials of civilisation in the political world.
  6. "The Big Read", BBC, April 2003; retrieved 18 October 2012.
  7. Martyn Shallcross, Daphne du Maurier Country, Bossiney Books.
  8. 1 2 3 Oriel Malet (ed.), Letters from Menabilly, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1993.
  9. BBC Interview, 1979.
  10. Bell, Matthew (20 February 2011). "Fan tracks down lost stories of Daphne Du Maurier". The Independent. London, UK.
  11. John Thaxter, "The Years Between", The Stage, 10 September 2007.
  12. 1 2 Margaret Forster, ‘Du Maurier , Dame Daphne (1907–1989)’, rev., Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 19 Jan 2009
  13. Margaret Forster, Daphne du Maurier, Chatto & Windus, 1993, p. 370, ISBN 0-7011-3699-5
  14. Nabuco, Carolina (1985), A Sucessora (6 ed.), Art
  15. "Bull's-Eye for Bovarys". Time. 2 February 1942. Retrieved 26 October 2007.
  16. 1 2 3 Rohter, Larry (6 November 2002). "Tiger in a Lifeboat, Panther in a Lifeboat: A Furor Over a Novel". The New York Times.
  17. "Rebecca seria brasileira" [Rebecca would be Brazilian]. Os Filmes (in Portuguese). Archived from the original on 15 September 2007. Retrieved 26 October 2007.
  18. "Frank Baker Biography". UK: Frank Baker. Retrieved 26 February 2013.
  19. 1 2 3 Conradi, Peter J (1 March 2013). "Women in love: The fantastical world of the du Mauriers". ft.com. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  20. 1 2 3 4 Margaret Forster, Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller, Chatto & Windus.
  21. Judith Cook, Daphne, Bantam Press.
  22. Daphne du Maurier, Myself When Young, Victor Gollancz.
  23. Michael Thornton, "Daphne's terrible secret", The Mail Online, 11 May 2007
  24. Thornton, Michael (11 May 2007). "Daphne's terrible secret". London: Daily Mail. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  25. Adrienne Rice. "Daphne du Maurier commemorated in Hampstead - Heritage - Hampstead Highgate Express". Hamhigh.co.uk. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  26. "Mens Swiss Watch Collection - Luxury Timepieces". du Maurier Watches. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  27. Todd VanDerWerff. "Bryan Fuller walks us through Hannibal's debut season (part 4 of 4) · The Walkthrough · The A.V. Club". Avclub.com. Retrieved 2016-04-13.
  28. du Maurier.org. "Early Stories". Dumaurier.org. Retrieved 2013-02-26.
  29. du Maurier.org. "Castle Dor". Dumaurier.org. Retrieved 2013-02-26.
  30. du Maurier.org. "The Birds". Dumaurier.org. Retrieved 2013-02-26.
  31. du Maurier.org. "Not After Midnight". Dumaurier.org. Retrieved 2013-02-26.

Further reading and other sources

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