Daphne du Maurier was a powerful writer of the 20th Century. She penned a number of popular short stories, novels, and plays during her time.
Daphne du Maurier was born on 13 May 1907.
Du Maurier came from an extremely artistic family. Her parents were actors, her siblings were a writer and a painter, and her grandfather was a caricaturist.
Du Maurier was a member of the Cornish nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow.
Du Maurier married Major Frederick Browning in the year 1932 and became Lady Browning.
Du Maurier passed away in Cornwall (which formed the setting for many of her novels) at the age of 81 on 19 April 1989.
Du Maurier has been often called the “mistress of suspense.”
Du Maurier was Alfred Hitchcock’s favorite novelist. He adopted three of her works into film – Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, and The Birds.
Du Maurier was supposedly a recluse who never engaged in society or gave too many interviews.
In 1961, du Maurier was elevated to the Dame Commander of the British Empire and was given the title Dame Daphne du Maurier. She barely used the title in her life.
Du Maurier never liked being called a “romantic novelist” especially because most of her novels do not have conventionally happy endings.
Famous Books by Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier’s most notable work to date. Written in the first-person narrative and set in the beautiful estate of Manderley house, this novel recounts the story of a young woman who marries a wealthy widower and is haunted by the ghost of his ex-wife.
The Birds – A swarm of aggressive birds attacks disabled farmer Nat Hocken and his family in their cottage. In this short story, du Maurier hauntingly explores the relationship between mankind in nature. The malevolent streak of nature ultimately takes over and takes revenge on mankind. Du Maurier masterfully produces an unusually menacing atmosphere as the Hocken family struggle against the advancing birds.
Jamaica Inn – One of du Maurier’s most popular Gothic romance novels that explores the haunting journey of the orphan, Mary. Set within a surreal atmosphere, Mary is unwittingly drawn into dangerous situations as she explores Jamaica Inn and stumbles across her vicious uncle’s smuggling business.
Frenchman’s Creek – Du Maurier explores the historical fiction genre with English lady Dona who falls in love with French pirate Jean-Benoit Aubery. Frenchman’s Creek is a brilliant exploration of societal expectations and restrictions that were placed on women during the reign of Charles II and captures an incredible character transformation in the protagonist.
My Cousin Rachel – Extremely similar to Rebecca in theme and writing style, My Cousin Rachel is a mystery romance novel based on the romantic affair between Philip and his cousin, Rachel. Mysterious events unfold as the reader is drawn deeper into intricate webs of lies, deceit, and uncertainty. This novel powerfully showcases du Maurier’s excellent storytelling techniques as a mistress of suspense.
Early Life and Education
Daphne du Maurier was born on 13 May 1907 to an extremely creative family. Her story begins in London where her father, Sir Gerald du Maurier worked as an actor/manager, and her mother, Muriel Beaumont worked as an actress. She was one among three children, with her older sister Angela becoming a writer like her and her younger sister Jeanne becoming a painter.
Du Maurier had excellent family connections. Her grandfather, George du Maurier was a famous cartoonist, and her mother’s uncle, William Comyms Beaumont was a popular author, journalist, and lecturer. This helped du Maurier kickstart her literary career. The glamorous life that her family led also helped du Maurier meet prominent actors and celebrities and visit beautiful locations – all of which proved as inspiration for her future novels and short stories.
Du Maurier was homeschooled by educated governesses, including her favorite Maud Waddel. She later attended finishing school at a village right outside of Paris called Camposena. Du Maurier also paid several visits to Cornwall with her family during her childhood. Cornwall was to later become one of the most popular choices for setting in her novels.
Daphne du Maurier had always been an avid reader as a child and she devoured the works of WM Thackeray, Oscar Wilde, Walter Scott, and the Bronte sisters. She was also highly influenced by the works of Katherine Mansfield, RL Stevenson, Somerset Maugham, and Guy de Maupassant. Du Maurier began writing early in her life. By the time she was 18 years old, she had already finished working on her first collection of short stories, The Seekers.
Du Maurier turned to write short stories and novels as an escape from reality. It was also a means to financial independence. She used her family connections and published her first short story in Beaumont’s Bystander magazine. The story was titled, “And Now to God the Father” and helped her earn a decent sum of money. The compensation and praise she received for this short story were enough to encourage her to continue her career as a writer. She continued to publish several short stories in the Bystander before she moved on to her first novel, The Loving Spirit which was published in 1931. The influence of the Bronte sisters shines forth in this novel as the title itself has been taken from a poem penned by Emily Bronte.
The Loving Spirit proved to be decently successful and du Maurier continued to write novels year after year. In successive years, she published, I’ll Never Be Young Again and Progress of Julius both of which were radically different in genre and showcased her versatility as a writer.
Du Maurier picked up the project of writing her father’s biography after his death from colon cancer. Gerald: A Portrait was thus, published in 1934 before she moved on to Jamaica Inn (1936). Jamaica Inn is a mystery suspense novel set in Cornwall and full of villainous doings and smugglers, and has been heavily inspired by RL Stevenson’s Treasure Island.
Du Maurier then published a biography on her family called the du Mauriers (1937) before penning her most famous novel till date, Rebecca in 1938. Rebecca proved to be an immense success and caused du Maurier to go down in history as one of the most talented writers of romance and suspense. The novel was an instant hit in both the United Kingdom and the United States. Rebecca helped du Maurier win several accolades, including the National Book award for favorite novel of 1938 in the United States. The novel was also listed at number 14 of the nation’s best-loved novels on the BBC’s The Big Read 2003 survey.
Throughout her life, du Maurier continued to write several novels that spanned several genres, including Frenchman’s Creek, Hungry Hill, The King’s General, My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat, The House on the Strand, Mary Anne, and Rule Britannica.
Du Maurier has also made a name for herself for her excellent short stories, some of which include The Birds, Don’t Look Now, The Blue Lenses, The Doll, and her famous short story collection, The Apple Tree. She also worked on three plays during her lifetime, one of them being an adaptation of her own novel, Rebecca. The other plays were titled The Years Between and September Tide.
Later Life and Death
Daphne du Maurier spent most of her life indulging in her love for writing. She continued to do so in her later years as well. She also indulged in her passion for traveling and walking. As she reached old age, however, she was unable to sustain the creativity and imagination of her young age and she, therefore, began to lose interest in life.
Du Maurier’s health began to fail during the late 1980s and she finally passed away in her sleep on April 20, 1989, at the age of 81 at her home in Paris.
Literature by Daphne du Maurier
Explore literature by Daphne du Maurier below, created by the team at Book Analysis.