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Daphne du Maurier

In the week there was a revealing documentary on Daphne du Maurier on PBS America entitled In Rebecca’s Footsteps.

She was a complex character difficult to classify as a writer.

The popular notion is of a historical romantic novelist in the style of Georgette Heyer or Philippa Gregory.

In fact she had a dark side – almost ghoulish – reflected in her short stories The Birds or Don’t Look Now.

Both became film successes (14 of her novels were filmed, chiefly by Alfred Hitchcock).

She was fascinated by the paranormal and the Jungian concept that we have two selves.

This duality is a constant  theme of her novels.

One programme contributor observed that Rebecca and Maxim de Winter’s second wife – she is rarely named – reflect an independent woman who had the courage of her desires and a more private insecure second wife, both traits of the writer.

Daphne du Maurier was in many ways the first independent woman writer.

In Frenchman’s Creek the anti-heroine elopes with a pirate.

Again a dualism of historic fiction and the liberation of the modern woman.

To understand her, you need to follow her childhood and the relationship she had with her father, actor/manager Gerald du Maurier.

One contributor thought this might have gone as far as incestuous.

Daphne invented a character called Eric Avon, a tomboy, to become the son her father never had.

She was bisexual, had an obsessive crush on the wife of her american publisher Norman Doubleday, and an affaire with the actress Gertrude Lawrence (as did her father) but was a loyal and supportive husband to Major Boy Browning.

He was one of the masterminds of Operation Market Garden, the Allied assault on Arnhem which became the subject of the film A Bridge Too Far.  

Daphne was vocal in her criticism of the film yet, whilst her husband was on World War duty, she had an affaire with someone else’s, the husband friend who put her up with his family in Fowey.

Nonetheless, she was critical – not supportive – when one of her daughters obtained a divorce.

Sexual mores were very different before Women’s Lib but this does not fully explain her complexities.

Certainly Daphne du Maurier, who was more or less a recluse in Cornwall, felt no obligation to do so.

About Melanie Gay

A former literary agent with three published novels of her own, Melanie retains her life-long love of the written word and recently mastered the Kindle. She is currently writing a historical novel set in 17th Century Britain and Holland. More Posts

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