du Maurier, Daphne (1907–1989)
du Maurier, Daphne (1907–1989)
Prolific British novelist, biographer, and playwright whose gift was in story-telling and whose imagination moved her to write works of suspense, mystery, romance, and horror. Name variations: Lady Daphne Browning; (nickname) Bing. Pronunciation: doo-MOHR-ee-ay. Born on May 13, 1907, in London, England; died on April 19, 1989, in Par, Cornwall, England; daughter of Gerald du Maurier (an actor-manager in British theater) and Muriel (Beaumont) du Maurier (an actress); attended Miss Tullock's day school in Oak Hill Park (1916); educated at home by governesses; attended a finishing school in Camposena, France; married Frederick Arthur Montague (Tommy) Browning, on July 19, 1932 (died 1965); children: Tessa Browning (b. July 15, 1933); Flavia Browning Leng (b. April 2, 1937); Christian, called Kit (b. November 3, 1940).
Awards and honors:
National Book Award (1938), for Rebecca; Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire (1969); Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Award (1977).
Published first novel, The Loving Spirit (1931); published Rebecca (1938); restored and moved into Menabilly (1943); defended her authorship of Rebecca against charges of plagiarism (1947); suffered a coronary (1981).
The Loving Spirit (1931); I'll Never Be Young Again (1932); The Progress of Julius (1933); Gerald: A Portrait (1934); Jamaica Inn (1936); The du Mauriers (1937); Rebecca (1938); Come Wind, Come Weather (1940); Frenchman's Creek (1941); Hungry Hill (1943); The Years Between (1945); The King's General (1946); September Tide (1949); The Parasites (1949); (ed.) The Young George du Maurier: A Selection of his Letters, 1860–1867 (1951); My Cousin Rachel (1951); The Apple Tree (published in America as Kiss Me Again Stranger, 1952); Happy Christmas (1953); Mary Anne (1954); Early Stories (1955); The Scapegoat (1957); The Breaking Point (1958); The Infernal World of Bran-well Bronte (1960); Castle Dor (1962); The Glass-Blowers (1963); The Flight of the Falcon (1965); Vanishing Cornwall (1967); The House on the Strand (1969); Not After Midnight (published in America as Don't Look Now, 1971); Rule Britannia (1972); Golden Lads: Anthony Bacon, Francis and their Friends (1975); The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, His Rise and Fall (1976); Echoes from the Macabre (1976); Growing Pains (published in America as Myself When, 1977); The Rendezvous and Other Stories (1980); The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories (1980); Classics from the Macabre (1987).
Daphne du Maurier's novel Rebecca begins with the words: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." That the author directs our attention to the mystery of Manderley at the very outset was perhaps inevitable. Houses always stirred du Maurier's imagination. The several she inhabited with her husband on his various military postings invariably provoked her to fantasize about the lives of their former residents. But it was Menabilly, in her beloved Cornwall, that provided one model for the fictional Manderley. For a decade, Menabilly had been her enduring passion, exciting fantasies about the family whose descendants had lived there since the 16th century. And so it would re-main until the end of her life.
I was born… into a family of make-believe and imagination.
—Daphne du Maurier, Enchanted Cornwall
Du Maurier sought out Menabilly in 1928. Her interest had been aroused by guidebooks and by the strange tales of her Cornwall neighbors about a woman in blue said to appear at a side window, and the bones of a cavalier that had been discovered beneath a buttress more than 100 years earlier. Why the current owner, Dr. John Rashleigh, paid a local woman to clean and air the house once a week, but lived elsewhere and seemed unconcerned that the house was gradually falling apart, excited local speculation but no consensus. Prosaic souls accepted that the dampness was simply bad for the man's health; romantics preferred the rumor that catching his first wife entertaining a lover at Menabilly had inspired an aversion to the place. Du Maurier's first attempt to get a firsthand look, which ended in getting lost in the surrounding undergrowth as darkness fell, convinced her that Menabilly was a "house of secrets" determined to resist intruders. What she finally saw a day later when she pushed her way clear—huge unkempt lawns, long low walls covered with ivy so thick as to all but mask the empty windows—could only excite her ardor for the "house, haunting, mysterious."
Writing Rebecca a decade later did nothing to purge its author of her persistent fascination with Menabilly, nor did frequently wandering its grounds with Dr. Rashleigh's permission satisfy her obsession with the house. In 1943, the possibility of a lease arose. Although the house needed a new roof, had no lighting, no water, no heat; although window panes were broken and
moisture had caused fungus to grow on the ceiling; although she would be pouring money into renovating a house that she could only lease rather than own; although it was war time with building materials almost impossible to get and skilled contractors even scarcer; although everyone, especially her husband, thought her "quite mad"—du Maurier wanted the house so badly she cajoled Dr. Rashleigh to lease Menabilly to her for 20 years, later extended an additional six. When the Rashleigh family decided to re-claim the house in 1969, du Maurier rented nearby Kilmarth, dower house of Menabilly, where she lived until her death in 1989.
Daphne du Maurier was born in London on May 13, 1907. The second of three daughters born to Gerald and Muriel ("Mo") du Maurier, she grew up as the child of a famous family amid Edwardian London's privileged upper class. Her grandfather, George du Maurier, forced by the loss of sight in one eye to abandon his dream of becoming a serious painter, instead illustrated novels, several by the popular Mrs. Elizabeth Gaskell , achieved considerable fame for his pictures in Punch, where he held a staff position, and became famous as the author of three novels, the best known being Trilby, which featured the master manipulator, Svengali. Daphne's parents had theatrical careers. Gerald's unique style of naturalistic acting was responsible for the stage success of his Raffles, the gentleman-crook (1906), which led to a series of popular criminal roles. From 1910, Gerald, in partnership with Frank Curzon, managed Wyndham's Theater at Charing Cross in London where Gerald continued to appear on the stage. He was knighted in 1922 for his services to the theater. Although Muriel retired from the stage in 1911 before the birth of her third daughter, she does not seem to have interested herself overmuch in the rearing of her children, which she preferred to leave in the hands of a series of nurses and governesses. Perhaps Daphne was right in later ascribing Muriel's external indifference to jealousy of her daughters' close relationship with Gerald, who spent so much time with the girls that a secret language gradually developed among them.
In 1916, Gerald bought Cannon Hall in Hampstead. Among the frequent visitors to the du Maurier home were J.M. Barrie ("Uncle Jim" to the girls), who wrote Peter Pan for their cousins, the Llewelyn Davies boys. Another was the novelist and playwright Edgar Wallace, whose generosity in sharing the profits of The Ringer with Gerald, who had extensively revised the play's dialogue, enabled Gerald to purchase Ferryside in Fowey, Cornwall, where Daphne would find the solitude to write her first novel.
Daphne's childhood was typical of the Edwardian upper class. Children were briefly presented at dinner parties in which they would later learn to participate, took daily walks in the park with their nannies, passed summers in rented houses away from London, and visited the country homes of family friends. Daphne adored the freedom of the countryside. But the du Maurier childhood was also unique in ways that reflected the family's theatrical background. Daphne and her sisters especially enjoyed dressing up in costume and pretending. Treasure Island and a visit to the Tower of London so fired Daphne's imagination that she spent many afternoons as Jim Hawkins or Long John Silver or as the Crown's executioner repeatedly beheading her younger sister Jeanne.
As a child, Daphne wanted to be a boy because they "did all the brave things." For a girl in the Edwardian era, wanting to be a boy was probably not unusual; both girls and women were restrained in their activities by their clothing and by society, while males were allowed to have adventures, play sports like cricket, and dress in trousers which allowed freedom of movement. In Daphne's case, however, something more seems to have been at work. Since she was aware that her father, especially after the death of his only brother Guy in World War I, deeply regretted that she was not his son and could thus carry on the family name (she could hardly have missed those sentiments since Gerald expressed them openly in a poem he wrote her), the relative freedom that she and her sisters experienced in being allowed to dress in trousers and play cricket with Gerald must have smacked as much of rejection as liberation. With the additional shock of menstruation at age 12, she not only dreamed of turning into a boy to prevent the whole process, a not unusual occurrence, but also invented an alter ego for herself named Eric Avon, captain of the cricket team at School House, Rugby, who filled her imagination with deeds of daring.
Her earliest schooling was at Miss Tullock's day school in Oak Hill Park; later, she was educated at home by governesses. Her favorite was Maud Wadell , nicknamed Tod, who came in 1918 when Daphne was 11 and would become a lifelong friend. After Tod went to Constantinople in 1921 to serve as governess to the children of Prince Abdul Madjid, Daphne kept in touch by letter, often begging Tod to return. In the spring of 1925, Daphne was sent to a finishing school with mostly English girls in Camposena, a village near Meudon outside of Paris, which was run by a Miss Wicksteed . The school's strictness (walks were permitted only on school grounds) was made even less tolerable by the Spartan conditions (cold bedrooms, no hot baths, bad food). At first, only organized outings to museums, the opera, and Versailles made life at the school more or less bearable. Then one evening, in an act of unusual daring, the normally shy Daphne joined a group of Mlle Fernande Yvon 's favorite students who were permitted to sit with the teacher in the evenings. Yvon was amused rather than annoyed. Soon Daphne had become Yvon's favorite, was calling her "Ferdy," and the two women were spending their summer holiday together. Daphne wrote Tod that she believed Yvon to be "Venetian," which in the du Maurier code meant lesbian.
At age 19, du Maurier, now officially finished, found herself with time on her hands, but a life that lacked direction. She read, sometimes as many as four books a week. She made trips to Europe, visited Ferdy in Paris, skied with the Edgar Wallace family, cruised the Norwegian fjords with millionaire Otto Kahn and party, socialized with Arthur Quiller-Couch, chair in English at Cambridge who had a summer home in Cornwall, and she wrote short stories, even though the constant bustle at Cannon Hall made writing difficult. In 1929, she met and had an affair with Carol Reed, later a film director. Du Maurier's parents disapproved of Reed, but then Gerald had always been possessively jealous of any man who presumed to date one of his daughters, so that alone does not explain Daphne's evasiveness when Reed began pressing for a more permanent arrangement in late 1929. For the first time, she was displaying an instinctive avoidance of commitments that threatened to disrupt the solitude she required for her writing. Having published a single short story and a poem in The Bystander was a modest enough accomplishment, especially since the journal was published by her uncle. But by then she had also completed most of a novel at Ferryside in Cornwall. Her father had purchased Ferryside in 1926; in 1929, she was finally allowed to stay there on her own, thus gaining the solitude she so craved for her writing.
Cornwall would also provide the material for many of her novels. Her first grew from her discovery of the Jane Slade, an old figureheaded schooner lying on its back in the mud; she later gained access to a box of Slade family letters, some from as early as the 19th century. When her family returned to London in October 1929, she stayed on alone. Working undisturbed, inspired by the material provided by the Slade letters, she wrote almost all of The Loving Spirit before dutifully returning to London for the family Christmas. By the end of January 1930, she was back in Fowey. The Loving Spirit was finished by March. After sending the typescript to an agent, Michael Joseph, she treated herself to a visit to Ferdy in Paris, where the news reached her that Joseph had sold the novel to Heinemann. By the time The Loving Spirit appeared in February 1931, she had managed to write her second novel I'll Never Be Young Again in a space of two months.
There is, in retrospect, something deeply ironic about du Maurier's discovery of Cornwall at the end of the 1920s. On the one hand, Cornwall not only meant for her a place and way of life that made it possible for her to develop as a novelist; it also provided both the fictional materials and the striking settings for such later works as Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and French-man's
Creek. And yet, the modest fame that du Maurier enjoyed in the months following the publication of The Loving Spirit led directly to the marriage and family that would transform her most productive years into a constant struggle between the increasingly onerous responsibilities of wife and mother and the demands of her art.
By early 1932, du Maurier had heard rumors of a young army officer who had been so impressed by The Loving Spirit that he and a fellow officer had cruised down the coast in his boat Ygdrasil in order to experience Cornwall firsthand and in hopes of meeting the novelist. She finally met the 31-year-old Frederick (Tommy) Browning, major in the Grenadier Guards, whom she called "Boy," in April 1932. On July 19, they were married in the church at Lanteglos near Fowey, departed at once on Ygdrasil, sailed along the coast to the Helford river, and moored at Frenchman's Creek. Following the honeymoon, the couple divided their time between Fowey and a cottage in Hampstead at the end of the Cannon Hall garden that du Maurier persuaded her parents to give them as a wedding present.
It was during the first decade of du Maurier's marriage that the ambivalent attitudes concerning gender and sex, which she had imbibed from both her family and society at large, began manifesting themselves in patterns of behavior that were at least eccentric, at times dysfunctional. On discovering that she was pregnant, she firmly convinced herself that she was about to present Tommy with the son that Muriel had never been able to give Gerald, then reacted to the birth of her daughter Tessa on July 15, 1933, by all but abandoning the child to the care of a nanny. The birth of a second daughter Flavia on April 2, 1937, would provoke yet again the kind of maternal indifference for which she had criticized Muriel. Not surprisingly, the long-desired son, Christian (Kit), would be the object of lavish demonstrations of affection from the moment of his birth on November 3, 1940. No less conflicted was du Maurier's reaction to the sudden death of her father, who was diagnosed with colon cancer in early 1934 and was dead by April 11. Within less than a month, du Maurier had signed a contract to write his biography, which she completed by the end of August. Though the book was warmly praised by critics for its unvarnished presentation of Sir Gerald's boyish charisma and talent, along with his eccentricities and human weaknesses, others saw du Maurier's forthright revelation of her father's extramarital affairs and occasional depression, not to mention his ambivalence toward his daughters as they passed beyond puberty, as an indiscretion, if not a betrayal.
Even in the early years of their marriage, Daphne and Tommy were anything but the inseparable couple. In fact, du Maurier made it plain rather early that she did not intend to permit her role as an officer's wife to interfere with the half-secluded, writing-centered life she could lead only in Fowey. She hated socializing on the grand scale and rebelled against expectations that she feign interest in the wives and families of the men under her husband's command, appear at dreary social functions, and participate by handing out prizes. By 1936, she was spending as much time at Ferryside as possible. By the time she finished Jamaica Inn in that year, she had established a routine of writing three hours in the morning, two in the afternoon, and if Tommy was not at home, yet another hour in the evening. Tessa and meals were left to the nanny and the cook.
And yet, she was an army officer's wife, whether she wanted to acknowledge it or not. Jamaica Inn, a Cornish tale of smugglers and villains, was her first commercial success; she now turned to another family biography, that of her grandfather, George du Maurier, which would eventually appear as The du Mauriers. Distractions, however, continued unabated. In 1936, after enduring the ordeal of being presented at Court for Tommy's sake, she was confronted with the news that the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards, which Tommy now commanded, was being transferred to Egypt. She hated Alexandria—the interminable heat, the enforced conviviality with officers' wives, the constant social circuit of an army post, and, worst of all, the impossibility of escaping to Cornwall. Having struggled to complete The du Mauriers, she became listless and depressed and discovered she was pregnant again. In January 1937, accompanied by Tessa and her nanny, she returned to England and gave birth to Flavia in April. The half year in England acted as a tonic; when Tommy took her back to Egypt at the end of July, she was already at work on Rebecca. When Tommy's tour ended in December 1937, du Maurier vowed on returning to England that she would not put up with any more foreign postings.
By the time she completed Rebecca in March 1938, the gathering of war clouds over Europe was probably rendering the point moot. In the summer of 1939, shortly before Germany invaded Poland, the family moved to Kent. Then in 1940, Tommy was placed in command of the 128th Hampshire Brigade, which was posted near Hertfordshire, where the wartime housing shortage forced them to take rooms in Langley's End, the home of Christopher and Paddy Puxley . Du Maurier became pregnant with her long yearned-for son. By the time Kit was born, Tommy's leaves had become short and infrequent and du Maurier was writing Frenchman's Creek. She also drifted into an affair with Christopher Puxley. Paddy discovered their affair and in April 1942 du Maurier moved to Fowey, where she rented a large cottage for herself, the three children, and their nanny because Ferryside had been requisitioned as a naval headquarters. She also rented a smaller cottage in which she and Christopher were able to continue their affair to the end of the war.
Even aside from the strain of her affair with Puxley, the last three years of the war were marked by continuous upheaval in du Maurier's private life. Tommy was seldom on leave other than during his recuperation from a glider crash, after which he was in North Africa and later India. The cottage she occupied with her three children and a nanny was cramped. The children were forever catching colds; the nanny's health was deteriorating; Tessa poisoned herself on rhododendron leaves; du Maurier had to serve as teacher for her children because the schools were closed. Though money was a constant source of concern, she managed to negotiate the 20-year lease for Menabilly and threw herself into repairs so that even Tommy was impressed when the family was able to move in time to celebrate Christmas, 1943.
For anyone not obsessed with Menabilly, the house might still have been considered unlivable. Du Maurier, however, managed to ignore both rats and bats in some of the rooms, beetles in the water pipes, and the absence of heating that in the winter months made it necessary for the family to sleep in as many clothes as they could get on. It is surely an indication of how dependent she had become on her writing as a relief from depression that, by the time the family moved in at Menabilly, she had written her longest novel, The Hungry Hill, a screen adaptation of it, and a stage play titled The Years Between. Once at Menabilly, she established a daily routine—writing from ten in the morning to one in the afternoon, having lunch at one followed by a walk with the children, and then writing until evening—and plunged into research for the novel The King's General, which was based on the history of Menabilly and the Rashleigh family. With the continuing illness of
Margaret, the nanny cum housekeeper, du Maurier wrote Tod, her old governess, pleading for help. Tod arrived in October 1945, and du Maurier went on writing.
The end of the war in 1945 meant that Tommy would be coming home. He was looking forward to a resumption of their old life. Du Maurier, however, feared the prospect of giving up the independence and hours of solitude she had learned to carve out for herself. Even if she had not warned him before his return that they would be sleeping in separate beds, Tommy's homecoming, as were so many after the long separations of the war, was disastrous. He arrived on July 19, 1946, to find his wife distant and his children barely recognizing him and afraid of his frequent displays of temper. Even worse, Tod, who had always irritated him, was an established member of the household. Tommy's posting as military secretary to the Minister of War probably came as a welcome relief to all concerned; it enabled a pattern to develop that would hold until Tommy's retirement in 1959, with Tommy living in a rented flat in London during the week and visiting his family at Menabilly on weekends. Tommy reacted to his failed marriage and his loneliness in London by increasing his drinking, which probably caused many of the health problems that plagued him in his last years, and by indulging in various love affairs. Du Maurier, who had ended her affair with Puxley, soon found intimacy in two curiously linked relationships with women, the first platonic, the second decidedly something more.
On November 27, 1947, accompanied by Flavia, Kit, and Tod (Tessa was in school), du Maurier set sail on the Queen Mary for New York, where she was to defend herself against the charge that she had plagiarized Rebecca from a 1924 short story ("I Planned to Murder my Husband") and a 1927 novel based on the story (Blind Windows) by Edwina L. Macdonald . Her co-defendants included Doubleday, her American publisher, and David O. Selznick, whose company had produced the Hitchcock film of Rebecca. Du Maurier and party were to stay at
Nelson Doubleday's Oyster Bay home. On board ship, du Maurier met Nelson's wife, Ellen Doubleday , to whom she developed an instant attraction. Though in court she had little difficulty in refuting the charge of plagiarism with the aid of her working notebooks to Rebecca, the ordeal of having to testify, together with the boundaries Ellen set to their friendship, left her ill and depressed. Back in England, du Maurier attempted to work through her crisis by writing a play (September Tide) whose central character, Stella, was modeled on Ellen. When Gertrude Lawrence was cast as Stella, du Maurier fell at once under her spell. Their affair, with du Maurier visiting Lawrence in both Florida and New York, would continue until Lawrence's death in 1952.
Since February 1949, when she had begun her fictional portrait of a theatrical family, The Parasites, du Maurier had been writing in a newly erected wooden hut that stood at some distance from the main house at Menabilly. There, by the summer of 1950, amid the solitude on which she was becoming more and more dependent in order to write, the idea of a story about a widow named Rachel was forming in her imagination. My Cousin Rachel was finished in April 1951. But when Lawrence died the next year, du Maurier, at age 45, discovered that the solitude she had yearned for her entire adult life had been won at the price of loneliness. Tommy remained in London. Despite his drinking and philandering, he had been appointed comptroller and treasurer to HRH Princess Elizabeth (II) in 1947 and now was being appointed treasurer to Prince Philip, duke of Edinburgh, following Elizabeth's coronation in 1952. Her children were away at school. She had only Tod left. And her work.
Writing now became the only cure for the depression that often threatened to overwhelm her. In January 1954, she wrote a novel based on her ancestor Mary Anne Clarke (c. 1776–1852), mistress of Frederick Augustus, duke of York. The Scapegoat, the story of a man taking on the life of his double, an idea triggered by an incident in France in 1955, was published in 1957. But her life continued to peel away. Tessa married in March 1954 and gave birth to du Maurier's first grandchild in February 1955. Flavia married in 1956. Kit was graduated from Eton in 1958 determined to direct films. In 1957, Tommy suffered a nervous breakdown. Though Tommy was able to return to London, Daphne realized that he must soon retire, at which point he would come to live at Menabilly, intensifying the old problem of Tommy's and Tod's mutual dislike. For the sake of the husband with whom she had never come close to having a real marriage, she sacrificed her former governess and friend by setting Kit up in an apartment and sending Tod as a kind of housekeeper.
When Tommy retired in 1959, du Maurier resolved to do her duty by him, yet found ways to escape it. Her next book, a biography of Branwell Brontë, necessitated research in the British Museum and occasional trips to Yorkshire and provided relief that was absolutely necessary for her, despite the difficulty of making arrangements for Tommy's care while she was away from Menabilly. When Tommy died in March 1965, du Maurier was shocked at how much she missed him. Searching for distraction and having difficulties with writing fiction, she wrote, at her publishers suggestion, a book about Cornwall, a mother-son venture with Kit taking the photographs.
In 1969, du Maurier's lease on Menabilly at last expired, and she moved to the nearby dower house, Kilmarth. That summer, she was made Dame of the British Empire (DBE). In her later years, du Maurier turned increasingly to short stories and biography and, finally, to autobiography. By 1977, the creative juices had dried up, and her old enemy depression claimed her. After suffering a coronary in 1981, du Maurier was able to return to Kilmarth but required constant nursing care. In early 1989, she seems to have willed her death, refusing to eat, taking only liquids. On April 19, 1989, Daphne du Maurier died in her sleep.
Forster, Margaret. Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller. NY: Doubleday, 1993.
Kelly, Richard. Daphne du Maurier. Boston: Twayne, 1987.
Leng, Flavia. Daphne du Maurier: A Daughter's Memoir. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1994.
Shallcross, Martyn. The Private World of Daphne du Maurier. NY: St. Martin's Press, 1992.
Du Maurier, Daphne. Myself When Young: The Shaping of a Writer. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1977.
Don't Look Now, starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland, directed by Nicolas Roeg, Paramount, 1973.
Frenchman's Creek, starring Joan Fontaine , Arturo de Cordova, and Basil Rathbone, directed by Mitchell Leisen, Paramount Pictures, 1944.
"Jamaica Inn," starring Jane Seymour and Patrick Mc-Goohan, directed by Lawrence Gordon Clark, TV-movie, 1985.
"Rebecca," starring Jeremy Brett, Joanna David , and Anna Massey , produced by BBC and Time-Life Films, presented as an eight-part miniseries on PBSTV, 1981.
Rebecca, starring Joan Fontaine, Judith Anderson , and Laurence Olivier, screenplay by Joan Harrison and Robert E. Sherwood, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, United Artists, 1940 (won Academy Award for Best Motion Picture).
"Rebecca" (90 min., two-part television adaptation), starring Diana Rigg , Charles Dance, and Emilia Fox , "Masterpiece Theatre," 1997.
The Birds, starring Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, Universal, 1963.
The Scapegoat, starring Alec Guinness and Bette Davis , directed by Robert Hamer, M-G-M, 1959.
The Years Between, starring Michael Redgrave and Valerie Hobson , directed by Compton Bennett, Twentieth Century-Fox, 1946.
Vanishing Cornwall, narrated by Michael Redgrave, Sterling Education Films, 1968.
Carole Shelton , Adjunct Professor of History, Middle Tennessee State University, Murfreesboro, Tennessee