The Du Maurier legacy
Born in London in 1907, Daphne du Maurier grew up in a world immersed in theatre, art and literature. Her father, the actor-manager Sir Gerald Hubert Edward Busson, encouraged Daphne in her ambition to write and held hopes that she would follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, George Du Maurier, the noted author of Trilby. Daphne’s relationship with her father was close but not unproblematic. Although she began writing and publishing short stories and four novels – the first of which, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931 - it was her frank biography of her father, Gerald, which first established her literary identity. In the mid 1930’s Du Maurier established a close and productive relationship with the publisher Victor Gollancz, who supported her in completing her fourth novel, Jamaica Inn, which became an instant bestseller.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again
Having married Major Frederick Arthur Montague (Boy) Browning in 1932, du Maurier was required to follow her husband to Egypt as an army wife in the late 1930’s. Always more comfortable in her own company than a crowd, she found the social hubbub of her Egyptian circle oppressive and was profoundly homesick. Her situation proved the perfect melting pot to inspire one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever written. A story of jealousy, false identity and malevolent secrets, strongly influenced by Jane Eyre, Rebecca became a literary sensation. The book’s success was cemented when Alfred Hitchcock chose to adapt it for the screen in 1940 (he later also made films of her next two novels Frenchman’s Creek and Hungry Hill as well as her short story The Birds, in 1963).
The heart of Cornwall
During the war, du Maurier returned to England, renting Menabilly, a house she had fallen in love with in the Cornish countryside. The distance between Daphne and her husband caused by the war fed a profound estrangement, which she wrote about in the play, The Years Between. Their relationship continued to founder after his return, with Frederick spending much of his time in London as part of the household of Princess Elizabeth and Daphne remaining in Cornwall with their children. Her unease at their relationship fed into much of her writing, including the novels The Apple Tree, The Breaking Point, My Cousin Rachel and The Scapegoat. Although the popularity of her work brought her considerable success, du Maurier was frustrated that her fiction wasn’t given greater critical attention and she felt her works were unfairly side-lined as purely commercial, romantic thrillers. After her husband’s death in 1965 du Maurier suffered a profound psychological breakdown, compounded by having to leave Menabilly. Her depression and anxiety fed into her last works of fiction, in particular The House on the Strand but for much of her later life she found herself unable to write and died of heart failure in 1989.