Daphne du Maurier Essay - Du Maurier, Daphne (Vol. 6)

Du Maurier, Daphne (Vol. 6)

Du Maurier, Daphne 1907–

Daphne du Maurier is an English Gothic novelist, short story writer, playwright, and biographer. Still best known for Rebecca, the "Charlotte Brontë story minus Charlotte Brontë" and one of the most widely read and admired of all Gothic romances, Ms du Maurier is regarded as a natural storyteller making effective use of melodrama. Much of her fiction uses for setting the Cornish coast where she has lived for many years. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

The magic of Daphne Du Maurier elicits favorable comment at any time and at any place in the English-speaking world. The publication of her books … causes brisk sales in bookstores across the nation. She writes "best sellers"; she is a popular novelist….

The Glass-Blowers is structured to show the effect of a significant historical event on the life and personality of a generation that endured the hardships, glories, bad times and good times of that period. The period here is admittedly ripe for such ups and downs, the French Revolution. Human nature makes history; human nature is illumined, generally, in the novel. Here the illumination is too heavily thrown on the passing events rather than on the people involved in them. Miss Du Maurier confessedly writes here of some of her own ancestors. Perhaps her re-creation of them has been affected by an over-powering obligation to objectivity that has made the novelist succumb to the demands of the historical research worker. At any rate the period's complexity never allows the characters to develop as people. They are subordinated to the historical events which sweep them along. Unless people remain people, history is of no interest, not even to their descendants….

The story of The Glass-Blowers is in fact the memoirs of one of the author's French ancestors. As a literary device this is most effective, for then the whole story is told in the engaging manner of the first person. Male readers will surely find this annoying…. (p. 55)

At all moments of intense passion the family looks at one another or sits in—(Miss Du Maurier occasionally has one or the other sink into)—a chair; rooms are paced; doors are closed; passages on stairs are interrupted; but nowhere does the reader become engaged and involved in the action.

The family consists of types: Robert, fickle and a spend-thrift; Pierre, the romantic idealist (Rousseau); Michel, the aggressive, pig-headed dullard; Edme, embodiment of female independence; Sophie, the great observer. The combination is less like a novel and more like a series of sketches as the author throws them across the pages of history. Michel stutters, and the reader is constantly r-re-reminded of this. Edme is so confused that it is a pity she was born at all.

The end papers are attractive maps done in a fine Italic hand by Palacios. It is unfortunate that the prose does not equal the maps in clarity and grace of style. (p. 56)

Beatus T. Lucey, O.S.B., in Best Sellers (copyright 1963, by the University of Scranton), May 1, 1963.

Daphne du Maurier pulls out all the stops in [Not After Midnight]; we get tension, drama, colourful situations, mingled with plenty of spine-chilling detail. All of which make Not After Midnight a good read, and most likely, a best-seller. If only the quality of her prose matched up to her inventiveness, if only the dialogue were not so banal and the descriptions so flat, we might have something more than holiday reading on our hands. (p. 119)

Susan Hill, in New Statesman (© 1971 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), July 23, 1971.

Daphne du Maurier's entertaining collection of stories [Not After Midnight] illustrates the fact that she is the nearest thing we have to a female Somerset Maugham. One might qualify this by saying that she possesses only in modified form those three characteristics which he considered to be his distinguishing features as a writer. His lucidity is sometimes her brightness; his simplicity is occasionally her banality; and his euphony is usually her homeliness. (p. 53)

Piers Brendon, in Books & Bookmen (© Hansom Books 1971), September, 1971.

["Don't Look Now"] is a collection of five uneasy pieces. In each one the reader is given an intriguing situation, a series of neatly planted clues and a generous number of plot twists, the kind of thing that Bennett Cerf has lovingly referred to as shenanigans. His taste for shenanigans must be shared by a great many readers: Miss du Maurier has been a household word for more than 30 years, and the most famous Rebecca in the world today is not from Sunnybrook Farm or the Book of Genesis but from a lonely old English mansion called Manderley. (p. 56)

Miss du Maurier is not at her best writing in the third person. Her most effective prose is done in the first person, which keeps her from sprawling and gives her better emotional control of her characters. (p. 56)

Margaret Millar, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1971 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), October 17, 1971.

[Rule Britannia is] … very much a "curiosity," a slight piece of writing so ephemeral that it defies categories. (The curiosity value lies in its having been conceived, much less written, at all.) Throwing all caution to the winds, du Maurier has not only deserted the hitherto profitable past but gone futuristic, and, as you might expect, things have come to a pretty pass. Queen Elizabeth II is still on the throne, but the entry into the Common Market has been a disaster, and, to prevent economic chaos, Britain and America have joined hands to form USUK. America's hand seems more inclined to grip than embrace, however, and the whole thing looks very much like an American take-over, what with marines running all over Cornwall with not so much as a by-your-leave….

To her credit, du Maurier moves things along briskly, but there just isn't much to move along….

Why would anyone write such drivel? Insofar as the Americans are finally driven out…, the book's message seems to be a rallying cry to Englishmen to defend their independence in this rapidly homogenizing world…. Is this a warning about Europeanization (America being a more melodramatic metaphor), an outright "Yankee, Go Home" pitch, or a governess telling her own charges to get cracking? (p. 85)

Joseph Kanon, in Saturday Review (copyright © 1973 by Saturday Review, Inc.; reprinted with permission), January, 1973.

Daphne Du Maurier has the deserved reputation of being an outstanding storyteller. I remember reading Rebecca when I was fourteen: altering my neat schoolhand to an elegant sprawl, praying for long black hair, and quoting entire passages, under its influence. She has the gift of conveying mystery and holding suspense, above all of suggesting the grip of the unknown on ordinary lives. She can melt her readers through a dark looking-glass. She is passionately devoted to Cornwall, and insists on our participation. Her sense of theatre creates some characters a little larger than life, and her commonsense surrounds them with people we have met and known, so that the eccentric and dramatic is enhanced.

Consequently I am sad to report that Miss du Maurier's latest novel, Rule Britannia, contains few of her excellencies, and these few are damped down or submerged by the content of the book. The golden rule for every writer is to seek out his or her personal Wilderness or Eden and stay in it. But some well-meaning friend, or perhaps Miss du Maurier herself, has suggested updating her usual plots and made a mistake.

Jean Stubbs, in Books and Bookmen (© Hansom Books 1973), January, 1973.

The coast of Cornwall is where Dame Daphne du Maurier has her home, that special part of England which is the setting for her best novels. Her stories cast a spell and in [Rule Britannia] she has written a satire that looks to the future, to that moment in history when Britain's last chance, economically and strategically, seems to be a union with the United States….

It does not take long to get the impression that Dame Daphne has not much use for our financiers, our advertisers, or our military as they are today. (p. 101)

Edward Weeks, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1973 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), February, 1973.

[Daphne du Maurier] still writes with Victorian verve, and each of her chapters ends with an upbeat sentence that impels the reader on. But [Rule Britannia] lacks the suspense, pageantry, and romantic insight of Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek or even the recent best-selling House on the Strand.

The scene is her beloved Cornwall again, but the matter, this time, is xenophobia—slick anti-Americanism to be precise…. Pretty thin treacle, and, as another Victorian said, we are not amused.

Philip Herrera, "Recapturing the Flag," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), February 12, 1973, p. 78.