Daphne du Maurier

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How does Daphne by Du Maurier blur the fine line between "high" literature and "popular" literature? It can also be explained through high and popular culture.

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Daphne Du Maurier had the ability to provide writing that was gripping even while it was not considered "high" literature. With its "faults," one of the reasons critics have not been able to dismiss her work is that it has remained so popular over time.

In Rebecca, for example, the mystery rests with the fate of Rebecca who the reader never meets: she is dead when the story begins. However, the tale is presented so that the narrative carries its audience for some time before answers about Rebecca's fate are given—not having to rely on the mystery in order to grip its reader.

Basil Davenport, reviewing Rebecca...identifies the book as a mystery about who Rebecca really was and what happened to her, but he also credits du Maurier for writing so well and so compellingly that she does not have to rely on the murder mystery plot...

Du Maurier used "melodrama," which was considered "pedestrian," with characters that were less than brilliant. Our heroine, the new Mrs. De Winter (she is never referred to by any other name), is naive to the point that even knowing that the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, hates her, takes the older woman's advice—a big mistake. Danver's motivation is to destroy the fragile new wife of Maxim De Winter, a young woman in no way strong enough to play in this game of high-rollers, herself a penniless orphan.

In addition, it seems unlikely, that Maxim would allow Mrs. Danvers to stay on, in that it is like living with one's former mother-in-law; and, too, that he is so emotionally unavailable that he is of little help to his new wife as she tries to navigate the unchartered waters of marriage and high-society. However, it may well be this kind of "manipulation" that specifically garners sympathy from the audience for the heroine. This kind of tactic, however, keeps Du Maurier from being considered a writer of "high" literature.

In fact, one critic notes:

...du Maurier [was] 'a poor woman's Charlotte Brontë' of the 1930s.

Another element that make Du Maurier's writing lean more to popular literature is her focus on the supernatural rather than romance. It is seen in Rebecca, but becomes more prevalent over time; it is present in her story, The Birds. This brings us to another criticism of Du Maurier's work: as she became more popular, she also became more commercialized: her writing seemed to take on the format of a screenplay, ready to easily be adapted for a film; such was the case with The Birds, adapted by Alfred Hitchcock.

While some critics may have wanted to outright dismiss Du Maurier's writing, as with Rebecca, it has been impossible to do so.

Rebecca is one of those novels that critics have a difficult time disrespecting. On the one hand, it does have excessive, overblown language in places, and its plot is far from original. On the other hand, the book's overwhelming approval by the general public...up through today, has made it in some respects immune to negative criticism, forcing reviewers to think twice before dismissing it as just one more popular romance.

The "overblown" language may seem trite, but Du Maurier's ability to pull the reader along for a suspenseful ride without giving up too much of the mystery too early, enabled her to develop a highly successful career as a writer; her books were much sought after and while she is not considered an author of "high" literature, her work does not fit easily into the category of simply "popular" literature, thus blurring the lines between the two.

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