Daphne du Maurier Biography

Daphne du Maurier Biography

Daphne du Maurier’s romantic, glamorous novels were often perceived in her day as throwbacks to a simpler time, but they are regarded now as examples of fine, nuanced storytelling. In fact, her books remain a staple in libraries around the world. Du Maurier has been referred to as aloof and cold, probably due in part to the fact that she rarely granted interviews and disliked society events despite her literary status. After her death in 1989, much was made of her possible same-sex affairs, most notably one with actress Gertrude Lawrence. Over a fifty-year career, du Maurier wrote many popular novels, including her most famous work, Rebecca. She also wrote short stories, plays, and (later in her life) biographies about her own ancestry.

Facts and Trivia

  • Du Maurier was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1969, but she told no one about the honor. She left the ceremony quietly so that members of the press were not alerted.
  • Both Rebecca and du Maurier’s short story “The Birds” were adapted into popular films by Alfred Hitchcock.
  • Du Maurier’s grandfather created the character Svengali in the book Trilby. He was also an author and cartoonist.
  • Du Maurier is said to have been very aloof toward her two daughters and much more loving toward her son. She once wrote about how much she identified with men and was in touch with her male side.
  • Du Maurier’s ashes are scattered near her beloved home in Cornwall.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Daphne du Maurier was born on May 13, 1907, in London, the daughter of the famous actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier. Although she enjoyed the company of her two sisters when she was growing up, her best friend was always her father, an exciting, romantic, and somewhat irresponsible man. As a young girl she desperately wished that she had been born a boy so that she could be free to live an adventurous and unorthodox life like her father’s. She even adopted the persona of a fictitious character she named Eric Avon, captain of a cricket team, to act out her fantasies of male independence.

Du Maurier was determined not to model her life on that of her mother, who seemed to her too limited by domestic concerns. As she matured, du Maurier romanced the ghost of her father in both her fiction and her life. Her fantasies about him shaped the heroes of her novels and were embodied in the man she eventually married, while the needs of the “boy in the box,” her alternate persona, were satisfied by deep and lasting friendships with women, including romantic relationships with two of them.

After attending private schools in England, du Maurier attended finishing school at Camposena, outside Paris, in 1923. By the end of that decade, she had begun writing short stories and developed an obsessive interest in three things: the history of her family and of Cornwall (where her parents owned a large house), the sea, and a mysterious old house called Menabilly. These three interests became inextricably bound up with her career as a writer. Shortly after the publication of her first novel, The Loving Spirit (1931), she married a thirty-five-year-old major in the Grenadier Guards, Frederick A. M....

(The entire section is 703 words.)

Daphne du Maurier Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Daphne du Maurier was born to a theatrical family. Her father, Gerald, was an actor and manager; her mother, Muriel Beaumont, was an actor. Du Maurier was educated in both England and France. Plagued from childhood by feelings of self-doubt and inadequacy, she turned to writing to achieve the solitude she desperately craved. She preferred fantasy to reality and shunned social engagements. She began writing stories and poems in her teens. By the time she was in her twenties, she was selling regularly to magazines such as The Bystander and the Sunday Review.

She wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit, when she was only twenty-two years old. This romantic family saga earned both critical acclaim and best-seller status. It so impressed a major in the Grenadier Guards that he arranged a meeting with its author. The two soon developed an attachment, and in 1932 du Maurier married Major Frederick Arthur Montague Browning, whom she called Tommy. He later earned the rank of lieutenant general, became Chancellor of the Exchequer in the household of Princess Elizabeth, and became treasurer to the Duke of Edinburgh. The couple had three children: daughters Flavia and Tessa and son Christian. Browning died in 1965.

In 1943, du Maurier fulfilled a childhood dream and moved into Menabilly, a seventy-room manor house in Cornwall that inspired Manderley, the eerie setting for Rebecca. She adored the reputedly haunted...

(The entire section is 427 words.)

Daphne du Maurier Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Daphne du Maurier (dew MOR-ee-ay) was born in London, England, on May 13, 1907, the second daughter of Gerald and Muriel (Beaumont) du Maurier. Her father, Sir Gerald du Maurier, was a leading actor of his day, and her grandfather was George du Maurier, author of Trilby (1894), the story of a young girl mesmerized by a sinister Hungarian musician named Svengali. Du Maurier enjoyed a privileged childhood, surrounded by celebrities and protected from life’s harshness. She was instructed by a governess and at private schools until she was sixteen, when she was sent to a finishing school near Paris.

Soon after she returned to England, she developed a crush on an older cousin and then fell in love with film director Carol Reed, experiences that led to the writing of three novels that were moderately successful. Her breakthrough came with the publication of Jamaica Inn (1936), a thoroughly romantic historical novel inspired by her discovery of Cornwall, a rugged, windswept peninsula of southwestern England that was to be the setting for her most popular works. Her marriage in 1932, to Major Frederick A. M. Browning, and her subsequently becoming the mother of three children created a conflict between her duties as wife and mother and her passion for writing. It was a conflict she resolved by spending as much time as she could on her own in Cornwall.

Du Maurier moved to Cornwall permanently in 1943 when she leased Menabilly, a crumbling old mansion on the coast that she had already used as the setting for Rebecca (1938), her best and most famous novel. No sooner...

(The entire section is 658 words.)

Daphne du Maurier Biography

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

In her fiction, Daphne du Maurier presents a world in which appearances are deceiving, events defy explanation, and essential mysteries go unresolved. Her superb storytelling skills have blinded critics to the fact that the truly frightening element in her fiction is not the superficial mystery but the menace just below the surface. Deception, illusion, and uncertainty are the furies that torment her characters. There is a rebel beneath du Maurier’s romanticism.

Daphne du Maurier Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Daphne du Maurier (dew MOHR-ee-ay), born in London in 1907, came from a family deeply involved in the arts. Her grandfather, novelist and artist George du Maurier, wrote the well-known novel Trilby (1894). Her parents were both of the theater; her father, Sir Gerald, was a notable actor and manager.{$S[A]Maurier, Daphne du;Du Maurier, Daphne}{$S[A]Browning, Lady Daphne;Du Maurier, Daphne}

The Loving Spirit, du Maurier’s first novel, was published in 1931. It was followed by I’ll Never Be Young Again and The Progress of Julius. Du Maurier’s initial success in the United States was achieved with a series of historical cloak-and-dagger romances, many of which were related from the viewpoint of the belabored heroine. The best remembered of these novels is probably The King’s General. A prolific and compelling storyteller, du Maurier’s other works in this genre include Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, Hungry Hill, and Mary Anne. She is also the author of the plays The Years Between and September Tide; a biography of her father, Gerald: A Portrait; and The du Mauriers, a semifictional account of her ancestors. Her other works include Happy Christmas and The Parasites.

Rebecca is du Maurier’s best-known work, and it has been widely imitated since its publication in 1938. Its success may be credited to the studied blending of a gothic atmosphere of mystery with the more subtle psychological suspense of a modern thriller. Du Maurier employed this formula in such works as My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat, and the story “Kiss Me Again, Stranger.” Film adaptations of du Maurier’s work were enthusiastically received. Jamaica Inn was filmed in 1939, and in 1940, Rebecca, directed by Alfred Hitchcock, won the Academy Award for best motion picture of the year.