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 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.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 703

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.

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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. Browning.

Although eager to settle down in Cornwall, especially because she was soon the mother of three children, she and her family were frequently uprooted as they followed her husband to his various military stations. No matter where she was, however, Cornwall was always at the center of her thoughts and her fiction. In fact, it was during her time in Alexandria, Egypt, that she wrote her greatest Cornish novel, Rebecca.

The fame and wealth she acquired after the publication of Jamaica Inn in 1936 and Rebecca in 1938 only increased in the following years, for Alfred Hitchcock adapted these novels into films. Starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, Rebecca won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1940. Her work then in great popular demand, du Maurier went on to write ten novels, two plays, and several biographies, histories, and memoirs. Almost all the novels became best sellers and had a special appeal to women. It may be for those reasons that highbrow reviewers (mostly men) have patronized her work and academic critics have chosen to ignore it.

In 1943, du Maurier moved into Menabilly, the mysterious mansion that had captured her imagination as a young girl and which she had transformed into Manderley, the grand home of Maxim de Winter. In 1952, du Maurier was made fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; in 1969, she became Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire. Despite these honors and her growing fame, du Maurier became a recluse, confining herself to her writing and her family in Menabilly after the death of her lover and inspiration, Gertrude Lawrence. Her small, private world began to come apart after the death of her husband in 1965. In 1969, her lease on Menabilly expired, and she moved a few miles away to another historic house, Kilmarth, at Par, on the coast of Cornwall.

She won the Mystery Writers of America’s Grand Master Award in 1978. In the same year she published Growing Pains: The Shaping of a Writer, an autobiography that ends at the date of her marriage. In 1980, she published The Rebecca Notebook, and Other Memories, a work that illuminates the creative process that lay behind her most famous work. In 1989, du Maurier’s will to live seemed to wither as she ate less and less and made her rounds to visit family and friends, breaking her stringently observed routines, to say good-bye. She died in her sleep on April 19, 1989. In 2000, du Maurier received an Anthony Award for best novel of the century for Rebecca.

Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

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 house, asserting that it whispered its secrets to her in the solitude of midnight. Never one for social life, she preferred solitary walks in the woods to bustling cities and glittering social gatherings. Her family life was seldom serene, with du Maurier’s troubled and erratic spirit manifesting itself in frequently problematic ways; in addition, Browning was plagued with psychological problems and poor physical health, both associated with his chronic abuse of alcohol.

A rocky marriage was only one of the writer’s torments. Biographer Margaret Forster asserts that du Maurier’s stories and novels reflected severe emotional turbulence. Du Maurier had, according to Forster, a stifling relationship with her father, a complicated extramarital affair, and a lesbian relationship with actor Gertrude Lawrence. The details of daily life troubled her, and she frequently retreated from family and friends to find solace in make-believe. Twice she faced plagiarism charges and endured the agonies of court hearings as a result of claims that she had stolen the second-wife theme used in Rebecca. Although she was acquitted in both instances, the publicity wearied and shamed her, and she grew increasingly reclusive in later life. Du Maurier died in Cornwall, England on April 19, 1989.

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