Daphne Du Maurier

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Daphne du Maurier was born on May 13, 1907, in London, England, to Gerald (an actor and manager) and Muriel (an actress) du Maurier. Her grandfather was artist and author George du Maurier (Peter Ibbetson in 1891 and Trilby in 1894). As a child, Daphne enjoyed reading and indulging in games of fantasy, which helped develop her literary talents.

She lived in Cornwall throughout most of her life, first in her parents' summer home near Plymouth and later in Menabilly, a nearby seventeenth-century estate. The gothic landscape of Cornwall, the setting for the legends of King Arthur, Tristan and Iseult, and many pirate tales, inspired her work and often became the landscape of her own fiction, most notably in her novels Jamaica Inn (1936), Frenchman's Creek (1941), The House on the Strand (1969), and the short story ‘‘The Birds.’’ She would also write a history of the area in 1967.

Wayne Templeton, in his article on du Maurier for Dictionary of Literary Biography, notes that during her adolescence, she ‘‘began to experience an intense desire to be a boy.’’ Templeton reasons that these feelings suggested an ‘‘awakening of lesbian tendencies in an era when many people, including homosexuals themselves, believed that one person in a homosexual relationship must have female inclinations, the other male.’’ In later years, she would often pretend to be a boy named Eric Avon. Due to the stigma that was attached to homosexuality, du Maurier suppressed her sexual tendencies, but often noted to friends that she kept a ‘‘boy in a box.’’ These masculine leanings influenced her novels and stories, which were often dominated by a male narrator.

She began her literary career in 1925 when she started writing dark, pessimistic verse and short stories that were clearly influenced by Katherine Mansfield Guy de Maupassant and Somerset Maugham. Her first two publications, the short stories ‘‘And Now to God the Father’’ and ‘‘A Difference in Temperament,’’ appeared in 1929 in The Bystander, a periodical edited by her uncle, William Beaumont.

While she was staying with her parents in their home in Cornwall, the twenty-four-year-old Daphne penned her first novel, The Loving Spirit, a historical romance that became a best-seller and also earned critical praise. The book inspired Frederick ‘‘Boy’’ Browning, a major in the Grenadier Guards, to meet her, and soon, the couple was married.

Templeton notes, ‘‘while du Maurier would confess to being deeply in love with several women during her life, she would never admit, even to herself, that she was bisexual.’’

Her literary reputation as an important new talent was solidified by the publication of her fourth novel, Jamaica Inn (1936). Critics noted her similarities to the gothic novels of the Brontë sisters, Jane Eyre (1847) and Wuthering Heights (1847). When Rebecca appeared, however, in 1938, critics determined that she had established her own literary voice.

Her short story collections were also well received, especially The Apple Tree: A Short Novel and Some Stories (1952), published in America as Kiss Me Again, Stranger (1953) and as The Birds and Other Stories (1963); and Not After Midnight, and Other Stories (1971), republished as Don't Look Now (1971). Successful film versions have been made of several of her novels and stories, including Rebecca, ‘‘The Birds,’’ and ‘‘Don't Look Now.’’ Du Maurier was awarded the National Book Award in 1938 for Rebecca and given the title Dame Commander by the Order of the British Empire in 1969. She died on April 19, 1989, in her beloved Cornwall.

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