Daphne du Maurier Long Fiction Analysis
Daphne du Maurier came naturally by her dramatic bent. Having eschewed a career in acting, she turned instead to writing, creating the settings of her novels as a vivid stage on which her melodramas could unfold. Most often, she wrote about what she knew: the craggy, tempestuous coasts and climate of Cornwall. With the playwright’s flare, she elicited as much suspense from her setting as from her characters and plots. Du Maurier yearned to write light romance, but it was not in her nature. “I may determine to write a gay, light romance. But I go for a walk on a moor and see a twisted tree and a pile of granite stones beside a deep, dark pool, and Jamaica Inn is born,” she told Current Biography in 1940. Du Maurier’s readers can only be glad for the writer’s solitary walks, for Jamaica Inn and the writer’s many other haunting novels and stories rank among the finest spine-tingling page turners ever written. Her books contain passion, jealousy, evil, and murder, with surprise heaped upon surprise.
While du Maurier’s works may not probe the depths of human experience, they create worlds and peoples that haunt long after the books are finished. Du Maurier believed in her own brand of predestination, a reincarnation of the human spirit. Evil is inevitable, in her view, but not insurmountable. People are, however, condemned by their very nature to a vision that exceeds their grasp. Du Maurier’s interest in character took a backseat to her fascination with personality types symbolic of abstract qualities of good and evil. She told Barbara Nichols in an interview for Ladies’ Home Journal, I am not so much interested in people as in types—types who represent great forces of good or evil. I don’t care very much whether John Smith likes Mary Robinson, goes to bed with Jane Brown and then refuses to pay the hotel bill. But I am [emphasis in original] passionately interested in human cruelty, human lust, and human avarice—and, of course, their counterparts in the scale of virtue.
Although critics have complained about her melodrama, plot contrivances, shallow characterization, romanticism, sentimentality, vague motivations, and moralizing, such commentary probably misses the point. Du Maurier’s unfailing appeal to her readers is fundamental: She tells a good story, and she tells it well. Unsurpassed as a teller of gothic tales tinged with horror or the supernatural, she is worth studying if only for her pacing, which moves from plot twist to plot twist with consummate ease. A romance writer in the best sense of the label, she creates engaging heroines blessed with immense inner strength. Her heroes helped to establish the model for modern romances: dark of complexion, dark of spirit, silent, enigmatic, harboring some unspeakable secret. Her settings evoke the foreboding ambience of Cornwall’s precipitous cliffs and misty moors, the perfect backdrop for the dramatic events that so astonish and delight du Maurier’s readers.
Among the most memorable opening lines in English literature is the first sentence of du Maurier’s best-known work, Rebecca: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” In a...
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