Daphne du Maurier Du Maurier, Daphne (Vol. 11) - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Du Maurier, Daphne 1907–

Du Maurier is an English novelist, short story writer, playwright, editor, biographer, and autobiographer. She is predominantly known for her Gothic novels, which have made her a highly successful popular author. The wild Cornish coast is the setting for most of her novels, notably Rebecca, which combines the mystery, romance, and melodrama characteristic of the Gothic novel. Though never a critical success, du Maurier popularized a genre that is imitated to this day. (See also CLC, Vol. 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 5-8, rev. ed.)

Sean O'Faolain

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jamaica Inn [makes] one realise how high the standard of entertainment has become in the modern novel. I do not believe R.L.S. [Robert Louis Stevenson] would have been ashamed to have written Jamaica Inn, with its smugglers, wreckers, wild moors, storms, its sinister inn, misplaced confidences, pretty and gallant heroine, and romantic love story…. There is here all the melodrama that one can desire—and let nobody say "It is an old fashion." The old fashion was good. (p. 144)

Sean O'Faolain, in The Spectator (© 1936 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), January 24, 1936.

Basil Davenport

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

So Cinderella married the prince, and then her story began. Cinderella was hardly more than a school-girl, and the overworked companion of a snobbish woman of wealth; the prince was Maximilian de Winter, whom she had heard of as the owner of Manderley in Cornwall, one of the most magnificent show places in England, who had come to the Riviera to forget the tragic death of his wife Rebecca…. There was some mystery about Rebecca's death …; but the book is skillfully contrived so that it does not depend only on knowledge of it for its thrill; it can afford to give no hint of it till two-thirds of the way through. But the revelation, when it comes, leads to one of the most prolonged, deadly, and breathless fencing-matches that one can find in fiction, a battle of wits that would by itself make the fortune of a melodrama on the stage.

For this is a melodrama, unashamed, glorying in its own quality, such as we have hardly had since that other dependant, Jane Eyre, found that her house too had a first wife. It has the weaknesses of melodrama; in particular, the heroine is at times quite unbelievably stupid, as when she takes the advice of the housekeeper whom she knows to hate her. But if the second Mrs. de Winter had consulted with any one before trusting the housekeeper, we should miss one of the best scenes in the book. There is also, as is almost inseparable from a melodrama, a forced heightening of the emotional values; the tragedy announced in the opening chapter is out of proportion to the final outcome of the long battle of wits that...

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John Raymond

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

In the thirties, Miss du Maurier was a kind of poor woman's Charlotte Brontë. Her Rebecca, whatever one's opinions of its ultimate merits, was a tour de force. In its own way and century, it has achieved a position in English Literature comparable to "Monk" Lewis's The Bleeding Nun or Mrs. Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho. To-day Miss du Maurier the novelist is Miss Blurb's favourite Old Girl whose published appearances are heralded with the brouhaha of a privileged ex-hockey captain come down to give the home team a few hints about attack. This, one imagines her telling newcomers to St. Gollancz's, is how it should be done. Frankly, I cannot help feeling that Miss du Maurier's books have been successfully filmed so often that by now she may be said not so much to write a novel as shoot it. The present scenario [in My Cousin Rachel] is a honey for any Hollywood or Wardour Street tycoon. Slick, effective, utterly mechanical, the book is a triumphant and uncanny example of the way in which a piece of writing can be emasculated by unconsciously "having it arranged" for another medium. Close-ups, fade-ins, sequences by candlelight or long shots from the terrace—it has all been taken care of in the script and there is little call for anything in the way of imagination on the part of the director….

Producers, admiring the general effect, will forgive such occasional anachronisms, as "forget it," "slapped my bottom with a hair-brush," and "Why not tell these gossips I'm a recluse and spend all my spare time scribbling Latin verses? That might shake them." Boyish sulks, mares in slather, and a lot of old lace at the throat and wrist, eked out with constant cups of poisoned tisane, complete the formula. A rare and irresistible bit of kitsch, whose clichés will soon be jostling and clashing in merry carillions up and down the premier cinema circuits of the English-speaking world. (p. 163)

John Raymond, in New Statesman (© 1951 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), August 11, 1951.

Edward Weeks

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Daphne du Maurier has a talent for mystification. In Rebecca she wrote of a heroine we never saw in the flesh but whose spell was woven through every page. In My Cousin Rachel … she tells the story of an Italian widow who captivates two English bachelors, Ambrose Ashley, the elder, whom she married and subdues in Italy, and Philip, his cousin and heir, whom she comes to live with in Cornwall after Ambrose's mysterious death. (pp. 78-9)

Miss du Maurier is a caster of spells, and the first she casts is on Ambrose in Tuscany; the second upon Philip when he is drawn out of his solitary rustic state by the cries for help from abroad….

And then comes the third spell as Rachel begins to wind him around her finger as she had his cousin….

Rachel in her Italian sophistication and Philip in his naïve manhood are a pair to watch. The minor parts—Seecombe, the old steward; Nick Kendall, the guardian; Tamlyn, the gardener; Louise, the girl Philip might have married—are well drawn, and the mists and cold of the Cornish coast with its occasional bright pane of sunlight are beautifully contrasted with the heat and haze of Tuscany in the blaze of August.

The last spell and the hardest to throw off is the plausibility that Philip Ashley, so diffident, so unliterary, and so close-minded, would have been willing to tell this story on himself. In real life neither wild horses nor a psychiatrist could have pulled it out of him. (p. 79)

Edward Weeks, in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1952 by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), March, 1952.

Pat Rogers

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Francis Bacon] seems an odd choice for Daphne du Maurier, with her fine wayward imagination and her gothic suggestiveness. Few Elizabethans had less of the mantic about them than Bacon; few steered a less infernal course…. Bacon was humdrum both in his grandeur and his decadence. He went meekly, if glumly, to his disgrace, arraigned as a Poulson and not as a Trotsky.

Yet some compulsion has drawn the author of Jamacia Inn, the biographer of Branwell Brontë, to this unlikely assignment…. [In writing The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, his Rise and Fall, her] feeling was that 'the ordinary reader … has never been sufficiently interested in, or understood, the extraordinary complexity of Francis Bacon's character and the many facets of his personality. The endeavour to explain him would be a challenge.' It is a challenge boldly taken up, with evidence of energetic reading, an orderly and consecutive narrative, and a warmly personal tone….

But the book remains something of an uphill struggle. Though the story is accurately and sympathetically told, there is not much real penetration into the springs of Bacon's activity. Sensibly, since Bacon was a great writer, Dame Daphne tries to make his works supply some kind of revelation. But they won't afford the kind she wants. The major works on scientific method have a few choice phrases culled from them; Dame Daphne combs the essays for clues to Bacon's personality, and does what she can with speeches in Chancery or pamphlets on diplomacy. We are constantly told, Monty Python-fashion, that Bacon was The Most Brilliant Intellect of the Day, but we are forced to take this on trust. There is...

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E. S. Turner

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Growing Pains is about the delights and irresponsibilities of adolescence, the sowing of mild oats…. Writers of best-selling fiction tend to have peculiar bees in their bonnets, but if Dame Daphne has any she is keeping them for later. She writes with enough warmth and humour to captivate all but those who are allergic to the small stuff of childhood and other people's dogs and boats.

E. S. Turner, "Mild Oats," in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1977; reprinted by permission of E. S. Turner), June 9, 1977, p. 760.

Doris Grumbach

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

[Daphne du Maurier] has chosen to use whole portions of her girlhood diaries [in "Myself When Young"], verbatim, to gird her memory. The result is a gently gushing prose, full of exuberant clichés and heedless adverbs ("The tide of adolescence was running at full spate" and "This beauty is too much. It's defeating, utterly bewildering, Beauty most exquisite…. Somehow profoundly unhappy" …). (p. 18)

If the memoir would have benefited from less wholesale use of diaries, it surely would have gained from the excision of numbers of her early, jejune poetry. There is also much conventional foreshadowing of events ("There were so many stories waiting to be written. Perhaps one day …").


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