May 13, 1907 – Daphne du Maurier:
“Women want love to be a novel. Men, a short story.”
She is mostly remembered today for of the film adaptations of her work, but her stories helped define the Gothic Romance genre of literature. Other writers of her era were dealing with alienation, religion, Marxism, and World War II, while du Maurier produced old-fashioned novels with straightforward narratives that appealed to a popular audience’s love of fantasy, adventure, sex, and mystery.
Du Maurier was born to an artistic family in London. Her mother was an actor, her father, Gerald Du Maurier, was a theatre manager and famous actor, and her grandfather, George Du Maurier was a cartoonist for Punch magazine.
Her father’s and grandfather’s connections helped du Maurier’s literary career, and her uncle published one of her short stories when she was still a teenager. Her first novel was The Loving Spirit (1931), followed by Jamaica Inn (1936), which brought her critical and financial success.
In the summer of 1932, du Maurier married Frederick Browning, a military officer who was a decade older, and who found her after admiring her work. Du Maurier was no good at being a traditional military wife. She hired a nanny to care for the couple’s son and two daughters. They lived in Cornwall, in a 17th-century mansion that served as a model for Manderley, the setting of her novel Rebecca (1938). Du Maurier and Browning spent a great deal of time apart. He was promoted to Commander of the British First Airborne Division during World War II. They remained married until Browning died in 1965.
In the late 1940s, de Maurier became infatuated with Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher, who did not reciprocate her affections. Du Maurier wrote to Doubleday.
“I glory in my Venice, when I am in a Venice mood, and forget it when I am not. The only chip is the dreary knowledge that there can never be Venice with you.”
Next, du Maurier had an affair with stage star Gertrude Lawrence, who had an affair with her father years earlier. Their affair continued until Lawrence’s passing in 1952.
Du Maurier described herself as “neither girl nor boy but disembodied spirit,” and insisted that she wasn’t “that unattractive word that begins with the letter ‘L’.“
Du Maurier’s work features female protagonists and hints of the supernatural. Her novels brought her wealth and fame, yet today, she is remembered as the source for Alfred Hitchcock‘s film adaptations of Jamaica Inn (1939) with Maureen O’Hara in first leading role; Rebecca, with bisexual Laurence Olivier as the brooding Maxim de Winter and Joan Fontaine as the young woman who becomes his second wife, and The Birds (1963).
There is also Frenchman’s Creek (1944) with Fontaine, Hungry Hill (1947), My Cousin Rachel (1952) starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton, My Cousin Rachel (2017) with Rachel Weisz, The Scapegoat (1959) starring bisexual Alec Guinness and Bette Davis, and The Years Between (1946) starring bisexual Michael Redgrave.
Netflix has a newer version of Rebecca starring Lily James, the now career-dead Armie Hammer, and Kristin Scott Thomas.
During her five-decade career, du Maurier wrote more than 25 books, including biographies, including one about her father. Her story about Ganymede, the beautiful adolescent lover of the god Zeus, appears in In Another Part Of The Forest (1994), a collection of gay short fiction.
In 1969, du Maurier was named a Dame of the British Empire, yet she became more reclusive, with contact mostly with her two sisters, both lesbians, and their female partners. She spent her final years in Cornwall with her dogs. She died there in 1989, just a month before her 82nd birthday.