Daphne du Maurier was a twentieth century British author and playwright. She was noted for her stylistic versatility and her ability to effectively interweave diverse themes with the suspense of intrigue. The color and variety of her works reflect the author's fascination with and exploration of such themes as love, jealousy, and revenge in the genres of romance and horror. Heiress to a legacy of theatrical and literary personalities, du Maurier took inspiration for her tales from her surroundings in her native Britain as well as France. Du Maurier produced works up until her death and is celebrated as a pioneer in twentieth century women's literature.
Born in London on 13 May 1907, Daphne du Maurier was initially educated at home. Learning to read and write engendered a love of literary creativity. She expressed her enjoyment of writing at 14 when she created her first work with the encouragement of her governess teacher. Four years later in 1925, her parents enrolled her in a boarding school outside of Paris.
Du Maurier graduated in 1929 and joined her parents at their new home in Cornwall. Cornwall's environs were du Maurier's inspiration for her first full-length novel called The Loving Spirit, which met with acclaim upon its publication in 1931. That success was no surprise to her parents.
Du Maurier's father was Gerald du Maurier, a theatre manager and professional actor. She was also the granddaughter of British author George du Maurier. Du Maurier's mother was Muriel du Maurier, a well-known stage actress. Though du Maurier established a reputation for herself early on, her name and works were flanked by her artistic and literary family background.
Around the time that The Loving Spirit was published in 1931, du Maurier was introduced to Major Frederick A.M. Browning. Browning remained in contact with du Maurier for the next year. Intrigued by du Maurier's descriptions of Cornwall in her book, Browning joined her there. Du Maurier and Browning were married in July 1932. Happily married and in love, the couple later had three children together.
In the years preceding World War II Browning was stationed in Alexandria, Egypt with the Grenadier Guards. It was during this sojourn that du Maurier was inspired to write her novel, Rebecca. The novel met with great acclaim when it was published in 1938, and it remains du Maurier's best-known work.
In Rebecca, du Maurier introduces suspense and mystery into her signature portrayal of English country life. The novel explores love and jealousy in the context of deception. The story's unnamed protagonist marries a well-to-do man called Maximilian de Winter. The protagonist is de Winter's second wife and they live on his estate called Manderley. His first wife was called Rebecca. De Winter's new wife harbors jealous resentment of Rebecca, who died under tragic but mysterious conditions.
The story is told in retrospect from de Winter's second wife's point of view. De Winter's wife's jealous frustrations evaporate when she learns that de Winter was not in love with Rebecca. Later, it becomes evident that de Winter had a hand in Rebecca's death. Once this is disseminated, de Winter's reputation is ruined. De Winter and his wife subsequently flee Manderley for continental Europe. Together, both characters experience loss on several levels. As the story progresses to its conclusion, the reader becomes aware that Manderley is a metaphor that encapsulates what de Winter's wife yearns to reclaim, but cannot.
Rebecca is widely regarded as the centerpiece for the range of du Maurier's lifetime of prolific work. In addition to Rebecca, her novels The Birds and Jamaica Inn were adapted as films by Alfred Hitchcock. Toward the end of World War II, du Maurier and Browning moved back to Cornwall. Here she continued to produce a large portion of her later works, including her autobiography.
Du Maurier suffered a shattering loss in 1965, when her husband Frederick A.M. Browning passed away. She continued to write for the rest of her life, after relocating to a nearby town called Par. Before this move, du Maurier received a royal accolade when she was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire; she was known thereafter as Dame Daphne du Maurier. She passed away shortly before her 82nd birthday on 19 April 1989. Du Maurier is remembered for her innovative creativity and bold exploration of how emotion has an impact on the human experience.