Daphne du Maurier was born May 13, 1907, in London, England. Her grandfather, George du Maurier, wrote the popular novel Trilby (1894). Her parents, Gerald and Muriel du Maurier, were British actors. Du Maurier combined both her grandfather’s writing skill and her parents’ flair for drama in her own highly dramatic fiction. The author of sixteen novels and many short stories, as well as plays, nonfiction, and poetry, du Maurier’s popular acclaim began with her first novel, The Loving Spirit, published in 1931. Sir Frederick Browning liked The Loving Spirit so much that he sought out the young author, and they married shortly after meeting. Du Maurier lived in Menabilly, which she discovered while walking in Cornwall and which became the prototype for Manderley, the setting for Rebecca. Reprinted more than forty times, Rebecca is du Maurier’s most famous novel. Du Maurier died April 19, 1989, in Par, Cornwall, England.
Du Maurier specialized in Gothic romance and fantasy. Besides Rebecca, her other popular novels include Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel. Hollywood has added to du Maurier’s reputation. Two of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic films, Rebecca (1940) and The Birds (1963), are adaptations of du Maurier’s fiction. Six of her novels and stories have made the journey to the screen: Jamaica Inn (1939) with Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara; Frenchman’s Creek (1944) with Joan Fontaine and Basil Rathbone; Hungry Hill (1947) with Margaret Lockwood; My Cousin Rachel (1952) with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland; The Scapegoat (1959) with Alec Guinness and Bette Davis; and Don’t Look Now (1973) with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland and directed by Nicholas Roeg.
Most critics agree that du Maurier had a special ability to create tantalizing, suspenseful plots which makes her books difficult to put down. Her fiction shows melodrama at its best-straining but not breaking the reader’s credulity. Rebecca, which has received the most critical acclaim, won the National Book Award in 1938. Some critics find My Cousin Rachel to be a successfully haunting tale similar to Rebecca, while others find the plot unnecessarily long and the writing uneven.
Kiss Me Again, Stranger (1952), a collection of stories that includes “The Birds,” has been admired for its suspenseful tales of psychological horror and fantasy. Don’t Look Now (1971), another collection of short stories, has been praised for its suspenseful plots and well-developed characterizations. In 1969, du Maurier was granted the title of Dame Commander, Order of the British Empire, in recognition of her literary achievements.