Vandaag is het al dertig jaar geleden dat de Britse schrijfster Daphne du Maurier is overleden.
She is best known for “Rebecca” (1938), the story of a young and timid heroine, whose life is made miserable by her strangely behaving newly wed husband, the wealthy widower Maxim de Winter. His wife Rebecca has died in mysterious circumstances. His house is ruled by Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper. She has made Rebecca’s room a shrine. Du Maurier focuses on the fears and fantasies of the new wife, who eventually learns, that her husband did not love his former wife, a cruel, egotistical woman. Because of the familiar plot, suits of plagiarism were brought against du Maurier, but they were dropped when the widespread use of the theme, beginning from Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre” (1847) was established (later Du Maurier published a biography of Branwell, the brother of sisters Brontë). Orson Welles made a radio dramatization of Rebecca. It was performed in December 1938 by The Campbell Playhouse and sponsored by Campbell Soup. The adaptation starts with Bernard Herrmann’s waltz-ladden score but is then interrupted by an “important message from a man who keeps one eye on the dining table and another on the pantry…” Welles played Maxim de Winter and Margaret Sullivan the second Mrs de Winter. The producer David O. Selznick sent a transcript of the broadcast to Alfred Hitchcock, who turned it into a movie in 1940, starring Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine and George Sanders. “Rebecca” was one of the top five box-office hits of 1940 and won Academy Awards for Best Picture and Cinematography. However, Du Maurier herself did not like the film, which shifted the locale from Cornwall to America. In 1993 Susan Hill wrote “Mrs. de Winter”, which was supposed to be the continuing story of “Rebecca”. However, this turned out to be a Courths-Mahler type of story, which I considered not worth reading after thirty pages or so.
Daphne du Maurier was born in London. She came from an artistic family. Her father was the actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and she was the granddaughter of caricaturist George du Maurier. One of her ancestors was Mary Anne Clarke, the mistress of the duke of York, second son of King George III. She later became the heroine of du Maurier’s novel “Mary Anne” (1954). In 1831 Mary Anne Clarke’s daughter married Louis-Mathurin Busson du Maurier. In “The Glass-blowers” (1963) Daphne wrote about the Busson family and her own father she portrayed in “Gerald” (1934).
Du Maurier attended schools in London, Meudon, France, and Paris. In her childhood she was a voracious reader, she was fascinated by imaginary worlds and developed a male alter ego for herself. Du Maurier also had a male narrator in several novels. In “The private world of Daphne du Maurier” van Martyn Shallcross wordt de schrijfster “geout” als biseksueel. Zo zou ze o.m. een verhouding hebben gehad met de schooldirectrice Fernande Yvon (bij wie ze in Parijs school liep) en met de actrice Gertrude Lawrence. Pikant detail: de familie spreekt dit laatste tegen met als “bewijsmateriaal” dat Lawrence een verhouding had met Daphnes vader, acteur Gerald du Maurier (cfr.”The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller” by Margaret Forster in 1993). Maar is het niet veel leuker te veronderstellen dat beide verhalen waar zijn…? (Nog straffer is dat als andere minnaar van Gertrude Lawrence ook Douglas Fairbanks jr. wordt geciteerd. Deze was officieel getrouwd met… Joan Crawford en als andere minnares had hij ook nog Marlene Dietrich…)
Her first book, “The Loving Spirit”, appeared in 1931. It was followed by “Jamaica Inn” (1936), a historical tale of smugglers, which was also brought to the movies by Alfred Hitchcock. Later Hitchcock also used her short story ‘The Birds’, a tense tale of nature turning on humanity. “Frenchman’s Creek”, a pirate romance, was filmed in 1944 by Mitchell Leisen and “My cousin Rachel” (1951) was made into film in 1952 by Henry Koster. The story examined how a man may be manipulated by a woman, who perhaps has murdered her husband. Ambrose Ashley meets the beautiful Rachel Sangaletti, marries her and died six months later. He has sent letters to his nephew Philip, the narrator, who first hates Rachel, and then is bewitched by her. Du Maurier leaves open the question, is Rachel a poisoner, or an innocent victim of Ambrose’s and then Philip’s paranoid fantasies? The author herself was as puzzled as her readers. Did Rachel kill Ambrose? “Sometimes I think she did, sometimes I didn’t – in the end I just couldn’t make up my mind,” du Maurier said.
In 1932 du Maurier married to Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Arthur Montague Browning II, who was knighted for his distinguished service during World War II. They were happily married for thirty-three years and had three children. With her son, Christian, she published “Vanishing Cornwall” in 1967. Many of her novels and short stories were indeed set in Cornwall, England’s westernmost county, whose wild, stormy weather and wild past inspired her imagination.
Browning died in 1965. Du Maurier was made dame in 1969 for her literary distinction. In 1970 appeared her second collection of short stories, “Not after midnight”, which included ‘Don’t Look Now’, a tale set in Venice. A film version of the story, directed by Nicholas Roeg, was made in 1973. Daphne Du Maurier wrote a letter to Nicolas Roeg after seeing the film, congratulating him on making such a strong film from her story. The British Film Institute ranked Don’t Look Now #8 on their list of the top 100 British Films. The film, however, was not received well by Venetians, particularly the councillors who were afraid it would scare away tourists.
Du Maurier’s autobiography, “Growing pains”, was published when she was 70. She died on April 19, 1989.