Today is the birthday of one of my very favorite authors. Dame Daphne du Maurier was born on May 13, 1907.
Her father, Sir Gerald du Maurier, was an actor and stage manager, and a friend of Henry James and J. M. Barrie. His cousins, the Llewellyn-Davies children, were Barrie’s inspiration in Peter Pan, and one of Gerald du Maurier’s most acclaimed theater roles was that of Captain Hook.
Gerald’s father, Daphne’s grandfather, was the writer George du Maurier. His novel Trilby is his most well-known work, primarily because it introduced the character of Svengali, a hypnotist who guides the actions of the naive Trilby. The name has entered the lexicon as a term for one who manipulates one under his control.
Daphne’s mother, Muriel Beaumont du Maurier, was from less artistic stock: her father, a proper British solicitor, disapproved of her stage-ambition. She ran away to the theater, appearing in The Admirable Crichton with George du Maurier when she was 19. They were married five months later.
Muriel remained on the stage until 1910–by that time she had two daughters, Angela (1904) and Daphne (1907). Her third daughter and final child, Jeanne, was born in 1911.
Daphne du Maurier’s most well-known work is Rebecca. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s quite fantastic. Du Maurier’s descriptions of the family estate, the servants, the portraits, even the bunches of scarlet rhododendrons are incredibly menacing. Those rhododendrons stuck with me:
Suddenly I saw a clearing in the dark drive ahead, and a patch of sky, and in a moment the dark trees had thinned, the nameless shrubs had disappeared, and on either side of us was a wall of colour, blood-red, reaching far above our heads. We were amongst the rhododendrons. There was something bewildering, even shocking, about the suddenness of their discovery. The woods had not prepared me for them. The startled me with their crimson faces, massed one upon the other in incredible profusion, showing no leaf, no twig, nothing but the slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic, unlike any rhododendron plant I had seen before. (65)
I find I have much more to say about Daphne du Maurier than I thought, and so am implementing The Week of Daphne (cue fanfare). We’ll count this post as the introduction and background, upcoming posts will look at the various film adaptations of her works, undoubtedly talk a bit more about Rebecca (since I barely touched on it here), as well as more fun stuff about my other favorite du Maurier novels: My Cousin Rachel, The Flight of the Falcon, The Scapegoat, Rule Britannia, The House on the Strand, Jamaica Inn… so much to look forward to!