Dame Daphne du Maurier, a woman perhaps as enigmatic as her novels, lived throughout much of the twentieth century, from 1907 to 1989. Though born in London, she spent over half of her life in Cornwall, the setting for most of her novels. It is in the boot-like tip of southwest England, a region rich in history and culture, recognized as a Celtic nation. Perhaps du Maurier was responsible for romanticising the area, giving it an aura of mystery and elusiveness. At least that is my opinion, because in all honesty, it is through her works that I have learned most of what I know about Cornwall, and it also seems a place that would be fascinating to visit.
Du Maurier's parents, Sir Gerald du Maurier and Muriel Beaumont, were both actors. Her grandfather was the famous cartoonist, George Louis Palmella Busson du Maurier, in fact, she was surrounded by the arts and artists as a child, which certainly was a boost to her own career. Wikipedia supplies an adequate article on the person, but certainly not of her works. They mention that "Her bestselling works were not at first taken seriously by critics, but have since earned an enduring reputation for narrative craft." There is still precious little about her short stories, which I found to my dismay, as I wrote the review for Don't Look Now.
Wikipedia also mentions "Du Maurier was often categorised as a "romantic novelist", a term that she deplored". Yes, I can see that she would. Though romance usually does play a role in her stories, it is often of a rather perverted nature, and as Wikipedia also points out "her novels rarely have a happy ending, and often have sinister overtones and shadows of the paranormal". I have read quite a few of her works, and my personal classification would be that they are either historical novels, or creepy. And as in the case of Jamaica Inn, sometimes both. Because of using Cornwall as a backdrop to her writings, it stands to reason that bits of history would work their way in. She did write novels that were not-creepy historic, and reading them is like reading the writings of a totally different author. I am a huge fan of historical novels to begin with, and hers that I have read so far have endeared me to this woman of many talents.
Wikipedia says that she was known as a recluse, and what better place to be reclusive than out in the Cornish country. She is also known as the restorer of the historic estate, Menabilly, which was central in her historic novel, The King's General, and also the model for Rebecca's Manderly. She leased it from the Rashleigh family from 1943 to 1969, then returned it to the family after the death of her husband. The Rashleighs also assisted her with historical materials related to them as she wrote the novel. By the way, the Cornish name is Men Ebeli, (stone of colts), which seems much more elegant to this reviewer on the other side of the pond, who is always reminded of hillbilly or rock-a-billy with the English spelling, associations which certainly dampen the elegance of this beautiful estate.
Du Maurier was married to Major Frederick "Boy" Browning, who later became Lieutenant-General, in 1932, until his death in 1965, and she never married again. Then there's the thing about her sexuality, which, though there are disputes, was most likely bisexual. According to Wikipedia, she had a lesbian affair with Gertrude Lawrence, and an incestuous affair with her father. Here is a quote from that article:
In correspondence that her family released to biographer Margaret Forster, du Maurier explained to a trusted few people her own unique slant on her sexuality: her personality comprised two distinct people—the loving wife and mother (the side she showed to the world); and the lover (a "decidedly male energy") hidden from virtually everyone and the power behind her artistic creativity. According to Forster's biography, du Maurier believed the "male energy" propelled her writing.
I can certainly understand this. In du Maurier's short story collection, only three out of the nine stories are narrated by a woman, and the rest are very masculine, indeed. Of the novels I have read, however, more have been in a woman's voice.
Many people perhaps judge du Maurier by her most successful novel, Rebecca, which is not my favorite of her works. If you have never explored her, eh, uncomfortable shall we say, novels, then now is the time to begin. A word of warning: they are almost never satisfying! She stops while loose ends are dangling, maybe leaving it up to the reader to supply the rest. Her plots are often unravelled at a snail's pace, while the reader just knows that something awful is around the corner, and if it would just happen, this terrible tension would be released. It was her art, I guess!
For more on Daphne du Maurier, please visit her website, Daphne du Maurier Even as a mature woman, she was quite hauntingly beautiful!