By Marta Miguel-Baldellou

Daphne du Maurier was born in London on May 13 1907, and she was the second daughter of the highly acclaimed actor, Sir Gerald du Maurier, and the stage actress Muriel Beaumont. She was also the granddaughter of the Victorian Punch cartoonist and writer George du Maurier, who was the author of the popular Victorian novel Trilby (1894), and cousin of the Llewellyn Davies boys, who inspired J.M.Barrie to write his famous play Peter Pan, or the Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up (1904). She had a very close relationship with her father, Gerald, which would exert an important influence on the way she would envision her romantic relationships with men. The death of her father, when Du Maurier was in her late twenties, had a deep impact on her. She also kept nice memories of her maternal grandparents during her childhood, even though her relationship with her mother mostly remained distant. Since her childhood, she was very fond of her solitude and often regretted having to socialise through visits or parties. By contrast, she always enjoyed travelling to countries such as France, Switzerland, Norway, and especially, Greece, in particular in her late years. However, Du Maurier gave much importance to the meaning of place in the sense that she felt that she could write in Fowey in her beloved house Menabilly – which was the inspiration for Manderley in her novel Rebecca (1938) – but she always felt at odds to write in cities such London, where she spent some time while her husband was in hospital recovering from his problems with drink. Likewise, owing to the fact she liked living in Fowey (Cornwall), she grew very keen on sailing, as is evocatively reflected in her novel Rebecca. In fact, she owned a small ship, Annabel Lee, named after Edgar Allan Poe’s well-known poem. In her youth, she spent some time in Camposena, France, to improve her French, and it was in Paris that she became acquainted with one of her best friends ever, her teacher Ferdie. Since her youth, Du Maurier remained fascinated by the city of Paris, which she would always prefer to London. Back to England, she became very close to her cousin Geoffrey, even though he was married and was considerably older than her. Du Maurier’s father always disapproved of her relationship with Geoffrey. Her first love, though, was the actor Carol Reed until Du Maurier met her husband-to-be, Major Frederick A.M.Browning of the Grenadier Guards, who was around ten years her senior. Major Browning was determined to meet Du Maurier after he read her first novel, The Loving Spirit (1931). In 1932, Du Maurier married Major Browning and, owing to her husband’s occupation, for some time they lived in countries such as Alexandria and Egypt. They had three children, all of them named after a literary character: Tessa (from Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles), Flavia (from Anthony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda), and Christian (from John Milton’s Paradise Lost). In her youth, Du Maurier was well acquainted with the literary works of different Victorian writers, such as the Brontë sisters, W.M.Thackeray, George Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, Alfred Lord Tennyson, and some novels by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. However, she felt particularly fascinated by the writings of James Barrie, her grandfather George du Maurier, and especially, the short stories of the modernist writer Katherine Mansfield. In her childhood, she often took part in plays she invented at home with her sisters Angela and Jeanne and in which she often played the male roles, thus giving vent to her creativity at an early age. During her adolescence, she created for herself a male alter egothat she referred to as Eric Avon and she considered herself boyish until she had her first menstruation. In fact, in her youth she would often equate what she perceived was her ‘ boy in the box,’ according to biographer Margaret Forster, with her creative drive to write. However, as she began to come of age, she felt obliged to conceal this ‘boy in the box,’ which would often make appearance in her writings, especially in her short fiction. In fact, in her youth, Du Maurier would write short fiction of apprenticeship, which would in turn give way to her novels until her middle age when her short fiction would make appearance again together with the ‘male’ voice. In fact, Du Maurier’s urge to write together with what she would refer to as her ‘Venetian tendencies’ (homosexuality) and the ghost of unfaithfulness would have a deep effect on her marriage. In her middle age, she became fascinated by the actress Gertrude Lawrence, who had worked with Du Maurier’s father on stage. While she felt physically attracted to Gertrude, she also began to nourish a platonic love for Gertrude Lawrence, the wife of her American publisher, Nelson Doubleday. All of them put a virtual end to her marriage to Frederick Browning even if they would live together until Browning’s death in 1965, when Du Maurier was in her late fifties. Du Maurier acquired enormous popularity after the publication of her bestselling Rebecca, especially when cinema director Alfred Hitchcock immortalised it in his film adaptation. Later on, her novels Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel would also turn into films together with some of her short stories such as “The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now.” Given the fact that Du Maurier became a bestselling author owing to her gothic romances, most critics first catalogued her as a writer of romance novels, even if Du Maurier always deplored such appellative. In fact, Du Maurier also wrote some plays and even works of non-fiction, which evince her interest in family sagas, genealogy and her lifetime fascination with the past. In comparison with her novels, though, it is in her short fiction that she revealed the most haunting aspects of her imagination. As a matter of fact, critics Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik argue that “many of her stories are characterised by a fascination with the macabre and the sinister, by irruptions of the irrational, and by a knack of presenting the chill of the unfamiliar within the familiar” (The Daphne du Maurier Companion, 242). Her short fiction can thus be characterised by psychological instrospection and the presence of notable autobiographical aspects. In her old age, Du Maurier published her autobiography Daphne du Maurier: Myself When Young, which was first published in 1977 under the title of Growing Pains: The Shaping of a Writer. However, her autobiography only covers the period from her childhood until she got married with the aim to place emphasis on how she became a writer. When she was in her seventies, Du Maurier grew afraid of losing her memory and it was out of this fear that she decided to write her autobiography. In fact, in her autobiography Du Maurier significantly shares her memories of her godmother Billy, whose memory began to dwindle in old age. Even if her fame has never declined, Du Maurier has been reappraised by critics and readers alike, thus becoming one of the most highly esteemed twentieth-century English women writers. In 1952, she was  a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 1969 she was made Dame Commander (Order of the British Empire). She died on April 19 1989 in Cornwall at the age of 81.

A List of works:

Collections of short-stories:

  • The Birds and Other Stories, aka The Apple Tree; aka Kiss Me Again Stranger (1952)
  • The Breaking Point: Short Stories, aka The Blue Lenses (1959)
  • Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, aka Not After Midnight (1971)
  • The Rendez-vous and Other Stories (1980)
  • The Doll and Other Stories (2011) (short-stories written in the author’s youth and published posthumously)


  • The Loving Spirit (1931)
  • I’ll Never Be Young Again (1932)
  • The Progress of Julius (1933)
  • Jamaica Inn (1936)
  • Rebecca (1938)
  • Frenchman’s Creek (1941)
  • Hungry Hill (1943)
  • The King’s General (1946)
  • The Parasites (1949)
  • My Cousin Rachel (1951)
  • Mary Anne (1954)
  • The Scapegoat (1957)
  • Castle Dor (1961)
  • The Glass Blowers (1963)
  • The Flight of the Falcon (1965)
  • The House on the Strand (1969)
  • Rule Britannia (1972)


  • The Years Between (1945)
  • September Tide (1948)

Non-fiction works:

  • Gerald – A Portrait (1934)
  • The Du Mauriers (1937)
  • The Young George du Maurier (1951)
  • The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë (1960)
  • Vanishing Cornwall (1967)
  • Golden Lads: Sir Francis Bacon, Anthony Bacon, and Their Friends (1975)
  • The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, His Rise and Fall (1976)
  • Enchanted Cornwall (1989)