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"Women want love to be a novel, men a short story.” Daphne du Maurier

Andy Parsons profiles a first rate storyteller and the mistress of suspense.

Dame Daphne du Maurier DBE was born on May 13, 1907 in London to a family with a rich artistic and literary background. Her father was the famous actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier who ran Wyndhams Theatre and her Grandfather was George du Maurier, the famous Punch cartoonist and creator of Svengali, the evil musical genius who inspired the Phantom of The Opera. Her cousins were said to have inspired Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie.

As a child she enjoyed great freedom from financial and parental restraint she sailed boats, travelled extensively throughout the Continent with her friends and wrote stories.

In 1927 the du Maurier’s bought a modest summer home in Bodnnick, Cornwall overlooking Fowey. The house, later renamed Ferryside was where at the age of twenty, she lived alone for the first time in the solitude that she needed to write. It was around this time that she saw a ship go aground and all its passengers bought to safety, a scene she would go on to depict in her most famous work.

Her discovery of the old house Menabilly, hidden in the woods in Fowey served as inspiration for Mandalay in her masterpiece Rebecca. Cornwall and the West Country haunted much of her work throughout the remainder of her life.

After her first book was published in her early twenties she met and married Major Frederick Browning with whom she had two daughters and a son. She was considered to be a "romantic novelist” in that her work seldom tackled contemporary themes and was strongly influenced by the work of Charlotte Bronte and the 19th century novel.

Du Maurier was always unhappy with the "romantic” label placed on her work and her short stories often give reign to her darker side The Birds, Don’t Look Now,The Apple Tree and The Blue Lenses are chilling tales of terror that shocked and surprised her readers and contributed in no small measure to the development of the modern gothic tale for the twentieth-century.

It is for her works of suspense and the macabre that she remains most widely known today, thanks largely to Alfred Hitchcock who filmed Rebecca (1940) and The Birds (1963). Of the adaptations of her work she is said to have liked Rebecca and Nicolas Roeg’s classic Don’t Look Now (1973) but others were a source of disappointment to her.

With the death of her husband in 1965 du Maurier became increasingly reclusive moving from Menabilly to Kilmarth in Cornwall where she remained for the rest of her life. Overlooked by an oil painting of herself as a young woman and surrounded by photographs of the great heroes of her life Lieutenant-General Frederick "Boy” Browning and Sir Gerald du Maurier she died on April 19 1989 at the age of 81, her ashes were scattered on the cliffs near her home.

1931:Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, is published

1932:Marries Frederick Browning on July 19, 1932

1940: The first successful adaptation of her novel Rebecca, opens at the Queen's Theatre in London on 5 March 1940 in a production by George Devine

1941: Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebeccawins the Best Picture Oscar Frenchman’s Creek her romantic historical novel is published

1951:My Cousin Rachel is published

1952:The Apple Tree is published, short stories featuring The Birds and The Little Photographer

1959:The Breaking Point another collection of short stories is published

1965:Frederick Browning, du Maurier’s husband dies. Soon after she moves to Kilmarth, near Par. This became the setting for her 1969 The House on the Strand a novel that features time travel

1972:du Maurier publishes her final novel Rule Britannia

1989:du Maurier dies aged 81


New Perspectives is an East Midlands' based touring theatre company, specialising in bringing new work to rural and community audiences. Through an annual programme of original adaptations, rare revivals and new writing, we aim to bring live theatre that is diverse, affordable and accessible into the heart of wide-ranging communities, as well as to regional, national and international venues.  
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