Friday 13th May, marks the 109th anniversary of the birth of Daphne du Maurier, one of the best-loved authors of the twentieth century. Here, we’ve compiled 13 facts about the author and her work.
1.A truly great novel grabs you from the very first sentence, and Rebecca features one of the most famous first lines in literature: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again …’
2. A film adaptation of My Cousin Rachel is currently in production, starring Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin
3. The Manderley estate where Rebecca is set is fictional, but was based on a house called Milton in Northamptonshire where she stayed as a child during the First World War. However, the location was set at Menabilly, on the south coast of Cornwall. When Daphne first saw Menabilly it was derelict, but she was instantly smitten. She acquired a long lease and spent years – and a fortune – restoring it to its former glory. She once said: ‘It makes me a little ashamed to admit it, but I do believe I love Mena more than people.’
4. Daphne du Maurier’s first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published when she was only 24. The title is taken from the poem ‘Self-Interrogation’, by Emily Bronte:
‘Alas! the countless links are strong
That bind us to our clay;
The loving spirit lingers long,
And would not pass away!’
6. She came from a long line of famous du Mauriers. Daphne’s father, Gerald, was one of the most famous actors of his day, and was the first actor to play Captain Hook in the original cast of Peter Pan. Her grandfather, George du Maurier, was a cartoonist for Punch magazine, and wrote the novel Trilby, famous for its hypnotist villain, Svengali.
7. Daphne du Maurier didn’t just write books, she was the author of three plays. Her 1939 stage adaptation of Rebecca ran for over 400 perfomances in London’s West End, with Brief Encounter star Celia Johnson playing the role of the second Mrs de Winter.
9. Daphne’s inspiration for The King’s General was the discovery of the skeleton of a young man, which was found in the buttress of Menabilly during renovations – it was walled up, sitting on a stool, and was thought to belong to a Cavalier of the Civil War because of its clothing.
10. Hitchcock’s adaptation of Rebecca, which starred Lawrence Olivier as Max de Winter, included one very fundamental change to the plot: no murder! Watch the trailer here.
11. Rebecca is one of Sarah Waters’ favourite books. Waters says: ‘Du Maurier was a brilliant storyteller, and a great evoker of place. Rebecca is far and away her best work: troubling and vivid and slightly queer.’
12. Rebecca is also admired by Steven King, who recommends it as: ‘a book any aspiring popular writer should read, if only for its bravura pacing and narrative control. Critics may sneer, but it’s impossible to do this sort of thing unless you have an almost perfect downbeat in your head. Du Maurier had it.’
13. As a child, Daphne was a tomboy – she dressed like a boy, cut her hair short and created an alter ego for herself called Eric Avon. She later referred to this repressed side of herself as ‘the boy-in-the-box.’
Discover the entire list of Daphne du Maurier’s books, which are published as Virago Modern Classics.