The English writer Daphne Du Maurier was renowned for her contributions to a number of diverse literary genres, including short stories, novels, biographies, autobiographies and travel books. The author, who later became Lady Browning, was born in London on 13th May 1907, the third daughter of acclaimed actress Muriel Beaumont and actor/writer Gerald Du Maurier, creator of the somewhat notorious hypnotist Svengali.
An Obsessive and Overpowering Father
The young writer grew up in London, initially educated at home with her siblings. After completing her education at a finishing school at Camposena, near Paris, she returned to the family home where she found her father's controlling nature overpowering and oppressive. Gerald was obsessively protective of his daughter and insanely jealous of any young male visitors.
Life at the family home was a continuous stream of entertaining. For Daphne this was absolute torture, denying her the much needed peace and quiet she craved in order to write. Eventually, with her parent's consent, she moved to Ferryside, the family's holiday home in the peaceful Cornish village of Fowey. As far as I know the house is still occupied by her son, Christian.
She published her first short story, And Now to God the Father, in the Bystander, a magazine edited by her uncle, Willie Beaumont. Through Beaumont, she was able to develop a network of use contracts, but of course, the family name would have helped considerably. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931. Her work was profoundly influenced by a number of renowned writers including Guy de Maupassant, Katherine Mansfield, Somerset Maugham and Robert Louis Stevenson.
Ferryside - the Family's Summer Home
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Marriage to Frederick Browning
Daphne met Major Frederick Arthur Montague Browning, in early 1932. They were married on 19th July 1932 in the Lanteglos Church, close to the village of Fowey. Some biographers record that the marriage was not always a bed of roses. However, the couple did have two daughters, Tessa in 1933 (Lady Tessa Montgomery), Flavia in 1937 (Lady Flavia Leng), and a son, Christian, in 1940. Browning achieved the rank of Lieutenant-General and received a knighthood for distinguished service during World War II. He passed away on 14th March 1965.
Menabilly - The Author's Home for Twenty-five Years
Many of Daphne's novels and and novella were made into films, but with each additional success she withdrew more and more from the limelight, eventually becoming a recluse.
Daphne moved to the atmospheric ivy-clad Georgian house, Menabilly, which she rented until the landlord reclaimed it some twenty-five years later. Menabilly will be remembered by many as the fictional location Manderley in Daphne's book Rebecca (1940), which became such a popular and enduring film.
The Impact of Daphne Du Maurier
The impact of Daphne Du Maurier on British literature is extraordinary. In acknowledgement of her outstanding talent Daphne was made a Dame in 1969. She was awarded the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 1977, and in 1996, was one of five "Women of Achievement" chosen for an issue of British stamps.
This most beloved of all English writers died in Cornwall on 20th April 1989 after a period of ill heath.
The following publications by the author may be of interest:
- The Du Mauriers
- Growing Pains: the Shaping of a writer/myself when young
The following biographies may also be of interest:
- Daphne Du Maurier, Daphne du Maurier and Margaret Forster, Arrow Books Ltd
- A Daughter's Memoir by Flavia Leng, Mainstream Publishing
In 1967, Daphne and her son Christian collaborated on a travel book entitled Vanishing Cornwall. The publication featured Daphne's text and Christian's photographs.
The Tortured Love Life of Daphne du Maurier, an article published on Infobarrel will also be of great interest.