A Haunting Secrecy

"Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter for the way was barred to me. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed all of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done."

Daphne du MaurierCredit: Wikipedia

Daphne du Maurier is famous for her haunting novel, "Rebecca", which was published in 1938. Du Maurier began writing, what was to become her most famous novel, when her husband a commanding officer of the 2nd battalion of the Grenadier Guards, was posted to Egypt. The book was also made into a gothic film, under the masterful hand of Alfred Hitchcock. The book, like the film, is haunting and expressive of deep anxiety. The main character is an innocent young, bewildered and nameless woman, who has married an older more sophisticated man. Soon she is also increasingly tormented by the malevolent house keeper Mrs Danvers, at her new stately home Manderley. And yet, there are twisted and smoldering passions under the scrawny breast of the dour and chilling Mrs Danvers, for her dead, but devastatingly beautiful, former mistress, Rebecca.


From Truth To Fiction

Scene from the 1940 movie of Rebecca.

Rebecca and Mrs DanversCredit: DM

A not so well-known short story, also written by Daphne du Maurier, is called "The Doll". Like "Rebecca", "The Doll" is about a femme fatale, also named Rebecca, who incites intense jealousy in her male suitor, due to her love for a mechanical sex doll. Keeping in mind, that du Maurier wrote this story in the 1920's, one must agree with her son Kits Browning, who stated that his mother's writing was, "quite ahead of its time". And she was only 21 when she penned this bold tale.

Another story only recently discovered, is called “East Wind” and this also details disturbed relations between a couple, in this case a husband and wife: “She put away his cold hands from her, and gave herself to her own dreams, where he could have no entrance.” Although, by all accounts du Maurier loved her husband, Frederick 'Boy' Browning completely, she also had strong lesbian inclinations and experienced more than her fair share of unrequited love and lust.

Gothic Anxiety

1940 Film PosterCredit: Wikipedia

At its heart, the novel "Rebecca", distills loneliness and unease. The fact that the book has endured in popularity so long, also perhaps,  is due to the un-named protagonists ability to resonate with the reader. Are we not also, often unsure, anxious and surrounded by people and threatening elements that we don't understand? 

Daphne du Maurier must have felt such disquiet and uncertainty herself. Put yourself in the situation in which she found herself. She is accused of plagiarism by the writer Edwina MacDonald; she travels to New York for the court case, which is ultimately unsuccessful and stays in the home of her publisher, Nelson Doubleday. However she falls in love with his wife and an intense relationship ensues. Du Maurier struggles and it seem,s expresses her confusion and often dark feelings in her writing. She is torn between cities, literally and figuratively, as she refers to her heterosexual world as 'Cairo' and her lesbian world as 'Venice'.

While Daphne du Maurier was often thought of as a humorless recluse, who seldom gave interviews to the press, it must be remembered that bisexuality was not the done thing, during the 1920's. So it is not surprising that she was reticent and somewhat coy. The noted author P. G. Wodehouse , alone, had the audacity to spoof the aloof Daphne du Maurier in his many books, with his character of  Daphne Dolores Morehead, who is a blue-eyed, gorgeous blonde, bestselling novelist.

Daphne du Maurier died in 1989, at home, in her beloved Cornwall, at the age of 81. However her books and especially "Rebecca", that wonderful dream-like novel live on.

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