English author & playwright Daphne du Maurier (AKA, Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning DBE) was born today on May 13, 1907, somewhere in London, England. She died on April 19, 1989 at the age of 82. What a long and exciting life she must have had!
Dame du Maurier was a female master of the macabre, something rare for a lady if you stop and think about it. Although much of her work probably falls under that classification of the Romance Novel, I think it’s important to know that Romance meant something entirely different in her day. Try to imagine something less like those Harlequin Romance books with the shirtless, sweaty long-haired “hunk” on cover, and instead just think of romance in terms of something fantastical, meaning full of fantasy. Or just a work that is generally marvelous, or marvel-worthy in tone.
One obituarist wrote of Daphne du Maurier’s work*…
“Du Maurier was mistress of calculated irresolution. She did not want to put her readers’ minds at rest. She wanted her riddles to persist. She wanted the novels to continue to haunt us beyond their endings.” (* I’m a bit lazy today. That’s from Wikipedia, but it gets my point across.)
Dame Daphne had a knack for smacking readers right in the spook spot. Du Maurier’s stories and novels were certainly unconventional. They rarely feature a happy ending, and her obituarist was right… anything I’ve ever read has left me feeling moody, in a spooked-out spine-tingling state. Read most anything she’s written and I guarantee you’ll be left with the slightly unsettling feeling that you’ve just had a paranormal experience, and in such vivid terms that you won’t be sure the whole adventure was vicarious.
Alfred Hitchcock, another figure well-known for sparking up the spook factor, is largely responsible for how this great lady is remembered today. Mr. Hitchcock adapted two of her best and most well-known works into the films The Birds and Rebecca.
Daphne du Maurier was a fantastical femme in her own right, but she sprung up from a wondrous gene pool as well. Her father was the actor Gerald du Maurier, and her grandfather was Victorian artist and writer George du Maurier.
I wonder what has become of Daphne du Maurier’s descendants. I think I’ll search for some of her spooky ancestral counterparts tonight. After all, it is Friday the 13th.
To conjure up your own spark of spook, you can read Rebecca online at archive.org.