A note on Daphne Du Maurier

I have just finished reading The Breaking Point and other stories by Daphne Du Maurier.  I have now read all of Daphne Du Maurier’s fiction of which I am aware.

Young_Daphne_du_Maurier

The love affair started one day when my Dad and I were talking about famous opening lines from books.  He brought up the classic from Rebecca “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again.”  We went to the library the following day looking for Rebecca to borrow.  It wasn’t there, and instead we found Jamaica Inn.  I borrowed it with no expectations (I knew so little about Daphne Du Maurier that until then I thought that she was a man).  On opening Jamaica Inn, I found this:-

“It was a cold grey day in late November.  The weather had changed overnight, when a backing wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o’clock in the afternoon the pallor of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist.  It would be dark by four.  The air was clammy cold and for all the tightly closed windows it penetrated the interior of the coach.  The leather seats felt damp to the hands, and there must have been a small crack in the roof, because now and again little drips of rain fell softly through, smudging the leather and leaving a dark-blue stain like a splodge of ink.  The wind came in gusts, at time shaking the coach as it travelled round the bend of the road, and in the exposed places on the high ground it blew with such force that the whole body of the coach trembled and swayed, rocking between the high wheels like a drunken man.” (Daphne Du Maurier, Jamaica Inn)

This is the opening paragraph from Jamaica Inn.  Immediately, I knew that I was in the hands of a master, and I was hooked.  Du Maurier is famous for creating atmosphere and the above paragraph is a classic example of this.  Every time I read this, I am transported to that leaking coach being blown around in high winds.  It instantly pulls me into the story as well – who would be making a journey in this weather?  What is so important that they have attempted their journey in these conditions?  At this point, the character in the coach has not even been introduced, but already they have my sympathy

I first read this about 3 years ago, and since then I have made it my mission to read the rest of her work.  I have scoured libraries and charity shops for the books I haven’t read, and I am just about the complete the collection.

Why I love reading Du Maurier

Du Maurier was typecast during her lifetime as a romantic novelist, which is a label that she could not stand.  I disagree.  Her novels are not romantic novels, they are dark and very rarely have a happy ending.  I often found that my own writing tended to be quite dark, and I didn’t really embrace this until reading Du Maurier.  She creates atmosphere and uses setting as a character in her writing like no one else.  She is also excellent at creating grotesque, monstrous yet believable characters (Joss Merlin in Jamaica Inn, the eponymous Julius and Rebecca from the short story The Doll spring to mind, not to mention the first Mrs De Winter and her sidekick Mrs Danvers).  She often denies her characters a happy ending and leaves her endings, and often the true nature of her characters (such as Rachel from My Cousin Rachel) open to interpretation.

Not all of her writing is great, in particular her later writing.  Her last novel, Rule Britannia, is in my opinion the weakest, both in terms of its premise and execution.  However, even that has moments of classic Du Maurier to remind us that she is one of the greats.  She will always be famous for Rebecca, however I believe that some of her work is still very underrated and should be more widely read, for example The Scapegoat and The Parasites. 

If you are reading this and you haven’t read anything by Du Maurier, please give her a go.  Now that I have read it all, I’m looking forward to reading her work all over again.

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Posted on August 16, 2013, in The Blog and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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