Dame Daphne du Maurier was an English author and playwright.
Although she is classed as a romantic novelist, her stories seldom feature a conventional happy ending, and have been described as ‘moody and resonant’ with overtones of the paranormal. These bestselling works were not at first taken seriously by the critics, but have since earned an enduring reputation for storytelling craft.
Born in London to a prominent actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and actress Muriel Beaumont, her family connections helped her in establishing her literary career, and du Maurier published some of her early work in Beaumont’s Bystander magazine. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931. Du Maurier was also the cousin of the Llewelyn Davies boys, who served as J. M. Barrie’s inspiration for the characters in the play Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up. As a young child, she met many of the brightest stars of the theatre, thanks to the celebrity of her father.
The novel Rebecca (1938) became one of du Maurier’s most successful works. It was an immediate hit on its publication, went on to sell nearly 3 million copies between 1938 and 1965, has never gone out of print, and has been adapted for both stage and screen several times. In the U.S. she won the National Book Award for favorite novel of 1938, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association. In the UK, it was listed at number 14 of the “nation’s best loved novel” on the BBC’s 2003 survey The Big Read.
Several of her other novels have also been adapted for the screen, including Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, Hungry Hill, and My Cousin Rachel (1951). The Hitchcock film The Birds (1963) is based on a treatment of one of her short stories, as is the film Don’t Look Now (1973). Of the films, du Maurier often complained that the only ones she liked were Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now.
In her short stories du Maurier gave free rein to the darker side of her imagination: “The Birds”, “Don’t Look Now”, “The Apple Tree” and “The Blue Lenses” are finely crafted tales of terror that shocked and surprised her audience in equal measure. As her biographer Margaret Forster wrote: “She satisfied all the questionable criteria of popular fiction, and yet satisfied too the exacting requirements of ‘real literature’.”
When in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for June 1969 Daphne du Maurier was created a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire, she accepted but never used the title. According to Margaret Forster, she told no one about the honour, so that even her children learned of it only from the newspapers. “She thought of pleading illness for the investiture, until her children insisted it would be a great day for the older grandchildren. So she went through with it, though she slipped out quietly afterwards to avoid the attention of the press.”
Born in 1907, she was a woman ahead of her time. Good looks, fame and honors did not impress her. She was a writer through and through and had the soul many rebellious women see in themselves today. Thus, it can only help to follow her 12 most insightful pieces of wisdom:
On Facing Your Fears
“The moment of crisis had come, and I must face it. My old fears, my diffidence, my shyness, my hopeless sense of inferiority, must be conquered now and thrust aside. If I failed now I should fail forever.”
On Not Putting Your Happiness In Your Looks
“You understand now… how simple life becomes when things like mirrors are forgotten.”
On Living In The Moment
“And all this, she thought, is only momentary, is only a fragment in time that will never come again, for yesterday already belongs to the past and is ours no longer, and tomorrow is an unknown thing that may be hostile. This is our day, our moment, the sun belongs to us, and the wind, and the sea, and the men for’ard there singing on the deck. This day is forever a day to be held and cherished, because in it we shall have lived, and loved, and nothing else matters but that in this world of our own making to which we have escaped.”
On The Differences Between Men and Women
“Women want love to be a novel. Men, a short story.”
On The Burden of Family
“I felt rather exhausted, and wondered, rather shocked at my callous thought, why old people were sometimes such a strain. Worse than young children or puppies because one had to be polite.”
On The Necessity of Experience
“You had to endure something yourself before it touched you.”
On Finding Peace
“Contentment is a state of mind and body when the two work in harmony, and there is no friction. The mind is at peace, and the body also. The two are sufficient to themselves. Happiness is elusive — coming perhaps once in a life-time — and approaching ecstasy.”
On Wisdom With Age
“They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls first to the barbed word. To-day, wrapped in the complacent armour of approaching middle age, the infinitesimal pricks of day by day brush one but lightly and are soon forgotten, but then—how a careless word would linger, becoming a fiery stigma, and how a look, a glance over a shoulder, branded themselves as things eternal.”
On Enjoying The Simple Things
“But luxury has never appealed to me, I like simple things, books, being alone, or with somebody who understands.”
On Finding Inner Peace
“Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.”
On Giving Up Our Demons
“I suppose sooner or later in the life of everyone comes a moment of trial. We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end.”
On Building Things Up Inside Our Head
“I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.”
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