Daphne du Maurier: Biography & Books

Instructor: Kimberly Yates

Kimberly has taught college English and has a master's degree in education.

British author Daphne du Maurier published her first novel in 1931. From that point on, she produced a variety of novels, short stories, and non-fiction books. This lesson will look at her life and works. It will also define Gothic literature.


Daphne du Maurier is one of the most successful and prolific authors of the 20th century, with a writing career that spanned more than 40 years. She wrote in a variety of genres and styles; however, she is most known for her Gothic stories that combine elements of horror and darkness with strong emotion. Several of these stories, including Rebecca and The Birds, were later adapted into movies.

Daphne du Maurier
Daphne du Maurier


Have you ever felt pressured to live up to your parents' or siblings' reputation? Imagine how Daphne du Maurier must have felt; she was born in 1907, and she arrived as part of an extremely famous and creative family. Her grandfather, George du Maurier, was an artist and the author of several novels, including Trilby, The Martians, and Peter Ibbeton. Her father, Gerald, was a well-known actor and theater manager. Du Maurier's complicated relationship with him influenced much of her life and writing.

George du Maurier was both an artist and an author.
George du Maurier

After enjoying a privileged childhood that included private education, sailing and traveling around the world, du Maurier settled into the family home in Fowey, England, and began writing. It was during this period that she also developed an obsession for a large manor house in the area named Menabilly. She was sure the house held secrets, and it later became the inspiration for Manderley House in her famous novel, Rebecca. This Gothic romance is the story of a newly married young woman who feels haunted by the ghost of her husband's first wife. The main character, Mrs de Winter, is also terrorized and psychologically tortured by the evil housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, until she nearly commits suicide.

However, it was her first novel that had the biggest impact on her personal life. The Loving Spirit, published in 1931, actually triggered the relationship between du Maurier and her future husband, Major Frederick 'Boy' Browning. He read the novel and became determined to meet the author. Eventually, they were introduced and a few months later were engaged. A few months after that, they were married. They had three children together and remained married until Browning's death in 1965.

During World War II, though, Browning was stationed in France and du Maurier focused on her second love: Menabilly. She leased the house while Browning was still in France, in spite of the fact that it was almost completely dilapidated. Then, in spite of the fact that she didn't own it, she threw herself into completely renovating the building. Her efforts paid off; she and her family lived in Menabilly until the late 1960s. She wrote most of her books in the house and said it whispered its secrets to her at night.

du Maurier loved the manor house Menabilly for most of her life.

Soon after her husband's death in 1965, du Maurier moved to Kilmarth, where she wrote her last two novels, The House on The Strand and Rule Brittania. She died in Cornwall in 1989.

Film Adaptations

Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, was one of the first directors to appreciate how well du Maurier's stories would play on the big screen. He actually directed three of the several movie adaptations of du Maurier's work, including Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and The Birds. Of these, Rebecca was the most popular, taking home the Academy Award for best picture. Other works that were adapted for film included Frenchman's Creek, Hungry Hill, The Scapegoat and Don't Look Now.

Rebecca starred Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers and Joan Fontaine as Mrs. de Winter.


During her long career, Du Maurier was twice accused of plagiarism. The first case, which came to light in the early 1940s, claimed that du Maurier got the idea for Rebecca from a manuscript by Brazilian author Carolina Nabuco. These claims were widely reported in the news but Nabuco never actually filed suit. In the late 1940s, a lawsuit was filed on behalf of American author Edwina MacDonald. Interestingly, this suit also focused on Rebecca, claiming it was based on 2 of MacDonald's short stories. However, du Maurier was able to produce a notebook filled with the original notes and drafts of her masterpiece and the case was dismissed.

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