Friday, May 13, 2011

Notes For May 13th, 2011


This Day In Writing History

On May 13th, 1907, the famous British writer Daphne du Maurier was born in London, England. Her father, Sir Gerald du Maurier, and her mother, Muriel Beaumont, were both prominent actors. Her grandfather was the famous writer and cartoonist, George du Maurier. The Llewelyn-Davies boys, who would be befriended by writer J.M. Barrie and used as the inspiration for the Lost Boys in his classic play, Peter Pan (1904) were her cousins.

Daphne du Maurier's first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931, but it would be her fourth novel, Jamaica Inn (1936) that made her name as a writer. Set in Cornwall in 1820, the novel told the story of Mary Yellan, a young woman forced to live with her Aunt Patience after her mother dies. Her aunt's husband Joss is the keeper of the Jamaica Inn. When Mary arrives, she finds her aunt under the thumb of her vicious, domineering husband. Mary senses that something is definitely wrong at the gloomy, ominous Jamaica Inn, which has no guests and is never open to the public.

Mary soon falls in love with Joss' younger brother Jem, who, although a thief, is not evil like Joss. As she tries to solve the mystery of the Jamaica Inn, Mary discovers that her uncle Joss is really the leader of a murderous criminal gang. She turns to the town vicar for help. After her aunt and uncle both turn up murdered, Mary finds a shocking clue that reveals the killer's true identity, placing her life in danger...

Jamaica Inn would be adapted as a feature film by legendary British director Alfred Hitchcock in 1939, starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara. The screenplay took great liberties with the novel, and du Maurier hated the film. Alfred Hitchcock would adapt more of her writings as feature films, including her next novel, which is considered her masterpiece.

Part suspense thriller, part Gothic romance, Rebecca (1938) is narrated by an unnamed woman who tells the story of her marriage to wealthy Englishman Maxim de Winter. She met him while working as a companion to a rich American woman on vacation in the French Riviera. They fall in love, and after a courtship of two weeks, the narrator accepts de Winter's marriage proposal. After their wedding, they return to live at de Winter's beautiful West Country estate, Manderley.

The narrator soon realizes that her husband is haunted by the death of his first wife, Rebecca. Their sinister, controlling housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, was deeply devoted to Rebecca, and is determined to undermine her employer's new marriage by any means necessary - including manipulating the narrator into wearing a replica of one of Rebecca's dresses. After Mrs. Danvers' attempt at manipulating the narrator into committing suicide fails, the narrator's husband makes a shocking confession.

Rebecca was a cruel woman who tortured Maxim with her affairs and illegitimate pregnancy. Finally, Maxim could stand no more. He shot Rebecca and disposed of her body on her boat, deliberately sinking the vessel. After Rebecca's boat is raised, an inquest is held and Maxim is cleared of suspicion due to lack of evidence. Unfortunately, Rebecca's cousin (and lover) Jack tries to blackmail Maxim with evidence of his guilt...

Rebecca was adapted several times, first as a feature film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940. The film, which starred Sir Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The novel was also adapted as a play by its author. The play opened in London in 1940 and ran for over 350 performances.

In addition to her novels, Daphne du Maurier was famous for her short story collections. Her second short story collection, The Apple Tree (1952) contained six stories, including one of her most famous - The Birds. Told from the viewpoint of Nat Hocken (a farm worker in coastal Cornwall) and his family, the story chronicles the inexplicable attacks on humans by birds in the area. The Birds would be adapted by Alfred Hitchcock as a classic horror film in 1963, starring Tippi Hedren. In the title story, The Apple Tree, a widower believes that the old apple tree in his garden is possessed by the spirit of his neglected wife.

du Maurier's 1971 short story collection Not After Midnight, features her second most famous story, Don't Look Now. In it, married couple John and Laura Baxter are vacationing in Venice, trying to recover from the devastating, sudden death of their five-year-old daughter, Christine, which has strained their marriage. In a restaurant, Laura meets two odd looking women - elderly identical twin sisters who have psychic knowledge of Christine. Meanwhile, John encounters a little girl who bears a striking resemblance to his dead daughter. Don't Look Now would be adapted as an acclaimed horror film in 1973 by the great British director, Nicolas Roeg.

du Maurier also wrote several works of non-fiction, including memoirs both of herself and her family members. She married Sir Frederick "Boy" Browning, a Lieutenant General in the British Army, and bore him a son and two daughters. Biographers have noted that as a wife and mother, she was sometimes warm and loving, and sometimes cold and distant.

Writer Margaret Forster, who worked with the approval and assistance of the du Maurier family, revealed in her biography that Daphne had a few affairs with women, (including a passionate affair with actress Gertrude Lawrence) but vigorously denied being bisexual. Personal letters released after the author's death revealed, according to Forster, that Daphne was terrified that she might be a lesbian. She had been raised to hate homosexuals with a passion by her father, who was a virulent homophobic bigot.

Daphne du Maurier died in April 1989 at the age of 81.


Quote Of The Day

"When one is writing a novel in the first person, one must be that person." - Daphne du Maurier


Vanguard Video

Today's video features the original theatrical trailer for Alfred Hitchcock's classic 1963 film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's classic short story, The Birds. Enjoy!

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