On this day in history : 19th April 1989 – The death, in Cornwall, of English author and playwright Dame Daphne du Maurier – perhaps best known for her novels ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘Rebecca’….

Daphne du Maurier, Schiphol 1947 – Image credit : Ben van Meerendonk / AHF, collectie IISG, Amsterdam.

Daphne was born in London on the 13th of May 1907, into an artistic family…. Both of her parents were actors, her father being Sir Gerald du Maurier, the actor and manager…. She was educated at home by a governess, along with her two sisters – the eldest of which also became a writer and her younger sister, an artist….

The girls were brought up in a social household, where influential friends such as Edgar Wallace and J.M. Barrie would often visit…. The sisters were cousins of the Llewelyn-Davies boys, on whom Barry drew the inspiration for Peter Pan from….

Daphne, an avid reader from an early age, began to write in her teens…. Her love affair with Cornwall no doubt began in childhood, as the du Mauriers would often holiday there as a family…. There were indications that whilst growing up she was confused about her own sexuality – and it has been suggested since her death that she may have been bi-sexual…. In her own memoirs she talks of her father’s desire for a son – Daphne was always a bit of a tomboy and had said that she wished she had been born a boy…. There are those who take these notions even further to claim she had an incestuous relationship with her father and that he was an abusive alcoholic….

Daphne du Maurier circa 1930 – No copyright restrictions

Her first novel ‘The Loving Spirit’ was published in 1931…. She is often categorised as a romantic novelist – a label she despised…. Indeed her work is often moody, deep, dark, full of suspense and sometimes even includes the supernatural…. ‘Jamaica Inn’ was published in 1936 and ‘Rebecca’, perhaps her most successful novel, was published in 1938 – and was an instant best-seller…. Between 1938-1965 it sold some three million copies and has never been out of print…. Her other notable works include ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ (1941), ‘Hungry Hill’ (1943), ‘The King’s General’ (1946), ‘My Cousin Rachel’ (1951), ‘The Scapegoat’ (1957) and ‘The House on the Strand’ (1969)…. Several of her books have been adapted for stage or screen – or indeed even both…. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1939 production of ‘Jamaica Inn’ gave actress Maureen O’Hara her first major screen role, whereas his 1940 adaptation of ‘Rebecca’ was his first American film…. His 1963 film ‘The Birds’ was adapted from one of Daphne’s short stories of the same name…. She was also to write three plays….

Reconstruction of Daphne du Maurier’s study at the Smugglers Museum, Jamaica Inn, Cornwall – Image : Martinvl – own work – CC BY-SA 4.0

In 1932 Daphne married Frederick Browning, a senior British Army Officer, often referred to as the ‘Father of the British Airborne Forces’…. With the marriage came the title ‘Lady Browning’ – but Daphne continued to write under the name du Maurier….

Sir Frederick Browning, October 1942 – From the collections of the Imperial War Mueseums

The story goes that Browning had read Daphne’s ‘The Loving Spirit’ – and so impressed was he by her description of the Cornish coast that he had to see it for himself – which he did so, by visiting it onboard his boat…. He decided to leave his boat moored in Cornwall over winter and returned in April 1932 to collect it…. On hearing that Daphne was in Cornwall, convalescing from an appendix operation, he invited her out for a day’s sailing…. What followed was a whirlwind romance and he proposed….only for Daphne to decline- as she did not particularly believe in marriage…. However, it appears she was quite happy for them to cohabit – until it was pointed out to her by Browning’s friend and fellow senior officer, Eric Dorman-Smith, that simply living together would be disastrous for his career…. So Daphne then proposed to Browning – and the couple were married at the Church of St. Willow, Lanteglos-by-Fowey, South Cornwall on the 19th of July 1932…. They were to have three children – two daughters, Tessa and Flavia and a son, Christian, who was known as Kits…. It was sometimes a difficult marriage – Daphne had a tendency to distance herself from her family, especially when she was immersed in her writing….

Daphne du Maurier – Image credit : gnovi via Flickr

Browning died in 1965 of a heart attack – and Daphne moved to Par in Cornwall…. She was awarded Order of the British Empire as Dame Commander in 1969…. She passed away at the age of 81 at her Cornish home…. Her cremated ashes were scattered off the cliffs of Cornwall….

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