The complexities of Daphne du Maurier
Not much is made of the sexuality of well-known English author Daphne du Maurier, given that she was married to a man and had three children.
However, Daphne was a complicated person as she also reportedly had a relationship with actress Gertrude Lawrence and an attraction to her publisher’s wife, Ellen Doubleday.
She was likewise contemptuous of the word “lesbian” and saw herself as male. So it makes us wonder: who really was Daphne du Maurier?
Daphne du Maurier’s upbringing
Born in London on 13 May 1907, Daphne came from a creative and successful family. She was the middle daughter of three children, and both her parents, Sir Gerald du Maurier and Muriel Beaumont being actors.
She had a privileged upbringing in Hampstead, and her family was well-off that they bought a holiday home in Cornwall in the 1920s.
However, her father had a record of being unfaithful while her mother was supposedly cold to the children. But that didn’t stop Daphne from adoring her father, showing her short stories to him as a teenager.
Likewise, Daphne once told a friend that she remembered her mother as “someone who looked at me with a sort of disapproving irritation, a queer unexplained hostility.”
Daphne du Maurier: A writer’s life
From her yearning as a teenager to become a writer, Daphne went on to publish many books, short stories, plays, and non-fiction works.
Among her notable fiction were Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, and Jamaica Inn, as well as the short stories “The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now.”
Ironically, Daphne was described as a romantic novelist, which she didn’t like as she preferred to write dark, often gothic stories that had unexpected twists or suspenseful endings.
As her biographer Margaret Forster wrote about her: “She satisfied all the questionable criteria of popular fiction, and yet satisfied too the exacting requirements of ‘real literature’.”
The duality of Daphne du Maurier
Daphne was married to Frederick Browning, a military man, in 1932 and they had three children.
However, after Browning came back to the Second World War, he was cold to her and this left her bitter. But she stuck by Browning even though she admitted to her friends that she found her husband “pathetic.”
While Daphne saw herself as a woman, she considered herself a “half-breed,” i.e. a female on the outside but “with a boy’s mind and a boy’s heart.”
As a young girl, she dressed in shorts and ties like a tomboy. But when she got older, she had to lock up this “spirit’ inside her by acting as a proper woman and mother to her children.
Daphne du Maurier and her tendencies
Unfortunately, her need to write was firmly tied up to this “male” creative spirit. This led her to write love letters to Doubleday, and then have a relationship with Lawrence.
Even though she had her first affair with a French female teacher at the age of 18, Daphne refused to see her desire for women as making her a lesbian and called them “Venetian tendencies.”
Furthermore, she once said: “By God and by Christ if anyone should call that sort of love by that unattractive word that begins with ‘L’, I’d tear their guts out.”
However, she once described herself this way: “Women ought to be soft and gentle and dependent. Disembodied spirits like myself are all wrong.”
Accolades for Daphne du Maurier
As a writer, she was given the title of Lady Browning in 1946. She was then elevated to the Order of the British Empire as Dame Commander in 1969, i.e. Lady Browning; Dame Daphne du Maurier DBE.
Daphne’s Rebecca won the National Book Award for favorite novel of 1938 in the US, as voted by the American Booksellers Association.
Later on, it was listed at number 14 of the “nation’s best-loved novel” on the BBC’s 2003 survey The Big Read.
Daphne continued writing even after Browning’s death in 1965, when she became even more of a recluse. She died on 19 April 1989 at her home in Cornwall.