The Blagger's Guide To: Daphne Du Maurier

In celebration of the woman who scared my mother

The Daphne du Maurier Festival in Fowey, Cornwall, began on Thursday and will continue until 20 May. This morning's events include a guided walk around du Maurier's Fowey, which apparently has an "easy, downhill route". Try telling that to the first Mrs de Winter.

Dame Daphne du Maurier (Lady Browning) 1907-1989, DBE 1969, Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, was the granddaughter of the artist and writer George du Maurier, and the daughter of the actor Gerald. She began writing short stories in 1928, and had published her first novel, The Loving Spirit, by the time she was 24.

The germ of her most famous novel Rebecca, a study in jealousy, emerged the year that du Maurier married Frederick "Boy" Browning. He had been engaged before – to a glamorous, dark-haired woman, Jan Ricardo. She missed several deadlines from her publisher and tore up 15,000 words "in disgust", but managed to write it by taking a long holiday from her two young children. "I am not one of those mothers who live for having their brats with them all the time," she later explained.

In 1993, Susan Hill published a sequel to Rebecca, called Mrs de Winter.

Among her novels and short stories that have been made into successful films are Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, "The Birds" and "Don't Look Now". A film of her 1957 novel The Scapegoat is expected to be released this year.

Last year the Cornish house, Readymoney, in which du Maurier stayed in 1942, was sold by Savills for just under £2m. The author rented the house for a year "to sort myself out" after being caught in an embrace with her hostess's husband while staying with friends in Hertfordshire. Her novel Hungry Hill was written there. She left Readymoney in 1943 and went to live at Menabilly, a larger house nearby, which is thought to be one of the inspirations for Manderley.

Du Maurier's 1928 short story "The Doll" was lost for more than 80 years before being uncovered by a fan in an old compendium of stories rejected by publishers. The story tells of a woman who is obsessed with a life-sized, mechanical, male doll, and a real man who becomes obsessed with her after he meets her at a party. It has now been republished in a collection of du Maurier's stories, The Doll: Short Stories (Virago, £8.99).

Du Maurier cigarettes, named after Daphne's actor father Gerald du Maurier, are still sold in Canada by British American Tobacco. He gave his name to the brand in order to pay off debts to the Inland Revenue, but, according to Daphne, they were named after him because of his technique in romantic scenes. She said: "If an actor approached a scene with too much enthusiasm, he would ask, 'Must you kiss her as though you were having steak and onions for lunch? It may be what you feel but it's damned unattractive from the front row of the stalls. Can't you just say, 'I love you', and yawn, and light a cigarette and walk away?'"

The Blagger's mum found "Don't Look Now" so scary that she had to close the book and sit on it until her husband got home.

Further information about the Daphne du Maurier Festival is available at or from 01726 833847.

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