The Best Works of Daphne du Maurier and Why You Should Read Them

Young Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier was one of the most accomplished and influential authors of the 20th century, leaving behind an enduring legacy of works that continue to captivate readers to this day, several decades after they were first published. With her distinctive storytelling style, she created a special place for herself in the English literary world. Born into a family of artistic talents in London, England, 1907, Du Maurier was surrounded by creativity from an early age. Her father, Sir Gerald du Maurier, was a renowned actor, and her grandfather, George du Maurier, was a celebrated novelist and illustrator. She spent the vast majority of her life in Cornwall, which is also where many of her stories were set. Her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published in 1931.

Being able to blend multiple genres seamlessly is what sets Daphne du Maurier apart. Many of her stories skillfully merge elements of gothic fiction with themes of psychological exploration and romance, creating a captivating combination. It is through her exploration of human psychology, delving into the complexities of love, obsession, and identity, amongst others, that Du Maurier establishes herself as a true master of suspenseful storytelling. Her works are distinguished by their atmospheric settings, complex characters, and spine-chilling suspense, cementing her well-earned status as one of the literary greats.

Major Works of Daphne du Maurier

For a considerable period, Daphne du Maurier was often labeled as a romantic novelist, which is a gross misrepresentation of her literary style. In reality, her works delve into darker themes, frequently exploring the realms of gothic literature and edginess. Du Maurier’s novels and short stories are characterized by unexpected twists and suspenseful endings, offering readers a thrilling and suspense–filled experience.

Daphne du Maurier is renowned for several of her literary works, especially Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, The Rendezvous and Other Stories, and My Cousin Rachel. She also wrote two original plays, apart from an adaptation of Rebecca for the stage.

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Daphne du Maurier was known for her exceptional storytelling, particularly in the genres of gothic fiction, mystery, and suspense. Her works captivated readers with their atmospheric settings, complex characters, and intriguing plots. For example, her short story, The Birds, showcased her ability to create harrowing suspense in seemingly ordinary situations.

Let us now explore three of her best works in more detail below.

Rebecca (1938)

Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier
Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is a haunting and suspenseful novel that follows an unnamed young woman who becomes the second wife of the wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter. She is simply called “Mrs. De Winter” throughout the story, which is narrated from her point of view. As she settles into her new life at Manderley, Maxim’s grand estate, she finds herself constantly overshadowed by the memory of Maxim’s first wife, the enigmatic and captivating Rebecca, who died under mysterious circumstances. The story takes a dark turn as secrets and betrayals are gradually unraveled, revealing the unforgettable truth about Rebecca and all that happened with her at the center of events.

The novel is celebrated for its exploration of the intricacies of love, identity, and the lasting power of the past on the present and the future. Through atmospheric descriptions and a meticulously crafted narrative, Du Maurier skillfully weaves together themes of jealousy, obsession, and the lingering impact of secrets. The story unfolds with a growing sense of suspense, drawing readers into a complex web of deceit, betrayal, and unexpected revelations. As the layers of the mystery surrounding Rebecca’s death are peeled away, the novel leaves us thinking about the destructive nature of hidden truths and the enduring consequences of previous actions. Rebecca stands as a tale that captivates with its atmospheric setting, rich character development, and exploration of the human psyche. One of its most popular adaptations is by Alfred Hitchcock, an Academy-award-winning film of the same name. In 2020, a Netflix adaptation of Rebecca, starring Lily James and Armie Hammer, was also released.

Jamaica Inn (1936)

Jamaica Inn (1936) by Daphne du Maurier
Jamaica Inn (1936) by Daphne du Maurier

The story follows Mary Yellan, a young woman who finds herself entangled in the dark secrets of the infamous Jamaica Inn after going to live with her aunt Patience and her menacing husband, Joss Merlyn. As Mary delves deeper into the illicit activities taking place at the inn, including smuggling and murder, she becomes determined to uncover the truth and bring justice to those responsible. Along the way, she forms a complex relationship with Jem, Joss’s enigmatic brother, blurring the lines between trust and suspicion.

Best known for its evocative portrayal of the atmospheric and treacherous world of smuggling in 19th-century Cornwall, the novel features a gripping narrative, suspenseful plot, and a strong sense of place. It is famous for its gothic atmosphere, vivid descriptions of the desolate moors, and the intense feeling of imminent danger evident throughout the story. Jamaica Inn is a thrilling tale of intrigue, betrayal, and the indomitable spirit of its courageous protagonist as she unravels the secrets of the infamous inn. Alfred Hitchcock also adapted this Du Maurier novel in 1939, starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. 

The Rendezvous and Other Stories (1980)

This collection of fourteen short stories features a diverse range of stories spanning different genres, from haunting gothic tales to psychological thrillers and mysteries. In The Birds, Du Maurier explores the eerie and unsettling presence of birds as they inexplicably turn against humanity. Another short story, Don’t Look Now, takes readers on a suspenseful journey through the winding canals of Venice as a grieving couple encounters a series of chilling and supernatural events. Lastly, The Blue Lenses shows a woman who wakes up from eye surgery to discover a horrifying reality where people’s true natures are revealed through the lenses of her glasses.

Each story is masterfully woven with richly developed characters, atmospheric settings, and unexpected twists. The Rendezvous and Other Stories offer a captivating exploration of human nature, delving into themes of love, desire, betrayal, and the complexities of relationships. With stories like The Birds, Don’t Look Now, and The Blue Lenses, Du Maurier delivers a thought-provoking exploration of human nature, fear, and the often unsettling realities lying beneath the surface of rationalism.

Why You Should Read Daphne du Maurier’s Works

Reading Daphne du Maurier’s works offers a captivating and immersive experience that spans multiple genres, leaving readers successfully engrossed across ages. Du Maurier’s novels and short stories are characterized by their atmospheric settings, complex characters, and compelling narratives that delve into the depths of human emotions and the mysteries of the human psyche. Her storytelling prowess is remarkable, weaving together intricate plots filled with suspense, unexpected twists, and a strong element of the gothic.

By diving into Du Maurier’s works, readers can eagerly anticipate fully realized and well–developed worlds where they will come across a unique blend of suspense, romance, and psychological exploration. This is a formula that Du Maurier mastered and made her own. Whether it’s the haunting atmosphere of Manderley in Rebecca, the treacherous world of smuggling in Jamaica Inn, or coming up against the supernatural in The Birds, Du Maurier’s stories deliver a stimulating and interesting journey. Readers can look forward to a captivating exploration of themes such as love, identity, obsession, and the enduring power of secrets. Du Maurier’s works have stood the test of time, having been read and appreciated by different generations of readers owing to their immense appeal. Her writings have undoubtedly left their mark on the world of literature. 

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