Five Fascinating Facts About… Daphne du Maurier

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Compiled by Annabel

Ali at her blog, Heavenali, is hosting Daphne du Maurier reading week from May 13-19, so we’re joining in.

Jamaica Inn

One:  Jamaica Inn, the setting for her famous novel of 1936, sits high on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. It was built in 1750 as a coaching inn and was a stopping-off place for many a smuggler. Du Maurier stayed there in 1930, and when out riding with her friend Foy Quiller-Couch got lost in the fog – but their horses returned them safely. This experience and hearing the tales of smuggling and ghosts associated with the inn inspired Daphne. These days, the lively inn is a famous tourist destination.

Two: Daphne was the first cousin of the Llewelyn Davies boys who were the inspiration for J.M.Barrie’s Peter Pan. The boys’ mother was Sylvia, the sister of Daphne’s father Gerald du Maurier.

Three: Alfred Hitchcock adapted three of her works into films – he adapted no other author more than once. Rebecca and The Birds are absolute classics, Jamaica Inn less so. The Birds (1963) was Hitchcock’s next film after the huge success of Psycho, he took Daphne’s short story, published in 1958, and ran with it, changing almost everything, moving it from Cornwall to California and the farming community is changed to the socialite meeting a lawyer in a bird shop. Daphne got her inspiration for the story watching gulls following a tractor ploughing, wondering what they’d do if they lost interest in worms.[1]

Four: From 1943-69, Daphne leased Menabilly, the ancestral seat of the Rashleigh family, restoring the house which she found in a dilapidated state. Menabilly, along with Milton Hall near Peterborough was one of the inspirations for ‘Manderley’ in Rebecca (1938), (she knew the house before she lived there).  Menabilly, like Manderley, isn’t visible from the shore, nor the road (I’ve driven past!) and remains private, although two cottages on the estate can be rented.

Five: The du Maurier family indulged in having many nicknames for each other – Daphne was known as Bing, Track and Tray. They also had a private language of codewords: for example, to cliff was to chuck out or ignore and jam-along meant easy going or informal. It included many euphemisms such as Robert for the curse, and Venetian [2] for a lesbian.


The Daphne du Maurier website provided invaluable information

[1] Neil Sinyard on Film – Daphne du Maurier and Alfred Hitchcock, 2013

[2] Daphne’s Unruly Passions by Kate Kellaway, The Observer, 15 April 2007

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Annabel is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.