Books by Martyn Shallcross

Released: March 1, 1992

A bare-bones biography of the popular British author of Rebecca, etc. Born in 1907, du Maurier, Shallcross tells us, was educated at home. Her uncle, a magazine editor, published one of her stories when she was a teenager and got her a literary agent. Her second novel, Jamaica Inn, was bought for the movies, and young Alfred Hitchcock was asked to direct. Du Maurier's next novel, Rebecca, was her most resounding hit, with producer David Selznick hiring Hitchcock to make the movie and Laurence Olivier to star as Maxim de Winter. Casting de Winter's mousy second wife proved more difficult: Joan Fontaine finally beat out Margaret Sullavan and Anne Baxter. According to Shallcross, Fontaine and Olivier didn't get along (he'd wanted Vivien Leigh in the role), and a crucial element of the plot had to be changed to meet censorship codes. But the film won an Oscar, and even du Maurier was pleased with the adaptation. Married to a military man, she resided for years in the Cornish countryside she loved (and wrote about in Enchanted Cornwall, 1989), producing further novels and short stories (The Birds and Don't Look Now both being made into films) until her death in 1988. Here, Shallcross, who was a casual acquaintance toward the end of du Maurier's life, seems most interested in the movies, and the sections devoted to the making of the films (with which du Maurier had minimal involvement) are his most substantial and engrossing. But despite the title, little of the author's ``private world'' is revealed. There are suggestions that du Maurier's marriage was shaken by her husband's infidelities, but little of her style or personality emerges. Frustratingly slim pickings, even for devoted fans. (Illustrations—not seen.) Read full book review >