DAPHNE DU MAURIER: HAUNTED HEIRESS by Nina Auerbach

DAPHNE DU MAURIER: HAUNTED HEIRESS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Last night I dreamed of . . . a Daphne du Maurier whose works were “startlingly brilliant,” peopled with “most unsavory” men and “defective” women, and whose exegesis here is shrouded in literary fog. In this inaugural volume in a new series of —Personal Takes,— Auerbach (history and literature/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Our Vampires, Ourselves, 1995, etc.) begins with an interesting enough thesis: that the prolific du Maurier (17 novels, 6 biographies, 2 plays, and a dozen collections of articles and stories), now best known for the Alfred Hitchcock movie versions of her novel Rebecca and her sinister short story “The Birds,” is unfairly categorized as a writer of “romances” in which suffering heroines fall into the arms of masterful males and live happily ever after. In fact, in tales with male narrators like The Scapegoat and “Hungry Hill” (among the author’s favorites), her protagonists are killers, albeit otherwise dependent and inadequate men; the women, however feisty they may seem, are destined to have “something gone wrong inside,” whether it be uterine cancer (Rebecca) or paralysis (The King’s General). As if that weren’t depressing enough, novels are further described as “unabashedly dull” (The Glassblowers) or “grim” (Jamaica Inn), and du Maurier herself as —weird.— The influence of du Maurier’s family (which included her grandfather George, the popular author of Trilby and creator of Svengali, whose literary talent Daphne is “heiress” to), plus themes of incest, lesbianism, anti-Semitism, and “boyishness” (viz. Peter Pan), are analyzed at length. The discussion is frequently muddled and contradictory (at different points, du Maurier was and was not influenced by the Brontâ sisters). A concluding chapter revisits the films, especially Hitchcock’s, excoriating most of them for reducing intense and often ugly emotional conflicts to clichéd romance. A valiant but unconvincing effort to resuscitate du Maurier to literary respectability.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8122-3530-4
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: Univ. of Pennsylvania
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1999




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