Which Daphne du Maurier Should I Read?

Which Daphne du Maurier should I read?

I missed the movie,  My Cousin Rachel.  How bewildering!  It couldn’t have been here long.

But, honestly, the only du Maurier novel I’ve loved is Rebecca.  I thought My Cousin Rachel very mediocre when I read it years ago. In fact, I didn’t find anything by du Maurier in the same class as Rebecca.

Lately there has been much hubub about du Maurier, due to the release of the new film. Both The New York Times and The Guardian have recently published excellent essays about her work.  In “In Praise of Daphne du Maurier” at The New York Times, Parul Sehgal writes,

I’ve never known a writer to make otherwise sensible, not especially bookish women chase down first editions “as investments”; to cling to, as my sister does, a childhood copy of “Frenchman’s Creek” in unspeakable condition. And then there’s my mother, whose indifference to convention, especially where child-rearing was concerned, reminds me very much of du Maurier. She taught me to read with her own battered copies of “Rebecca” and “My Cousin Rachel,” a book that begins with a corpse swinging from a gibbet and features, in short order, sexual obsession, attempted strangling and possible laudanum poisoning. It inspired my most exciting nightmares.

And at The Guardian, Julie Myerson is fascinating on  My Cousin Rachel: Daphne du Maurier’s take on the sinister power of sex.”

And though My Cousin Rachel – written in 1951 when Du Maurier was, arguably, at the height of her confidence and powers – might appear to be a simple did-she-didn’t-she thriller about Cornish estates and poisonings, it is absolutely and inescapably a novel about sex. Most specifically female sexuality: its ambiguity, its mystery and its potentially fatal – as perceived by men – power.

When Virago reissued du Maurier’s books, about a decade ago, many bloggers loved them.  As for me, I didn’t get beyond Jamaica Inn.

Occasionally feminist readers push both women’s classics and pop lit.  I do like good pop lit, but  I find du Maurier overrated.  Is it time for me to try The Glass Blowers again?  I didn’t get very far in that!

Or Hungry Hill?

Oh, I did like her biography of her father, Gerald:  A Portrait, so maybe I like her nonfiction!
But please recommend. I’m ready for the du Maurier reading experience.

8 thoughts on “Which Daphne du Maurier Should I Read?

  1. I’ve been reading DuMaurier this summer in order to teach The King’s General, which is a very good historical fiction (almost all the characters based on real people, the chief of whom left memoirs, all the events of war, treaty based on history, and Menabilly’s real history, which included a siege and sacking). All the members of the class enjoyed it, and I found it worthwhile. I loved her Gerald and think her book about Branwell good for the way she empathizes — that’s rare nowadays. Her life-writing can be superb, especially the letters. I found the novels uneven — I don’t care for the novels with male narrators as much, but the House on the Strand which moves from 14th to 20th century Cornwall (back and forth, time-traveling hero), The Scapegoat (where one character takes over the identity of another) are good. Her best are the best known: Jamaica Inn, KG, Rebecca and My cousin Rachel. Try it again — maybe after reading Margaret Forster’s superb biography (not to be missed — I love Forster) and watching the movie Daphne, based on this book, written by Amy Jenkins and directed by Clare Bevan: an important woman’s film, exploring how difficult it is to fulfill oneself personally and sexually if you are lesbian. Wonderful performances by Geraldine Somerville, Elizabeth McGovern and Janet McTeer (fine actress). Yes when I was young I’d read her avidly — not the passionate reader I was, but many women in my class (it was mostly woman) are just as you say: they will follow and read and show even studious interest in DuMaurier the way they rarely do others. I didn’t know about these publications just now, but I do recommend the film, also the 3 part mini-series of Jamaica Inn made in 2014 with Deborah Findlay Browne. I omitted two favorites: Vanishing Cornwall (more put together from her novels but interesting) Enchanted Cornwall. She’s another writer who came to Cornwall and it became a central imaginary place for her in her writing. I hope not too much information.

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    • Ellen, how brilliant of you to teach du Maurier! Virago made her more “respectable,” in my view, but she has always had masses of fans. I do have The House on the Strand.

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  2. I loved Rebecca My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica Inn. I vaguely remember reading Frenchman’s Creek but can’t it so have a copy to re-read one day. I did read Don’t Look Now a collection of stories which were superb. I should probably read more too.

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    • I have read the stories, and actually didn’t care for them much. But I’m determined to find one I can actually enjoy. She certainly wrote a lot!

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  3. I’ve read Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek. I also know the story of Jamaica Inn but I really disliked it. My favourite one is Frenchman’s Creek! Romance, adventure and pirates! 😊

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