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.

Have English Writers Gone Crazy on the Subject of Genre Fiction?

Have English writers gone crazy on the subject of genre fiction?

Are they genre-centric and campy?

Or is it simply that they no longer distinguish between literature and pop fiction?

I recently read in The Guardian two very odd articles.

1. Elizabeth Edmondson, an Oxford-educated author of historical novels and historical and contemporary romantic comedies, claims it is nonsense to say Jane Austen wrote literary fiction.


2.  Julie Myerson, an award-winning novelist and columnist, says Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn is more than just genre fiction.

May I just say, Good God!

emma jane austen penguinIt has not escaped me in my eclectic reading life that Jane Austen is one of the greatest writers in the English language.  Reading Emma was a revelation in my teens.  I have never laughed so hard, nor so identified with a heroine.

Emma is appealing not just because she is “handsome, clever, and rich.”  I understood completely why she preferred doing girl stuff with her friend Harriet–drawing portraits and and chatting whimsically while walking past Mr. Elton’s house–to practicing piano like Jane Fairfax, the bright, prissy, good girl she is supposed to befriend.  (It was not until many years later, when I joined a women’s group online, that I discovered that many fans think Emma is bitchy.  She is far less bitchy than Lizzie Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, who falls for Darcy only after she sees his property.)

Edmondson dislikes the term “literary fiction,” which she calls “lit fic,” and insists Austen’s books would never have been classified “lit fic” list had she published s today.

Edmondson writes,

Austen never for a moment imagined she was writing Literature. Posterity decided that – not her, not John Murray, not even her contemporary readership. She wrote fiction, to entertain and to make money.

Some might contend that Austen did not write “lit fic,” and, indeed, she can be read on many levels.  But surely we maintain that her witty, harshly satiric, yet also conservative novels about marriage and money are classics, far superior to the books of her contemporaries, Maria Edgeworth and Fanny Burney?

Let’s face it:  Austen wrote literary fiction.

And then there is the other article.

Julie Myerson reread Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn just in time for her enjoyable article to be published in The Guardian before a TV adaptation.

Back in 1974, I’m sure I read this novel as an adventure yarn, a tale of smugglers, wreckers and the perilous exploits of a bold, shawl-wrapped heroine on a vast and desolate landscape. And it is, of course, all of those things. But the book I just re‑read is also something else much larger and darker: a disturbingly timeless evocation of domestic abuse, binge-drinking, criminality and the mass killing of men, women and children. Most startlingly of all, it sets out to explore evil in its purest and most chilling form.

Not the Virago cover...

Not the Virago cover…

This is all very well, but there is one problem: it’s trash.  I read it five or six years ago, when I still was starry-eyed over English bloggers, who, alas, I learned after reading several of their blog entries, were not necessarily working for Virago, but gave rave reviews indiscriminately to all books labeled VMC (Virago Modern Classics).

Rebecca is stunning, a classic,  but it is the only stunning novel du Maurier wrote.

And so it goes with The Guardian.  Always fun to read, but really…sometimes they go too far.