Don’t Look Now

13 Sep

Although Daphne du Maurier is remembered as one of the finest novelists of the twentieth century, she is in many ways an unlikely success story. Daughter of the famous actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, Daphne was educated at home in London, and then in Paris, before writing her first novel in 1931. Three others followed before Rebecca, in 1938, made her one of the most popular authors of the day (much to her own surprise). Nearly all her fifteen novels have been bestsellers, and several of her works became successful films, notably the version of Rebecca starring Laurence Olivier, and the chilling adaptations of her short stories The Birds and Don’t Look Now. Daphne herself was made a dame in 1969, in recognition of her unique achievement of writing novels that were both popular and literary classics. What merits her mention on this website is that she has been credited with shifting the Gothic mode towards romantic fiction with her novels, which were built on the work of the Bronte sisters and inspired a genre that has flourished ever since.

For many years Daphne was one of the most popular novelists in the English-speaking world, with her tales of atmosphere, suspense and melodramatic situations, a trait that she may well have developed as the grand-daughter of George du Maurier, author of Trilby (1894). She grew up in her father Gerald’s world of theatrical excess, yet found her own way in the rugged isolation and mystery of Cornwall, where she wrote a series of hugely successful novels, especially the Gothic fiction that followed Rebecca, including Frenchman’s Creek (1941), Hungry Hill (1943) and Mary Anne (1954). Her short stories were equally impressive, notably The Pool, in which a typical du Maurier heroine, the pretty, sensitive young Deborah, on the verge of puberty, finds herself in a secret world of feelings and enchantment. As Daphne herself said of her own writing career: “something observed, something said, would sink into the hidden places of my mind and a story would form”. For example, The Birds is the story of a community attacked by strange flocks of seabirds, the inspiration for which came when the author saw a man plowing a field in her native Cornwall while seagulls were wheeling and diving above him.

The opening lines of Rebecca are among the most well known in all of literature: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”. The book has drawn noted parallels with Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, in particular the presence in both books’ of a sinister first wife. The character of Mrs Danvers – the terrifying housekeeper who is utterly devoted the memory of ‘the first Mrs de Winter’ – is also memorably chilling and has inspired Stephen King, among others (in Bag of Bones, Mrs Danvers serves as something of a boogeyman for the main character, Mike Noonan). Don’t Look Now is an immersive short story that inspired a true classic of horror cinema in 1973. A married couple travel to Venice following the recent accidental death of their daughter and encounter a clairvoyant who informs them that their daughter is trying to contact them to warn them of danger. The husband at first dismisses their claims, but starts to experience mysterious sightings himself. Renowned for its innovative editing style, and its use of recurring motifs and themes, the film often employs flashbacks and flashforwards in keeping with the depiction of precognition. Be warned though – its shock ending has been known to leave grown men gasping for breath.

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4 Responses to “Don’t Look Now”

  1. akrummenacker September 13, 2014 at 3:54 am #

    I never knew “The Birds” was one of her works. Now I’ve got get my hands on a copy. I loved “Rebecca”. Her skill at creating atmosphere is still amazing to me.

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