With its iconic opening line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”, Rebecca has become one of the most renowned works by du Maurier. Rebecca tells the story of an unnamed protagonist and her encounter and troubled marriage with Maxim de Winter. The central character later takes up residence with her new husband at the menacing Manderley mansion and is faced with an identity crisis through the obsessive adoration and comparison to Rebecca, her husband’s deceased wife. The novel contains a range of literary elements from romance to horror, which offers something for every taste. The novel represents a unique blend of a Cinderella story combined with psychological realism and is considered a major landmark in Gothic romance in the 20th century. Its gripping themes and skillful writing make it one of du Maurier’s most outstanding novels.
Jamaica Inn (1936)
Jamaica Inn is another prime example of du Maurier’s surreal atmospheres and Gothic romance elements. The novel focuses on the orphan Mary, who goes to live with her Aunt Patience and her terrifying Uncle Joss Merlyn, who is also the landlord of The Jamaica Inn. The mysteries surrounding the inn and her uncle’s dubious smuggling business draw the heroine ever deeper into danger. The Jamaica Inn, located in Cornwall, is not purely fiction and inspired du Maurier’s novel. It shows some of the author’s most skillful writing and her aptitude for combining various literary elements, using the ever-increasing tensions to create an explosive dénouement. Du Maurier’s uncanny knowledge of historical facts is visible throughout the story and gives it its particularly meaningful depth.
The Birds: Stories (1963)
Du Maurier’s The Birds is best known due to Hitchcock’s successful film adaption and was originally published in her short story collection The Apple Tree. The narrative is centered on the disabled farmer Nat Hocken and his attempts at defending his family from the hordes of aggressive birds that seek to invade his cottage. Few authors have managed to create such an increasingly menacing atmosphere which ultimately results in an unimaginable catastrophe. The sense of horror is increased through the focus on the family’s struggles, which appears to leave them defenseless from the apocalyptic flock of birds. Du Maurier’s themes reflect nature’s attack on humanity and allow the reader to fully comprehend the depth of her literary talent.
My Cousin Rachel (1951)
My Cousin Rachel bears similarities to Rebecca in its themes and can equally best be described as a mystery-romance novel. The novel focuses on Philip, who falls in love with his cousin Rachel and his increasing realisation that her affection is merely based on pretence in order to further her own interests. The story wraps the reader into its intricate webs of innocence and guilt, while leaving any judgment to the reader. The writing is more understated than Maurier’s other works and skilfully brings events full circle in its final chapters. Due to Philip’s constantly changing attitudes, it is impossible for the reader to ever fully comprehend Rachel and the mysterious events, leaving a persistent sense of uncertainty. My Cousin Rachel is further proof for du Maurier’s reputation as one of the most accomplished female authors of the early 20th century.
Frenchman’s Creek (1941)
Du Maurier’s historical novel follows the love affair between the adventurous English lady Dona and the French pirate Jean-Benoit Aubéry. The story is set in Cornwall during the reign of Charles II and is a further example of the author’s dream-like storytelling style. As in many of du Maurier’s works, the restriction of women in comparison with the freedom of men is among the central themes of the book and reflects her own shackled existence in accordance with societal expectations. Like many of her works, the novel is inspired by du Maurier’s seaside home, Frenchman’s Creek. The book is considered one of the best romance suspense novels of the time and grips the reader through Dona’s transformation from a high-born lady into a a wild, selfless woman.