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“She was my first, and last,” he tells us, but has his inexperience made him vulnerable to her wiles or liable to fevered obsession and delusions? For a long time I felt sure that the verdict would go against Rachel, both because the circumstances of Ambrose’s death certainly seemed suspicious and because the novel seemed tilted against women’s power to disrupt men’s bluff tranquility.Then it dawned on me, rather belatedly, that I was taking Philip too much at his word, or at least taking his point of view too much for granted, something he had, after all, warned me about right at the beginning!Telling the stories through different voices, she has an amazing sense of suspense and a great capacity to carry you along and surprise you.”Daphne’s short stories are notable for their inventiveness and Taylor explains: “Her short stories in particular take the genre of horror into new realms.
To date her novels, stories and plays have been turned into 12 film adaptations (including a 1952 adaptation of My Cousin Rachel starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton), and 40-plus TV dramas.
With most of her stories set in the Cornish countryside where she lived, the wild landscape is as much a character in her books as the people themselves. Professor Helen Taylor, of the University of Exeter, is an expert on du Maurier and author of The Daphne du Maurier Companion.“She is an extremely good storyteller,” says Taylor. She has weak narrators, unreliable narrators, narrators of whom you are not sure about their sanity, stability or reliability.“My Cousin Rachel is a good example of that but so is Rebecca.
Manderley, the Gothic mansion in Rebecca, was inspired by Menabilly, the house on the Cornish coast where du Maurier lived for 26 years.
Her dedication to the Cornish landscape is summed up in this quote, “I walked this land with a dreamer’s freedom and with a waking man’s perception – places, houses whispered to me their secrets and shared with me their sorrows and their joys.
Has he heroically resisted and survived one of the women his godfather warns him about, those who “impel disaster”?
Or has his own suspicious misogyny made him not a hero, not a victim, but a villain himself?
It wasn’t until he had his hands around Rachel’s throat, though, that I really saw how du Maurier had suckered me into complacency with the familiar trope of the : there, we figure out quite soon that Lucy is not as she seems, and the suspense comes from seeing who wins the cat-and-mouse game between her and Robert Audley.
That’s what I thought would happen here too — that Rachel’s malevolence would become clear and Philip would somehow have to fight and expose it — but how much less fun and original that would have been than what du Maurier does instead.
Her legacy continues this Friday with the release of a new film adaptation of My Cousin Rachel, starring Rachel Weisz as an enigmatic woman suspected of being behind the mysterious death of her husband.
Du Maurier’s dark romances have proved timeless and their perfect blend of moral complexity and Gothic drama made them ideal for the big screen.