Daphne du Maurier may be most familiar to American readers as the author of Rebecca, the mysterious novel first published in 1938 and widely read to this day. Indeed, in addition to her many family dramas—she published over ten novels and several short story collections in her lifetime—du Maurier was a prolific writer of the supernatural; her short stories “The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now" each led to their own spooky movie adaptations. Working in a space between earthly drama and otherworldly suspense, du Maurier successfully heightened the effects and appeal of each genre. These seven books represent du Maurier’s particular and inimitable blend of mystery, Gothicism, romance, and the supernatural.
Considered by most to be Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece, Rebecca was deeply influenced by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. Both novels feature narrators who believe they are the victims of a supernatural haunting. Yet the truth is far darker. The nameless narrator of this novel finds that though her husband’s first wife Rebecca is dead, her memory very much lives on in his palatial estate and in the heart of her dedicated housekeeper Mrs. Danvers. Can the second Mrs. de Winter discover what happened to the first–and prevent the same from happening to her?
Is there anything more terrifying than meeting your doppelgänger? The answer is yes: The only thing more terrifying is being replaced by him. John, a professor in French history is on break in France when he meets a Frenchman who looks exactly like him. After a night of debauchery the man disappears, and John finds he can easily slip into his life. But soon, John realizes that a man desperate to flee his own life has a reason or two for doing so … In 1959, The Scapegoat was made into a movie starring Sir Alec Guinness as both John and Jean. In 2012, The Americans’ Matthew Rhys took on the same double part.
My Cousin Rachel
If you loved Rebecca, but have not yet picked up My Cousin Rachel, take this as your cue. Another heightened Gothic romance/mystery, the titular cousin Rachel arrives at Philip Ashley’s estate after the death of her husband, Ambrose. Ambrose, who was long Philip’s foster parent, has died under suspicious circumstances–and yet, Philip cannot stop himself from being drawn to the enigmatic Rachel.
The Birds: and Other Stories
Du Maurier’s long story, “The Birds”, set in Cornwall after WWII tells of a farm community that is suddenly under an attack by birds. Modern critics have pointed out that the aerial attacks of the Birds are eerily similar to Britain’s bombardment by the Germans in the war. Alfred Hitchcock used the story as the source material for his 1963 film of the same name. This collection contains a number of strange and unsettling stories, including “Kiss Me Again, Stranger,” in which a man meets a cinema usher girl and follows her home—to the cemetery.
A rather decrepit hotel called the Jamaica Inn is the center of this 1936 novel by Daphne du Maurier. Like Rebecca, it was also adapted into a film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock. Set in du Maurier’s beloved Cornwall on the southwest coast of England, the young Mary Yellan’s mother’s dying wish was that she go to Jamaica Inn. Once there, Mary discovers disturbing truths about the inn, her family, and shipwrecks along the Cornish coast.
Don't Look Now: and Other Stories
Nicolas Roeg’s horrifying 1973 film of the same title is based on du Maurier’s short story, published in 1971. “Don’t Look Now” follows a grieving couple as they travel to Venice in the wake of the death of their young daughter. Nearly all of the other stories in this collection have a supernatural bent, including “Not After Midnight,” the British title of the collection, which tells of a teacher that meets an American couple who instruct him to visit them in their room, but “not after midnight”.
The House on the Strand
As any reader of science fiction knows, time travel is dangerous. In this 1969 novel by du Maurier, a man finds he has successfully concocted a potion that allows him to travel back in time to the 14th century. Wishing to escape from the travails of his modern life, Dick Young finds himself returning to protect Isolda from the jealous vengeance of a neighboring wife. Dick’s grasp on reality–and our own–fades as the novel continues, leaving readers with many questions to ponder.
Featured photo of Daphne du Maurier: Alchetron