On this day in 1907 Daphne du Maurier was born. She was raised in London, but du Maurier always wrote as if her true home were Cornwall, and her true birthday that of September 14th, 1926, the day when she first saw Fowey harbor and entered "the gateway to another world." At Ferryside, the family's first summer home, du Maurier wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit; many others were written at Menabilly, the abandoned mansion which she and her husband rented for decades, spending a small fortune on its restoration.
As recalled in her memoir, Enchanted Cornwall, du Maurier first viewed Menabilly not as it was, a mansion closed up and in slow ruin, but one "bathed in a strange mystery. She held a secret -- not one, not two, but many -- that she withheld from many people but would give to one who loved her well." Thus the well-known beginning of Rebecca, a decade later:
Last night I dreamed I went to Manderlay again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited. . . .
This most famous of her books was written while du Maurier was living in Egypt, her husband an army officer posted there. The critics make much of this, the idea being that du Maurier brought mid-eastern heat and an exotic, psychological labyrinth to the Cornish landscape. The tortured emotions and mysterious goings-on, they say, make the book a masterpiece of "modern Gothic," full of such longings, lockings-away and "dynamic multivalent alterity" as women can best appreciate.
When Dame du Maurier died in 1989, the family authorized her biography, giving Margaret Forster full access to all letters and documents. Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller (1993) caused quite a stir with the idea that the locked rooms, raging passions and thwarted dreams of the fiction were rooted in the life: her father, the famous actor-theater manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, trying to cast his daughter first as his son and then as his virgin; her early belief that she was indeed a boy; her covert bisexuality; her ambivalent motherhood; her unhappy marriage and her affairs with men and women while in it.
Whatever the psycho- or literary analysis, du Maurier has done for Cornwall what Hardy did for Wessex: "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. And in return I gave them something of myself a few of my novels passing into the folk-lore of this ancient place." The prestigious du Maurier Festival of the Arts and Literature is held in or about Fowey every year around her birthday.