In the latest in our series of #WonderWomen posts celebrating literary heroines, Maggie Mitchell tell us why she so admires Daphne Du Maurier
I discovered Daphne du Maurier on my mother’s bookshelves. Not among the cheap paperbacks whose covers featured lipsticked women and murderous objects (letter openers, pretty vials of poison), but in the company of respectable looking hardcover editions, their staid facades giving nothing away. But the titles! My Cousin Rachel. The King’s General. Frenchman’s Creek. Their allure was irresistible. I read them over and over — entertained wild romantic longings for rakish pirates, royalist rebels, brooding uxoricides; roamed the misty cliffs of a Cornwall no more or less real to me than Camelot.
Escapist nonsense? Romantic potboilers? I beg to differ! I’d argue that Rebecca’s nameless narrator rivals any other 20th-century heroine for complexity, and Rebecca herself is one of the great femmes fatales of all time. Ever since I first read Rebecca, the opening line — “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” — has had the power to conjure immediately for me a setting both sinister and alluring , a brilliant narrative web of fear, desire, and anxiety.
Daphne du Maurier wrote commercially successful novels that were also devilishly literary; she excelled at creating tortured yet sympathetic male characters (think The Scapegoat) as well as rebellious and unconventional heroines. Hitchcock’s film The Birds may be memorably menacing, and the mysterious red dwarf in Nicolas Roeg’s Don’t Look Now might haunt you forever — but Du Maurier gave us those terrifying stories, and we would do well to remember it.
Read our previous #WonderWomen posts from Fearne Cotton, Kate Williams and Veronica Henry and visit the W&N blog to read who comedian Isy Suttie chose as her literary heroine.
Maggie Mitchell’s novel Pretty Is is out now in paperback, ebook and audio