The dream of Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier

“Houses are not like marriages… one cannot just walk out and leave them,” british author Daphne du Maurier once said. And she even admitted that she loved Menabilly, a dilapidated country house in Cornwall that she lived in, more than people.

Alexandria (Egypt), fall 1937: Daphne du Maurier is 30 years old, a writer, the wife of army major Frederick ‘Tommy’ Browning , a young mother—and she’s feeling homesick. She went—like a good wife—with her husband, when his battalion was sent to Egypt, but she doesn’t like it at all. She suffers from the heat, the social interaction with fellow expats is hard for her and, worst of all, she can’t write there.

She doesn’t long for her daughters Tessa (4) and baby Flavia (3 months old) who have been housed with granny in the UK, but more for rain and wind, and especially for Menabilly, the country house in Cornwall that she has lost her heart to. Out of homesickness, and partly out of jealousy over a former girlfriend of Tommy’s, the book springs forth that will make Daphne famous: Rebecca.

After the legendary first sentence, ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’, it almost seems to write itself. When the couple leave Egypt in mid-December, Daphne has already written a third of her book. After another three months, the book is finished. Rebecca is an immediate hit at the time of publishing in 1938. Within a month, 40,000 copies are sold in the UK; three years, later it is almost a million. Daphne is a star; she is asked to give interviews and for signatures—things she doesn’t particularly enjoy. But Rebecca is also her ticket to the main prize: Menabilly.

  • The full story ‘A woman with the soul of a boy’ can be found in Issue 29.

Text Liddie Austin  Photography Getty Images