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Posts Tagged ‘daphne du maurier’

Fear of Heights

September 17, 2015 | by

From a 1952 edition of “Monte Verità.”


Those who go to the mountains must give everything. That’s all there is to it. —Daphne du Maurier, “Monte Verità”

Everest is opening in theaters across the country, bringing with it much CGI, apparently stunning vistas, and the sort of relaxation that can only come from knowing the worst from the outset. For those of us who like a different sort of thrill, I recommend another mountain-climbing story: Daphne du Maurier’s “Monte Verità.”

Originally collected in 1952’s The Apple Tree, “Monte Verità”—really a short novella—can now be found in Don’t Look Now and Other Stories, with a trenchant introduction by Patrick McGrath. “Monte Verità” is about mountain climbing and about spirituality and sexuality, any more than that would be giving it away. Writing about the story, the late Roger Dobson put it this way: Read More »

Inherit the Earth

September 18, 2014 | by


From Alfred Hitchcock’s film adaptation of Rebecca, 1940.

The moment of crisis had come, and I must face it. My old fears, my diffidence, my shyness, my hopeless sense of inferiority, must be conquered now and thrust aside. If I failed now I should fail forever.
―Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca

It must be wonderful to be one of those pedestrians who own the streets. To be one of those people who walks where he likes with Ratso Rizzo–like entitlement, or, better yet, is gracious enough to usher a car forward when, in fact, the car has the right of way. Such people, of course, never give a timid wave of appreciation—a tacit “thank you for not killing me”—when a car lets them cross.

It must be wonderful never to assume your name has been left off the list, or that your card will be declined. It must be wonderful not to have the moment of anxiety, every time you pass through automatic doors, that they will not open. It must be wonderful not to cry every time someone slights you, and feel bruised for days afterward. It must be wonderful to be Rebecca de Winter, rather than her nameless successor.

Whether you consider Rebecca escapist fun, or an uneasy picture of the Electra complex run amok, or a masterpiece of Gothic storytelling, one thing is for sure: du Maurier paints one of the most accurate portraits of shyness in all of English literature. The narrator has none of Jane Eyre’s reserves and mysterious poise, none of the position and dignity of Jane Austen’s uncomfortable heroes. She is instead consumed by the particularly agonizing egotism that is shyness: a paralyzing self-consciousness that is reinforced by every slight, every harsh word, every reaction of the world, real and perceived. (I suppose I should add a spoiler alert here, for those unfamiliar with the plot of Rebecca.) Read More »

Charmed Objects

August 25, 2014 | by


An example of a Phantom Shelf. Credit: EM Photography

People talk about a “Keeper Shelf” for those books they love more than any others. Those which, I suppose, are worth owning in this time when owning a physical book means something more than it once did. (Or, as much as it once did.) For my money, though, there is no better proof of love for a title than not owning it—that is to say, having given it away. Call it the Phantom Shelf.

When my coffers are in a particularly robust state, I will sometimes indulge in the extravagance of replenishing those favorite books I am most inclined to give away. It is always the same few—titles that I need to share with someone like-minded, right now!—and by the same token, those which I always miss when they are gone. Read More »


Staff Picks: Desert Bus, Desert Islands, du Maurier

August 15, 2014 | by


Desert Bus

Desert Bus (1995) has gained a reputation as the worst video game ever made, but as an act of culture jamming—and a comment on a medium that often panders to our basest fantasies—it’s probably the best video game ever made. Conceived by the illusionists Penn and Teller, of all people, and intended for release on the short-lived Sega CD console, Desert Bus never reached shelves, but its concept is so staggeringly mundane (“stupefyingly like reality,” as Penn Jillette puts it) that someone eventually saw fit to leak it. Your goal is to drive a bus from Tucson to Las Vegas: an eight-hour journey, conducted in real time. Is there any traffic to negotiate? No. Can you pause the game? No. Are there even passengers on the bus? No. Can you speed, at least? No. You can’t go any faster than forty-five miles an hour, and your bus always lists to the right, so you have to be vigilant in steering—no falling asleep at the wheel. If you veer off course, the bus will stall and you’ll have to wait for a tow truck to bring you back to Tucson, a humiliating defeat that also unfolds in real time. For the successful completion of this arduous journey, the player receives … one point. Then you get to make the return trip, another eight hours, for another point. Today, Desert Bus is available on smartphones for a mere ninety-nine cents, meaning it’s possible to drive the virtual bus from Tucson to Vegas while you’re on a real bus from Tucson to Vegas. The existential despair induced by such a pursuit may well sunder our universe—but it would be so cool. —Dan Piepenbring

Picking up a paper this morning, it suddenly struck me that Napoleon (whose 245th birthday falls today) must be one of the few people who actually experienced that age-old question: “If you were stranded on a desert island, what would you read?” Confined to the (not quite desert) island of St. Helena, Napoleon’s top ten included Homer’s The Iliad, Milton’s Paradise Lost, and Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex. But according to his biographer, Vincent Cronin, Napoleon’s number one was Paul et Virginie, an eighteenth-century love story by Bernardin de Saint-Pierre in which the heroine is sent to be educated in France and (spoiler alert) drowns in a shipwreck on her way back to Mauritius. Napoleon allegedly loved anything that resonated with his own position—anything featuring, that is, an exile, a separation from a lover, or a life of confinement. How interesting that, in a situation that seems to cry out for the use of literature as escapism, he found release in books of captivity. —Helena Sutcliffe

Sadie Stein recently turned me on to Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel, My Cousin Rachel. As you might guess from the title, this later book shares certain ingredients with du Maurier’s 1938 blockbuster, Rebecca. There’s a grand estate in Cornwall, a suspicious death, an innocent orphan, and a femme fatale. In My Cousin Rachel, however, we get to meet the lady in question: a Cornish-Italian beauty with a shady past. Also, the orphan is a man, a twenty-four-year old virgin in love with the memory of his dead male cousin … who looked exactly like him. In Rebecca, du Maurier invented a genre—romantic suspense. My Cousin Rachel is a creepier, campier book. What makes both novels convincingly romantic, and actually suspenseful, isn’t their lurid plots, but how well du Maurier depicts the fear of abandonment. That’s what scares her protagonists—that they might lose the mysterious, dangerous love objects who have put them in touch with their own loneliness. As Sadie warned me, My Cousin Rachel is no Rebecca. But it’s close. —Lorin Stein

Some years ago, I bought a copy of The Song of Igor’s Campaign, translated by Bill Johnston, from Ugly Duckling Presse at the New York Art Book Fair, but I never got around to reading it until now. I wanted the chapbook for its content, but also for its materials. It’s a small, limited-edition letterpress booklet: the thick cotton cover, hand torn by Johnston, is covered with ink-blue birds in flight, a photolithograph by Yulya Deych; and the pages are bound with red cord. It’s more treasure than book, which is fitting for the story it holds. Composed sometime in the late twelfth century (though some claim the poem is a fabrication from the eighteenth century), the Song describes Prince Igor of Chernigov’s campaign, in 1185, against the nomadic Polovtsians, who roam the steppes. Things go poorly for Igor, but the tale overlays action sequences, both thrilling and terrible, with descriptions of the natural world, to stunning effect, as when Igor escapes from captivity:

Prince Igor leapt into the reeds
With the agility of an ermine,
Like a white duck into the wear.
Then he leapt up on his swift horse
And down again, running like the whitefoot wolf.
He hurtled towards the Donets meadows,
Soaring like a falcon beneath the mists,
Killing geese and slaying swans
For morning, noon, and evening meals.

Nicole Rudick
Read More »


Literary Stockings, Keats’s Addiction

September 27, 2012 | by

  • In honor of T. S. Eliot’s birthday, here is a manuscript page of “Virginia.”
  • Beatrix Potter’s family recipes go on the auction block: no rabbit, but she does instruct the reader how to prepare turkey.
  • Wearable words for the bookish dresser.
  • A new biography claims that John Keats was an opium addict.
  • The embattled Rebecca musical is finally starting rehearsals.
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    Letter from Portugal: To a Portuguese Nun

    September 18, 2012 | by

    Around the sixth day of my trip to Portugal, I forced myself to accept the fact that I would not be returning home with vast quantities of convent-made lingerie, replete with handwork and bobbin lace. Not, I assure you, for lack of trying. When something doesn’t exist, as a hundred thousand visitors to Loch Ness will tell you, finding it makes for very tough work.

    Why the obsession, you ask? Well, I will tell you. First, I happened to reread Rebecca just before we left. Do you remember when Mrs. Danvers shows the narrator Rebecca’s exquisite nightdress, folded and left waiting for her in a silk case? “Here is her nightdress … how soft and light it is, isn’t it? … They were specially made by nuns of St. Claire.” This alone would have been enough to fire my imagination: this one garment, after all, serves as a symbol of Rebecca’s unattainable perfection: delicate, beautiful, worthy not merely of the most exquisite things but of the work it entails. Somehow both ethereally pure and erotically charged. A sex goddess blessed by Brides of Christ. No wonder the nameless narrator is intimidated.

    Then, flipping through D.V., I ran across the passage wherein Mrs. Vreeland describes her London lingerie atelier:

    The most beautiful work was done in a Spanish convent in London, and that’s where I spent my time. There was a brief period in my life when I spent all my time in convents. I was never not on my way to see the mother superior for the afternoon. “I want it rolled!” I’d say. “I don’t want it hemmed, I want it r-r-r-rolled!”

    And a conviction grew in my breast: I would return to New York with a wearable piece of the Old World. Read More »