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The life of Daphne du Maurier
In London on May 13, 1907, Daphne du Maurier was the second of three daughters to be born into the du Maurier household. As the daughter of actor-manager, George du Maurier, and actress, Muriel Beaumont, du Maurier was exposed to both literary and artistic accomplishments at a very young age, making it no surprise that she too, would demonstrate an active imagination and love of reading very early on (Kelly). This exposure, along with her education in London and Paris, provided her with the knowledge and talent to write, which ultimately led to her first publication in Bystander Magazine, as well as a contract with a literary agent, as a teenager.
In years following, du Maurier published her first full-length novel, The Loving Spirit, which brought her immediate success as well as the romantic attention of Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick “Boy” Browning. After reading her novel, he sailed to Fowey to meet her and married her a year after the book’s publication date in 1932 (Daphne du Maurier Biography). The couple was married for thirty-three years, up until Browning’s death in 1965. Although the couple had three children together, Tessa, Flavia, and Christian, the marriage suffered some difficulties, due to du Maurier’s supposed secret bisexuality, although she denied the fact (Daphne du Maurier Biography). It wasn’t revealed until after her death in 1989, however, that du Maurier had participated in an extramarital affair with actress Gertrude Lawrence and had professed an attraction to Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher.
According to her biographer, Margaret Forster, du Maurier viewed herself as two distinct individuals: first a wife and mother, and second, a lover, comprised of male energy. These two “beings” inspired her creative process (Daphne du Maurier Biography).
Rebecca and Gender Roles
The novel Rebecca showcases a society that is very constrained by the typical gender roles of the time. Although at times quite subtle, this text explores a variety of gender roles, both for men and women. Rebecca was described by a few characters as being similar to a man. For example, when Mrs. Danvers speaks about Rebecca, she says "She had all the courage and spirit of a boy, had my Mrs. de Winter. She ought to have been a boy, I often told her that. I had the care of her as a child. You knew that, did you?" (18.118)In many ways, Rebecca is a character who rebels against the typical constraints given to women of the time. She has power in her relationship with Maxim, engages in atypical sexual activities, and behaves in a manner unlike a typical lady of her social standing. She was a woman bound by the rules of her society who found a way to act autonomously.