Auerbach, a professor of literature at University of Pennsylvania, dazzles the reader with her fascination for the writings of Daphne Du Maurier, the writer unfortunately best known for the so-called Gothic novel, 'Rebecca'and various film adaptations like Hitchcock's 'The Birds' and Roeg's 'Don't Look Now'.
As a young summer camp participant in the early 50s, Auerbach found herself both entranced by Du Maurier's vicious protagonists and repulsed by her label as a 'romantic' writer of escapist woman's fiction. Her analysis of Du Maurier's work vehemently disputes Du Maurier's dismissal by critics; Auerbach finds her male centered stories brimming with fully drawn characters that derive their strength from a violent/murderous reaction to the females who enter their lives. Du Maurier's female narrators (1st person or otherwise) depend upon their omnipotent male counterparts for identity; the so-called romances of Rebecca, Jamaica Inn and Frenchman's Creek are not driven by love as they are erroneously depicted in the corresponding movie adaptations, but revolve around the transition of the female acquiescing to the strength of the male and becoming dependent on him for identity and definition. These female protagonists, like Du Maurier, herself, initially possess the characteristics of young boys and only become women by losing their independence. Above all, Auerbach describes Du Maurier's haunted inheritance: the necessity of keeping of her heritage alive as initiated by her grandfather George, author of 'Trilby' and her actor father ,Gerald.
This is not a biography of Daphne Du Maurier, but rather a literary critique of her many novels and fantastic short stories. As it relates to Du Maurier's fiction, Auerbach eludes to Du Maurier's penchant towards lesbianism, citing Margaret Forster's book, "Daphne Du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller" as her source. She analyzes the movie adaptations, finding Hitchcock's 'Rebecca', 'Jamaica Inn' and 'The Birds' inferior to the original thoughts as penned by the author, herself.
As I have found myself compelled over the years to reread Daphne Du Maurier's lesser known masterpieces, like 'The House on the Strand', 'The Scapegoat', and 'My Cousin Rachel', I fully understand Auerbach's fascination with the author and the strange almost spellbinding hold she has over her readers. I recommend this book to anyone who has been under the Du Maurier spell and realizes that she is much, much more than just a escapist romance writer. Like Patricia Highsmith, her amoral comments on male/female relationships wickedly define the 20th century.