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Daphne Du Maurier, Haunted Heiress [Hardcover]

Nina Auerbach
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

June 27 2002 Personal Takes
With the wit and intelligence, Nina Auerbach examines the writer of depth and recklessness now largely known only as the author of Rebecca. Auerbach's Daphne du Maurier is the author of sixteen other novels, along with biographies, articles, plays, memoirs, and short stories. Where other readers have become absorbed by Rebecca, Auerbach finds greater fascination in novels such as The Scapegoat, The House on the Strand, and My Cousin Rachel, books whose protagonists are troubled, even murderous, men succumbing to the haunting of previous generations. Du Maurier herself was haunted by her father, Gerald, creator of the role of Captain Hook in Peter Pan, and grandfather, George, the popular illustrator and best-selling novelist of Trilby. Daphne du Maurier was the torchbearer of a stellar male line. Her own phrase for her secret self, "the boy in the box," hints at her sexual ambivalence and her alienation from the prescribed roles for women of her day.

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From Library Journal

In an engaging prose style, Auerbach, a scholar of Victorian and feminist studies, reveals her literary passion for du Maurier, which started at age 12 while she was attending summer camp. She devotes a chapter to du Maurier's familyAher grandfather, novelist George du Maurier, and her father, actorAmanager Gerald du Maurier-and how these strong men were reflected in her fiction, turning her novels and stories into a reaction against her male heritage. Auerbach also examines film versions of du Maurier's work, revealing how Hitchcock and others romanticized the dark vision of Rebecca and other fictions. While the critic's emphasis on the gloomy side of du Maurier may turn off some potential readers, she does succeed in her aim of rescuing her chosen author from the label of "romantic writer." For undergraduate and large public library collections.AMorris Hounion, New York City Technical Coll., Brooklyn
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

Last night I dreamed of . . . a Daphne du Maurier whose works were ``startlingly brilliant,'' peopled with ``most unsavory'' men and ``defective'' women, and whose exegesis here is shrouded in literary fog. In this inaugural volume in a new series of Personal Takes, Auerbach (history and literature/Univ. of Pennsylvania; Our Vampires, Ourselves, 1995, etc.) begins with an interesting enough thesis: that the prolific du Maurier (17 novels, 6 biographies, 2 plays, and a dozen collections of articles and stories), now best known for the Alfred Hitchcock movie versions of her novel Rebecca and her sinister short story ``The Birds,'' is unfairly categorized as a writer of ``romances'' in which suffering heroines fall into the arms of masterful males and live happily ever after. In fact, in tales with male narrators like The Scapegoat and ``Hungry Hill'' (among the author's favorites), her protagonists are killers, albeit otherwise dependent and inadequate men; the women, however feisty they may seem, are destined to have ``something gone wrong inside,'' whether it be uterine cancer (Rebecca) or paralysis (The King's General). As if that weren't depressing enough, novels are further described as ``unabashedly dull'' (The Glassblowers) or ``grim'' (Jamaica Inn), and du Maurier herself as weird. The influence of du Maurier's family (which included her grandfather George, the popular author of Trilby and creator of Svengali, whose literary talent Daphne is ``heiress'' to), plus themes of incest, lesbianism, anti-Semitism, and ``boyishness'' (viz. Peter Pan), are analyzed at length. The discussion is frequently muddled and contradictory (at different points, du Maurier was and was not influenced by the Bront sisters). A concluding chapter revisits the films, especially Hitchcock's, excoriating most of them for reducing intense and often ugly emotional conflicts to clichd romance. A valiant but unconvincing effort to resuscitate du Maurier to literary respectability. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Most helpful customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Du Maurier - More Than Just Escapist Fiction March 5 2003
Format:Paperback
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.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Du Maurier - More Than Just Escapist Fiction March 5 2003
By Diana F. Von Behren - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
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.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Long overdue appreciation July 11 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is a great complement to du Maurier's fiction. Auerbach has written a very personal account of du Maurier's life and its relation to her writing. I liked the intimate tone of the book, as if you were talking to Auerbach over coffee; there is nothing over-blown or haughty. Auerbach's analysis of how du Maurier's stories were (mis-)adapted for film is brilliant, as well as Auerbach's discussion about du Maurier's sexuality and prejudices. Quite enjoyable.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revealing, absorbing study April 26 2001
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Du Maurier is the author of almost twenty novels, articles, plays, memoirs and short stories; yet is known for a relatively limited handful of popular works. Daphne Du Maurier: Haunted Heiress analyzes her lesser-known volumes and their characters, providing a strong literary analysis of metaphors in her writing, and ethnic and social observations of her choices and times. The result is a revealing, absorbing study.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars This Is Not A Biography Aug. 16 2004
By La Pluma - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
If you are looking for a biography on Daphne Du Maurier, I would not recommend Haunted Heiress. This is a rambling, free form work of literary criticism. You would do better to check this book out from the library rather than paying the steep price.

You can learn more about the story of Du Maurier's life by doing a web search.

Also, if you are interested in visuals, there are none in Haunted Heiress, save for the cover. The text did conjure up some mental images of Ms. Auerbach, though... (narcissistic, cranky, and snobbish) but none of Daphne Du Maurier.

I did very much appreciate Ms. Auerbach's observations on Du Maurier's affinity for the way men can live their lives, with more freedom and flexibility.

I wish Ms. Auerbach would have done more research on Du Maurier's life and interwoven it with her pop-up thoughts on this book or that.
8 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars HAUNTED HEIRESS - a pretentious work May 4 2000
By Linda Stockham - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Although the HAUNTED HEIRESS attempts to instill in the reader the notion that Daphne du Maurier's works do not fall into the "romance" genre, she fails to convenience the reader of this. Even drawing comparisons to du Maurier's grandfather and contrasts to the great Brontës, all is lost in her attempt to move Daphne du Maurier out of this shallow genre and into one of a more academically acceptable category. Her supportive arguments are grotesquely silly and oftentimes clouded by an awkward, pompous writing style.
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