Literary Daybook, May 13

Real and imaginary events of interest to readers.

By the Salon Books Editors
May 13, 2002 11:00PM (UTC)
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Today in fiction

On May 13, 1143, the bodies of Alexander, Egbert and Edgar of Wedderlie are found by two peasants.
-- "Cursed in the Blood" (1998)
by Sharan Newman

From "The Book of Fictional Days"
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Today in Literary History
On this day in 1907, Daphne du Maurier was born. She was raised in London and then Hampstead, but du Maurier always wrote as if her true home was Cornwall, and her true birthday that of Sept. 14, 1926, the day when she first saw Fowey harbor, and entered "the gateway to another world." At Ferryside, the family's first summer home, du Maurier wrote her first novel, "The Loving Spirit"; many others were written at Menabilly, the abandoned mansion she and her husband restored in 1943 and summered in for decades.

As recalled in her memoir, "Enchanted Cornwall," du Maurier's first viewing of Menabilly was not of a mansion closed up and in slow ruin but one "bathed in a strange mystery. She held a secret -- not one, not two, but many -- that she withheld from many people but would give to one who loved her well." Thus the beginning of her most famous novel, "Rebecca," a decade later:


"Last night I dreamed I went to Manderlay again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited ..."

As gothic romance and Hitchcock film, "Rebecca" has provided the anchor for du Maurier's reputation and done for Cornwall what Hardy did for "Wessex." The prestigious du Maurier Festival of the Arts and Literature is held in or about Fowey every year around her birthday.

When Dame du Maurier died in 1989, the family authorized her biography, giving Margaret Forster full access to all letters and documents. "Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller" (1993) caused quite a stir with the idea that the locked rooms, raging passions and thwarted dreams of the fiction were rooted in the life: her father, the famous actor-theater manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, trying to cast his daughter first as his son and then as his virgin; her early belief that she was indeed a boy; her covert bisexuality; her ambivalent motherhood; her unhappy marriage and her affairs with men and women while in it.


-- Steve King

To find out more about "Today in Literary History," e-mail Steve King.

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