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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 May 2007, 12:18 GMT 13:18 UK
Delving into Du Maurier's notebooks
By Jemima Laing
BBC News, South West

The archive gives a unique insight into Daphne Du Maurier's writing process

The birth of a classic novel is mostly a very private, hidden process.

Which is what makes looking at Daphne Du Maurier's notebooks in the Old Library at the University of Exeter all the more intriguing.

There is something undeniably magical about seeing the handwritten notes of the renowned writer whose centenary is being celebrated this year.

Du Maurier wrote 18 novels, many of which were set in her beloved Cornwall such as Jamaica Inn and Frenchman's Creek.

The archive offers a unique and surprising insight into the creative process and especially the evolution of Rebecca - arguably her most famous work.

It's wonderful to see how moved people are
Dr Jessica Gardner

The first surprise is to be found in the pages of a small blue exercise book and a set of notes - entitled "The rough start of Rebecca".

Written in pencil is the opening line "I do not think we will ever live in England again - that much is certain," quite different from the words which eventually started the book.

Next to the notebook is the original typescript of Rebecca, with that embryonic first line replaced by the now immortal "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again ..."

Daphne Du Maurier.Photograph  The Chichester Partnership
Daphne Du Maurier's papers have been at the university since 2001
That sentence has been described as among the most memorable lines in 20th Century literature.

The typescript itself is also spell-binding, littered with spelling mistakes and Du Maurier's own corrections.

Her family decided to place the archive at the university in 2001, the same year Dr Jessica Gardner, special collections librarian, took up her post.

She said she was attracted by the quality of the collection which - as well as being home to the Du Maurier papers - also holds manuscripts and documents from a number of other leading writers including Agatha Christie, Charles Causley and AL Rowse.

Dr Gardner is adamant the papers should not be left to languish in their temperature-controlled strong rooms but should instead be shared with fans and students alike.

"There is a sense of wonder when people see them, whether they are fans or whether they are being used for scholarship and to aid study."

And at Exeter that is exactly what they do.

Du Maurier notebooks photograph  The Chichester Partnership
The early notebooks reveal a different opening line for Rebecca
The archives are used by both undergraduates and post-graduates and Dr Gardner said students are keenly aware of the privilege of having access to such rare material.

"There is a seminar every year when undergraduates look at the adaptation from print to film of Rebecca.

"They can see right from the first jottings in a notebook to the film adaptation, you couldn't get that experience anywhere else.

"It really sparks their imaginations."

But Dr Gardner describes another small blue notebook, which contains an outline of the chapters of Rebecca, as the most iconic part of the collection.

That book reveals another surprise - that the brooding Maxim de Winter was initially called Henry.

And as well as offering an insight into her literary life it also provides a glimpse of the private woman.

Daphne Du Maurier
Born in London on 13 May 1907
First novel The Loving Spirit published in 1931
Married Frederick A.M.Browning in 1932, two daughters and one son.
Rebecca first published in 1938
Short stories The Birds and Don't Look Now made into films
Died in Cornwall on 19 April 1989 aged 81

Tucked in the book is the calling card of Ellen Doubleday - the woman with whom Du Maurier was said to have become infatuated during a trip to the US in 1947.

The book is also imprinted with a stamp from the American Justice Department - testament to the fact it was used as evidence to fend off a plagiarism claim against Du Maurier from writer Edwina MacDonald.

Macdonald claimed the 1940 Hitchcock film of Rebecca relied heavily on her own work, Blind Windows.

Her claim failed but the notebook remains Dr Gardner's favourite part of the collection.

"It's wonderful to see how moved people are when they see that particular piece," she said.

"It is also an illustration of how much work and research went into creating the story that we all know and love today.

'Wonderful reputation'

"It appears as if it was all written in one sitting, I don't know if it was or not, but I like to think the ideas just kept coming and that's why the writing gets more and more messy."

Given Du Maurier's well-known connection with the South West her son Christian Browning, who is executor of her estate, said Exeter was the obvious place to put the archive.

"Its English department has a wonderful reputation, as it did when my mother was alive and well," he said.

"I think she would feel very proud and highly delighted that the archive is there."

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