Desperate to become independant of her family, Daphne du Maurier started working on her first novel in October, 1929. She went to Cornwall and researched a local family of boat builders. In just under ten weeks she completed the manuscript for The Loving Spirit. du Maurier sent the completed document to an agent friend of her family's and with all their connections, it was published within two months. But even before this novel was published, she had completed her second novel, I'll Never be Young Again.
Published in 1932, this book was less successful mechanically and it laid the groundwork for her next novel, The Progress of Julius," the first of her psychological thrillers.
In 1934, du Maurier's father died at the relatively young age of sixty-one following an operation for cancer. Du Maurier's fourth book, Gerald: A Portrait, was a biography of her father.
This period of du Maurier's creative life is capped off with her fourth novel, Jamaica Inn, a haunting tale, set on Cornwall's Bodmin Moor in 1835 and featuring a strong, assertive heroine, Mary Yellan. This was the novel, according to Templeton in Dictionary of Literary Biography, that "finally persuaded the critics that [du Maurier] was a writer of talent." Jamaica Inn was also a commercial success, selling in three months more copies than her previous three novels together.
As usual, du Maurier did not rest on her laurels but started a new book. Posted in Alexandria, Egypt with her husband, she started a fifth novel in 1936, one with which her name would thereafter become almost synonymous. Beginning with the famous opening sentence, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," the novel Rebecca plumbs fully the genre of Gothic romance. The manuscript was eventually finished once du Maurier and her husband returned to England and was published in 1938.
This tale with, its echoes of Charlotte and Emily Bronte, was an instant success throughout the English-speaking world and remains in print over sixty years after its initial publication. The novel had 45,000 copies in print just a month after publication in England and has run to forty-two printings and sold in the millions worldwide.
For a bit, Du Maurier enjoyed the little bit of fame that came from writing such a popular book. But as soon as that died away, she went back to do what she knew best: writing. Frenchman's Creek was published in 1941, My Cousin Rachel in 1951, The Scapegoat in 1957, and Flight of the Falcon in 1965.
The war, which began in 1939, did not stop du Maurier's output. She did her part, yet still found time for her fiction. Frenchman's Creek is, according to Templeton,
In 1943 du Maurier published Hungry Hill, a dynastic saga and one of her least successful novels, filmed for a movie in 1947 with a screenplay co-authored by du Maurier. This was followed in 1946 by The King's General, and in 1949 by The Parasites, a semi-autobiographical novel that deals with a theatrical family and their art-minded children.
In the 1954 novel, Mary Anne, du Maurier wrote a fictionalized portrait of her great-great grandmother, and in 1957 she published The Scapegoat, a novel that dealt more directly with the doppelganger theme that crops up throughout du Maurier's fiction.
Reviewing the novel in the New York Times Book Review, Anthony Boucher remarked, "The concept of the impostor . . . is one of the most absorbing premises in fiction; and Miss du Maurier's John . . . joins a succession of great maskers. . . ." Boucher went on to describe the book as "a mystery novel plus," and one that gives "a subtly disturbing Pirandellian hint that truth may be simply what it seems to you." This novel was also filmed, starring Alec Guinness and Betty Davis.
With his retirement in 1959, Browning came to live full time once again with his wife at Menabilly. He died in 1965. In 1969, du Maurier was honored by being named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. That same year she was forced to move to another house, Kilmarth, only half a mile distant from her beloved Menabilly.
Du Maurier novels from the 1960s include The Glassblowers, a book that traces her own family line back to an eighteenth-century family of glassblowers, and The House on the Strand. This novel deals with time travel and the powers of hallucinogenic drugs in which a twentieth-century narrator finds himself in the fourteenth century after taking an experimental drug. The Flight of the Falcon was published in 1965 and is a nightmarish tale of the quest for power and one of du Maurier's most psychologically complex novels.
Du Maurier's final novel, Rule Britannia, published in 1972, is a story of the American invasion of England and the resistance put up by the Cornish people. Much below the par of her usual entertainments, the book was panned by most critics.
Many critics believe that du Maurier's best work is to be found in her short fiction, in such collections as The Apple Tree, The Breaking Point, and Not after Midnight and Other Stories. From the first volume is the story "The Birds," about a small town attacked by thousands of birds. This story was filmed by Hitchcock for the popular 1963 movie of the same title. Other notable stories from the same collection include "The Motive" and the title story, "Kiss Me Again, Stranger."
Reviewing her second collection of short stories, The Breaking Point, in the Saturday Review, Margaret Hurley lauded du Maurier for her sense of scene and atmosphere. "She takes the reader by the icy hand and leads him behind the curtain to view the characters on their way to their own breaking points." Drawing particular attention to "The Pool" and "The Menace," Hurley commented, "the suspense is shattering," and further remarked that with these stories du Maurier "demonstrates her talent in ferreting out and describing the subtleties and foibles of human nature." "The Alibi," from the same collection, portrays a middle-aged man who finds a sense of power and escape from his dull life in fantasizing about murder. However, when he is accused of a murder that he only fantasized about, such daydreams become all too real.
Du Maurier's third major collection of stories was published in the United States as Don't Look Now, after its title story, adapted for a successful and quite terrifying film in 1973, starring Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland. "A Border-Line Case," another story in the same collection is a curious story of romantic incest as well as to "The Rendezvous," from the 1980 collection of previously published short stories, The Rendezvous and Other Stories. In this tale, an older writer falls in love with a beautiful young woman only to be tormented by the fact of her love for a sexually attractive but vacuous young man.
Du Maurier wrote mostly nonfiction in her last years, including a work on the Brontes, a biography of Francis Bacon, and books about Cornwall, in addition to autobiographical pieces.