I know, I know... you're saying "du Maurier? Isn't she dead? How can she be acting badly?" This blog entry is less about anything she's doing now as much as it had to do with things that she'd done years ago, with her most famous book: Rebecca.
Would you believe me if I said that there's evidence to show that she'd pretty much stole the entire book from a Brazilian author's novel?
Imagine a story where a woman marries a wealthy man whose dead wife still holds a grip on everyone in the house, with a housekeeper that's passionately devoted to the deceased mistress of the house. Sounds like Rebecca, right? Well, this is also the plot of A Sucessora by Carolina Nabuco.
Which was written in 1934. Four years before du Maurier published Rebecca.
Because this was the early 1900s, news didn't travel as quickly as it does now and the similarities between the two books stayed relatively unknown until critic Álvaro Lins picked up on this around 1941. According to the info on Wikipedia's article on Rebecca, du Maurier had read a translation of A Sucessora that had been sent du Maurier's publisher to be printed in England and based her book on what she'd read. The article also has claims that Nabuco had been pressured to sign a contract that said that the similarities were all a coincidence and that du Maurier didn't plagiarize her work. (By plagiarize I mean that the two books are so identical in how they play out that it would be seen as outright plagiarism rather than idea theft, which is where someone takes the basics of an idea and adapts it to a storyline that's just different enough to where it isn't plagiarism.)
Of course du Maurier denied all of the claims, but from what I've been able to find it looks like the odds are stacked against her. I mean, what are the odds that you came up with a book idea that's identical to a book that had been released four years earlier? That just so happened to have been submitted to my publisher for review? It's like me writing a book about a boy wizard with a scar and a pet owl that goes off to wizarding school and trying to claim that I'm not ripping off Harry Potter. If this was plagiarized (which let's face it, it looks pretty bad for du Maurier) then it's pretty much one of the worst crimes you can do in literature. Odds are that assuming this is all true, du Maurier was relying on the whole "news doesn't really travel as much during these times" bit to keep this from getting discovered. After all, the publishing world wasn't like it is today, where it's easier for foreign novels to get published and where news of author badness can be discovered almost instantly. (When this was discovered the fiasco was rather well publicized when you consider the time period.)
This isn't the only time du Maurier faced plagiarism accusations, mind you. Frank Baker also claimed that du Maurier ripped him off, with her basing her 1952 short story The Birds on his 1936 novel The Birds. When the Hitchcock adaptation came out Baker was heavily encouraged to not seek any legal action against du Maurier.
I'd come across this in my nightly "I'm bored" trawls through the 'net and this just fascinated me. Rebecca is considered to be a literary classic and it's very likely plagiarized? And that she's had another person claim she'd done the same to them? It really makes me wonder if there's more authors she's ripped off that just never came forward or never discovered the similarities, with their works either not getting published and/or having such a limited printing that they are almost unknown to all but a small few readers.
If this had happened today, du Maurier would be crucified in a manner similar to how Kaavya Viswanathan was when her book How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life was discovered to be ripped off from several other books. Since this all happened in the 40s, this is pretty much unknown to most readers (including myself until just earlier tonight). So I decided that I'd share this scandalous little bit of knowledge with you, dear readers. Enjoy!