Daphne du Maurier’s original novella “Don’t Look Now”

Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning (1907-89), was an immensely popular Cornish author of Gothic historical novel, many of whose works were filmed, including three by Alfred Hitchcock (the Oscar-winning “Rebecca,” “Jamaica Inn,” and “The Birds”), plus “My Cousin Rachel,” “The Scapegoat,” and the 1973 movie directed by Nicolas Roeg from a screenplay by Alan Scott) and Chris Bryant of her novella “Don’t Look Now.” Reputedly, the screen version of “Don’t Look Now,” directed by Nicolas Roeg,  is closer to the source material than “The Birds,” the relocation of which from Cornwall to Bodega Bay (northern California) much distressed du Maurier.

du_Maurier 1930.jpg

(author in 1930)

Having recently re-viewed and reviewed the movie, I’d acknowledge that almost everything that is in the novella is in the movie, though every thing if much clearer in the novella (or, alternately put, much obscured in the movie). There is, alas, much that defeated my ability to suspend disbelief in the movie that has no basis in du Maurier, including the accidental death of the daughter of the parents who visit Venice (the girl in Maurier’s story died a slower death of meningitis), the return of the wife (Laura, played in the movie by Julie Christie) to Venice, her restaurant fainting, the husband John having work (restoring a church) in Venice, the closing of the hotel in which John and Laura had been staying.

The novella opens not with the death of the child, but with a couple speculating that the twins intently looking at them in a restaurant and Laura laughingly suggesting that the older women are actually males in drag. In both book and movie, Laura who has been stricken with grief, is cheered by the message from beyond the grave from the blind clairvoyant that the dead daughter (Christine) is happy. (Having her faint in the restaurant in the movie is scenic but false to the mood du Maurier created).

In both media, Christine warns that her father is in danger. It seems the warning was off when the couple hears that their son back at boarding school in England seems to be having appendicitis. Laura books a morning flight to London and in the book John is going to drive to Milan and return by train with their car loaded onto the train. In the movie, he stays and almost dies in an accident on scaffolding in the church.

John imagines he sees the sisters (not twins in the movie) on a boat with Laura and involves the police in finding the sisters. One of the absurdities of the movie is that the blind one is left alone in the police station. Another is that Laura goes to the sister’s hotel (they have, incidentally, changed hotels from the one where she went to a séance added in the movie version) and John, knowing that she is going there, rushes off in pursuit of a young girl dressed (in the movie) like Christine when she drowned (in a red plastic raincoat). Du Maurier provided none of that absurdity, and has the clairvoyant warn that the hallucination of Laura with them is a premonition.

The original also provides some reason for the pell-mell chase John makes.

Though lacking the atmospheric shots of wintery, non-touristy Venice, I find the original text preferable to the overload of murk and portents of the movie (even though the accident in the church that is not in the novella is my favorite scene in the movie). And the protracted sex scene is entirely missing from the novella. The novella is, btw, primarily told from John’s perspective, but I won’t get into the masculine self-identification of the author.

Also btw, in the 1971 story collection in which it is the title story, “Don’t Look Now” occupies all of 54 pages and about the same in the current NYRB Classics edition that also includes “The Birds” and seven more stories.

©2012, Stephen O. Murray

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