Daphne Du Maurier ‘Rebecca’ plagiarism case
Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, made into a 1940 Academy Award-winning movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock, is getting the movie-remake treatment. Many will surely be accusing Hollywood of having no imagination whatsoever, ignoring the fact that movie remakes have been around for as long as movies have been around. [Image: Daphne Du Maurier.]
Now, even less well-known in most circles is that Du Maurier’s Rebecca bears an uncanny resemblance to another novel. No, not Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (made into a 1944 movie directed by Mary Poppins’ Robert Stevenson, and starring Rebecca‘s Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles), or even, more distantly, to Rachel Field’s All This and Heaven Too, itself based on actual events and made into a 1940 Academy Award-nominated movie by Anatole Litvak, starring Bette Davis and Charles Boyer (in addition to the Oscar-nominated Barbara O’Neil as Boyer’s insane wife).
The Rebecca-like novel I’m referring to is called A Sucessora, written by Brazilian author Carolina Nabuco and published in 1934 – four years before Du Maurier’s classic came out. In A Sucessora, there’s the deceased wife that the young, handsome, and wealthy widower, his servants and his friends can’t forget; the young new wife, insecure in her new position both in her husband’s heart and among his society friends; and even the scheming governess, intent on destroying “the successor” in her master’s heart.
When it comes to their basic plot and characters, the key differences between A Sucessora and Rebecca is that the former was written in Portuguese and is set in Rio de Janeiro in the 1920s; the latter was written in English and is set in England’s West Country in the 1930s.
Nabuco never sued Du Maurier for plagiarism, though she did write in her book of memoirs Oito Décadas (“Eight Decades”) that she herself translated A Sucessora into English. She then submitted the manuscript to a New York publishing house, requesting that they forward her proposal to British literary houses as well. Whether Du Maurier actually read Nabuco’s translation has been subject to debate, though Daphne Du Maurier, Haunted Heiress author Nina Auerbach reportedly claims in her book that that was indeed the case. (I haven’t read Haunted Heiress.)
In Brazil, A Sucessora was turned into a highly successful soap opera/mini-series in 1978, with Brazilian TV superstar Susana Vieira in the title role, Rubens de Falco as the widower (above photo, with Vieira), and stage veteran Nathália Thimberg as the governess. According to online sources, the mini-series was quite popular overseas as well.
Carolina Nabuco, aged 91, died in 1981 in Rio de Janeiro. Daphne Du Maurier died at the age of 81 in Cornwall, England, in 1989.
Susana Vieira/Rubens de Falco/A Sucessora photo via Top Novelas