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
I am Brazilian and I have read “A Sucessora” on the original. It is a very fine book, the ending is very well crafted, it can seem almost trivial and sudden at first, but it has much psychological deepness.
The ending is quit different from Rebeca (the movie as I have not read the book), that in my view searched the obvious dramatic solution more to the taste of the time and place.
Curiously the Brazilian soap you mentioned uses the ending of the movie, not the incredibly well done ending of “A Sucessora”. I would not expect too much from a TV soap, that in the same way of the movie, searched the safe ground of the dramatic easy solution where the reader/viewer does not need to think too much. Not that the soap was too bad (I’ve watched it when I was a kid). It is a pity though as it would make a very good ending and would pay respects to a fine Brazilian writer,
In using the end of the movie they created the impression that the plots are more similar than they are (as most people did not read a book from the 30’s) , and created a strange situation: credited the soap as based on Nabuco’s book, but used the end of Rebeca, making a doubtful homage to her.
Carolina Nabuco died in 1981, two years after the sop ending. I never found her opinion on the ending.
Nina Auerbach does NOT say that Du Maurier had read an English translation of ‘A Sucessora’ in her book ‘Haunted Heiress’ and she does not have a view on the subject (I checked with her by email). Personally I think it extremely unlikely that she would have seen it. You could not easily copy manuscripts back then, so if it ever did come to London, probably there was only one typed copy that was sent to publishers in turn by the agent. Du Maurier was never the type to hang around publishing houses. She hated going to London. By 1934 she was a wife and mother and was busy writing ‘Gerald’ and then ‘Jamaica Inn’. Then, in early ’36 she went to Alexandria (where her army huband had been posted) and ‘Rebecca’ was half-written by the time she returned to England. However, I’m intrigued that JC says there is copied dialogue. I do have a copy of ‘A Sucessora’ in Portuguese. (It’s never been published in English). JC - can you tell me in which chapters to look for the offending dialogue and the opening few words of each instance in the Portuguese so I can work out which bits to translate? Thanks!
I am Portuguese and I read both books. I can honestly say that after reading ”the successor” and learning that Du Maurier was accused of plagiarizing Birds and Ganymede, besides parts of other of her books, I burned all my De Maurier’s books. The story is the same, including entire dialogues and situations. I do recommend if someone can find a copy of ”the successor” to read it. See for yourself.