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Daphne du Maurier
The official Daphne du Maurier website, approved by her Estate

A Sucessora (1934, The Successor) by Carolina Nabuco and other books that tell a similar story

The definition of plagiarism is - The practice of taking someone else's work or ideas and passing them off as one's own.  The word comes from Latin plagiarius' kidnapping'.

One of the most loved and highly regarded novels ever written has to be Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Brontë.  There are characteristics of Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier that echo with Jane Eyre.  Taking this a step further, The Thirteenth Tale (2006) by Diane Setterfield, could be said to include elements of the first two novels.  Yet no-one would say that the later authors plagiarised the earlier writers, they are all individual stories, that may in places follow common themes.

To be accused of plagiarism must be a writer's greatest fear.  It is something that happened to Daphne du Maurier, with her novel Rebecca, on two occasions.  Nothing was ever proven to justify the challenges, yet once mooted, it never really goes away.  There are many novels which re-tell the story of Rebecca.  Some have just a hint of similarity while others blatantly take Daphne's story and run with it.  So, what constitutes plagiarism, and what is acceptably similar writing?  This is a question that is likely to be asked for as long as people continue to write.

Regarding Daphne du Maurier, the more well-known case relates to the short story I Planned to Murder My Husband (1924) and the novel that came from it, Blind Windows (1927) by Edwina Lewin Macdonald.  The Macdonald family took out a lawsuit against Daphne du Maurier, her American publisher, Doubleday, and the Selznick organisation, who had produced the 1940 film of Rebecca.  As is well known, the result of the case was that Rebecca was not found to have been plagiarised from the works of Edwina Lewin Macdonald.

Much more interesting, because it is so much less accessible, is the question of the novel A Sucessora (1934) written by the Portuguese author Carolina Nabuco.  This book was published in Brazil, written in Portuguese, and appears never to have been translated into English.  This means the novel's contents has remained a mystery to many of us unable to read in Portuguese. Although the question of plagiarism was raised when Rebecca was published, there was never a court case, and nothing came of the accusation.

A few days ago, I read a fabulous article, full of information and very well thought out and illustrated, called - A trail of books: on Carolina Nabuco's A Sucessora (1934, The Successor) and the plagiarism charges against Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca (1938) by Juliana, at her blog called The Blank Garden.

Because Juliana speaks Portuguese and English, she can describe the storyline of A Sucessora and highlight the similarities to Rebecca, and several other novels, including another Brazilian book called Encarnação (1893, Incarnation) by José de Alencar. 

This article is fascinating, and I encourage you to click on this link and read what Juliana has to say:

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