Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier – Fiction
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
The cover I have of Rebecca states “The Classic Tale of Romantic Suspense.” I wouldn’t necessarily call Rebecca a romance novel. It isn’t horror. It’s a thriller. The thrill is a slow-build, you know it’s coming, but it’s almost whimsical in the way du Maurier writes.
The novel starts off with our narrator, a “companion” (a nice way of saying lady’s maid) to a rich woman, meeting Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo. Maxim de Winter is an English landowner of Manderley – an estate somewhere in England outside of London. The narrator and Maxim fall in love and get married quickly – but is it love? Our narrator is much younger than Maxim, who we quickly learn is a widower. Rebecca de Winter is quickly spoken about by Mrs. Van Hopper, the narrator’s boss, as someone who was well-known and well-liked. She is ever present even from the beginning of our narrator falling for Maxim.
Rebecca haunts the reader, our narrator, and Maxim. She is everywhere – so much so that our narrator is never even given a Christian name to identify her. Yet, just like our narrator, we are desperate for more information about Rebecca, information that Maxim does not provide. You search through the novel, right alongside our narrator, for snippets of her personality, her life, her death. We soon learn that you can’t escape her. Her spirit lives in the walls and gardens of Manderley, helped by the frightening Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper of Manderley. Rebecca’s rooms remain how they were prior to her death, her slippers and robe and bed made the same way. Her brushes laid out at her vanity, like she is just about to return.
Unconsciously I shivered, as though someone had opened the door behind me, and let a draught into the room. I was sitting in Rebecca’s chair, I was leaning against Rebecca’s cushion, and the dog had come to me and laid his head upon my knee because that had been his custom, and he remembered, in the past, she had given sugar to him there.
Du Maurier’s writing is masterful. You hate Maxim for not divulging the full truth to our narrator about Rebecca, yet you want the narrator to be happy and she wants to be happy with Maxim. The character list is small, the servants and Beatrice, Maxim’s sister, provide most of the background characters. Each of them also provide more information to the narrator, carefully trying to discern just how much she knows about Maxim’s dead first wife.
Rebecca is a perfect novel for those who want to read something haunting during the winter months, but may not love the horror genre. It is deliciously suspenseful and Mrs. Danvers plays one of the most powerful villains to hate in a novel.
Rebecca was made into a move in 1940, directed by Alfred Hitchcock. A new version was released in October on Netflix staring Armie Hammer, Lily James, and Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers.
Lover of the written word.