First edition cover
|Author(s)||Daphne du Maurier|
|Genre(s)||Crime, Gothic, Mystery, Romance|
|Media type||Print (Hardback and Paperback)|
Rebecca is a novel by English author Daphne du Maurier. When Rebecca was published in 1938, du Maurier became – to her great surprise – one of the most popular authors of the day. Rebecca is considered to be one of her best works and is regarded as a modern classic. Much of the novel was written while she was staying in Alexandria, Egypt, where her husband was posted.
Plot summary 
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" is the book's famous opening line, and after the first two chapters, its unnamed narrator (only known as Mrs de Winter or the second Mrs. de Winter) reminisces about her past.
While working as the companion to a rich American woman vacationing in Monte Carlo, the narrator, a young woman in her early 20s, becomes acquainted with a wealthy Englishman, Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter, a 40-something widower. After a fortnight of courtship, she agrees to marry him and, after the wedding and honeymoon, accompanies him to his mansion, the beautiful West Country estate Manderley.
Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, was profoundly devoted to the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, who died in a boating accident about a year prior to Maxim and the second Mrs. de Winter meeting in Monte Carlo. She continually attempts to undermine the new Mrs. de Winter psychologically, subtly suggesting to her that she will never attain the urbanity and charm the first one possessed. Whenever the new Mrs. de Winter attempts to make changes at Manderley, Mrs. Danvers describes how Rebecca ran it when she was alive. Each time Mrs. Danvers does this, she implies that the new Mrs. de Winter lacks the experience and knowledge necessary for running an important estate. Cowed by Mrs. Danvers's imposing manner, the new mistress simply caves.
She is soon convinced that Maxim regrets his impetuous decision to marry her and is still deeply in love with the seemingly perfect Rebecca. The climax occurs at Manderley's annual costume ball. Mrs. Danvers manipulates the protagonist into wearing a replica of the dress shown in a portrait of one of the former inhabitants of the estate—the same costume worn by Rebecca to much acclaim shortly before her death. The narrator has a drummer announce her entrance using the name of the lady in the portrait: Caroline de Winter. When the narrator shows Maxim the dress, he gets very angry at her and orders her to change.
Shortly after the ball, Mrs. Danvers expressly reveals her contempt for our heroine by encouraging Mrs. de Winter to commit suicide by jumping out the window. However she is thwarted at the last moment by the disturbance occasioned by a nearby shipwreck. A diver investigating the condition of the wrecked ship's hull also discovers the remains of Rebecca's boat.
Maxim confesses the truth to our heroine: how his marriage to Rebecca was nothing but a sham; how from the very first days husband and wife loathed each other. Rebecca, Maxim reveals, was a cruel and selfish woman who manipulated everyone around her into believing her to be the perfect wife and a paragon of virtue. She repeatedly taunted Maxim with sordid tales of her numerous love affairs. The night of her death, she suggested to Maxim that she was pregnant with another man's child, which she would raise under the pretense that it was Maxim's and he would be powerless to stop her. After intentionally provoked him, he shoots her, leading to her death. Then he disposed of her body on her boat and sank it at sea. The second Mrs. de Winter is relieved to hear that Maxim had never loved Rebecca but instead really loves her.
Rebecca's boat is raised and it is discovered that it was deliberately sunk. An inquest brings a verdict of suicide, however, Rebecca's first cousin (and lover) Jack Favell attempts to blackmail Maxim, claiming to have proof that Rebecca could not have intended suicide, based on a note she sent to him the night she died.
It is revealed Rebecca had an appointment with a Doctor Baker in the outskirts of London shortly before her death, presumably to confirm her pregnancy. When the doctor is found he reveals Rebecca had been suffering from cancer and would have died within a few months; furthermore, due to the malformation of her uterus, she could never have been pregnant. Knowing she was going to die, Rebecca manipulated Maxim into killing her quickly, rather than face a lingering death. Maxim feels a great sense of foreboding and insists on driving through the night to return to Manderley. However, before he comes in sight of the house, it is clear from a glow on the horizon and wind-borne ashes that it is ablaze.
Literary structure 
The famous opening line of the book "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" is an iambic hexameter. The last line of the book "And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea" is also in metrical form; almost but not quite an anapestic tetrameter.
The narrator's name is never revealed. She is referred to as "my wife", Mrs. de Winter, "my dear", etc., but her first and last name are never revealed by the author. The one time she is introduced with a name is during a fancy dress ball, in which she dresses as a de Winter ancestor and is introduced as "Caroline de Winter", however this is evidently not her own name. Early in the novel she receives a letter and remarks that her name was correctly spelled, which is "an unusual thing", suggesting her name is strange, foreign or complex. Whilst courting her, Maxim compliments her on her "lovely and unusual name."
Some commentators have noted parallels with Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Another of du Maurier's works, Jamaica Inn, is also linked to one of the Brontë sisters' works, Emily's Wuthering Heights.
When first published, Rebecca had a print run of 20,000 and was a popular success. However, it did not receive critical acclaim. The Times said that "the material is of the humblest...nothing in this is beyond the novelette...". Few critics saw in the novel what the author wanted them to see: the exploration of the relationship between a man who was powerful and a woman who was not.
In the U.S., Du Maurier won the National Book Award for favourite novel of 1938, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 14 on the UK survey The Big Read.
Related works 
The novel has inspired three additional books approved by the du Maurier estate:
- Mrs de Winter (1993), by Susan Hill, is a sequel originally written in the 1980s. ISBN 978-0-09-928478-9
- The Other Rebecca (1996), by Maureen Freely, is a modern-day version. ISBN 978-0-89733-477-8
- Rebecca's Tale (2001), by Sally Beauman (ISBN 978-0-06-621108-4) is a narrative of four characters affected by Rebecca. It is often mistakenly referred to as a prequel.
Rebecca as a WWII code key 
One edition of the book was used by the Germans in World War II as the key to a book code. Sentences would be made using single words in the book, referred to by page number, line and position in the line. One copy was kept at Rommel's headquarters, and the other was carried by German Abwehr agents infiltrated into Cairo after crossing Egypt by car, guided by Count László Almásy. This code was never used, however, because the radio section of the HQ was captured in a skirmish and hence the Germans suspected that the code was compromised. This use of the book is referred to in Ken Follett's novel The Key to Rebecca - where a (fictional) spy does use it to pass critical information to Rommel.
Impact on popular culture 
The novel, and the character of Mrs. Danvers in particular, have entered many aspects of popular culture.
In literature 
The character of Mrs. Danvers is alluded to numerous times throughout Stephen King's Bag of Bones. In the book, Mrs. Danvers serves as something of a boogeyman for the main character Mike Noonan. King also uses the character name for the chilly, obedient servant in "Father's Day," a tale in his 1982 film Creepshow.
In The Maxx issue #31, a teenage Julie Winters watches a black-and-white version of the movie.
In Danielle Steel's novel Vanished, it is mentioned that the main character is reading Rebecca. This was most likely deliberate on Steele's part, considering that the novel has many of the same elements as Rebecca.
The book was the inspiration for Paige Harbison's 2012 young adult novel, New Girl.
In E. L. James' Fifty Shades Trilogy, Anastasia comforts herself by reading her tried and true Rebecca.
In film 
The 1983 science fiction comedy film The Man with Two Brains gives a brief nod to aspects of Rebecca. After falling for Dolores Benedict, Dr. Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) intends to marry her and seeks a sign from the portrait of his deceased wife, Rebecca. The supernatural reaction of the portrait doesn't convince him and so he places her in a cupboard.
The novel is mentioned in, Flower Girl (2009).
In television 
The 1970 Parallel Time storyline of the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows was heavily inspired by Rebecca. Also the second Dark Shadows motion picture, Night of Dark Shadows took inspiration from the novel.
In the television series The Sopranos, Meadow compares her mother Carmela to Danvers for her perceived controlling behavior.
The fifth episode of the second series of That Mitchell and Webb Look contains an extended sketch parodying the 1940 film, in which Rebecca is unable to live up to Maxim's and Mrs. Danvers's expectations for the Second Mrs. DeWynter - described as "TBA".
The plots of certain Latin-American soap operas have also been inspired by this story, such as Manuela (Argentina), Infierno en el paraíso (Mexico), the Venezuelan telenovela Julia and its remake El Fantasma de Elena on Telemundo.
On an episode of The Carol Burnett Show, the cast did a parody of the film titled "Rebecky", with Carol Burnett as the heroine, Daphne; Harvey Korman as Max "de Wintry" and in the guise of Mother Marcus as Rebecky de Wintry; and Vicki Lawrence as Mrs. Danvers. The story was again referenced in an episode of the series "Mama's Family" (a spinoff of the Burnett show) titled "I Do, I Don't." In it, Bubba, Iola, and Mama each have nightmares about married life. Mama's dream is a parody of the "Rebecca" scenario.
In 1986, an episode of The Comic Strip called "Consuela" parodied Rebecca. It was written by French and Saunders, and starred Dawn French as the maid and Jennifer Saunders as the new wife of Adrian Edmondson.
Meg & Dia's Meg Frampton penned a song entitled "Rebecca", inspired by the novel.
Sondre Lerche's song, "She's Fantastic" makes a reference to Rebecca. In it he says, "In that old movie 'bout Rebecca's spell I feel like Max never felt, minus the drama and the fraud..."
Kansas alumnus Steve Walsh's solo recording Glossolalia includes a song entitled "Rebecca", with lyrics seemingly composed from Maxim de Winter's point of view: "I suppose I was the lucky one, returning like a wayward son to Manderley, I'd never be the same..."
The Pet Shop Boys' song "King of Rome" includes the "Rebecca"-inspired line: "I'm here and there/or anywhere/away from Manderley...".
Dramatic adaptations 
Rebecca has been adapted several times. The most notable of these was the Academy Award winning 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film version Rebecca, the first film Hitchcock made under his contract with David O. Selznick. The film, which starred Sir Laurence Olivier as Max, Joan Fontaine as the Heroine, and Dame Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers, was based on the novel. However, the Hollywood Production Code required that if Max had murdered his wife, he would have to be punished for his crime. Therefore, the key turning point of the novel – the revelation that Max, in fact, murdered Rebecca – was altered so that it seemed as if Rebecca's death was accidental. At the end of the film version, Mrs. Danvers perishes in the fire, which she had started. The film quickly became a classic and, at the time, was a major technical achievement in film-making.
Rebecca has been adapted for television both by the BBC and by Carlton Television. The 1980 BBC version starred Joanna David as the second Mrs. de Winter; it was broadcast in the United States on PBS as part of its Mystery! series. The 1997 Carlton production starred Emilia Fox (Joanna David's daughter) in the same role, Charles Dance as de Winter, and Dame Diana Rigg as Mrs. Danvers; it was broadcast in the United States by PBS as part of its Masterpiece Theatre series.
On 28 September 2006 a musical version of Rebecca premièred at the Raimund Theater in Vienna, Austria. The new musical was written by Michael Kunze (book and lyrics) and Sylvester Levay (music) and directed by the American director Francesca Zambello. The cast includes Uwe Kröger as Max de Winter, Wietske van Tongeren as "Ich" ("I", the narrator) and Susan Rigvava-Dumas as Mrs. Danvers. Before 2008 there was talk of moving the musical to the Broadway stage, but the original plans were cancelled due to the complexity of the sets, scenery, and special effects — including a grand staircase that twirls down into the stage and a finale in which the entire stage - including Mrs. Danvers - is engulfed in flames. The musical was scheduled to open on Broadway on November 18, 2012, with Jill Paice as "I", Ryan Silverman as Max de Winter, and Karen Mason as Mrs. Danvers, but funding difficulties led to last-minute cancellation.
Plagiarism allegations 
Shortly after Rebecca was published in Brazil, critic Álvaro Lins pointed out many resemblances between du Maurier's book and the work of Brazilian writer Carolina Nabuco. Nabuco's A Sucessora (The Successor) has a main plot similar to Rebecca, including a young woman marrying a widower and the strange presence of the first wife — plot features also shared with the far older Jane Eyre. Nina Auerbach alleged in her book, Daphne du Maurier, Haunted Heiress, that du Maurier read the Brazilian book when the first drafts were sent to be published in England and based her famous best-seller on it. According to Nabuco's autobiography, Eight Decades, she (Nabuco) refused to sign a contract brought to her by a United Artists' representative in which she agreed that the similarities between her book and the movie were mere coincidence. Du Maurier denied copying Nabuco's book, as did her publisher, claiming that the plot used in Rebecca was quite common.
In 1944 in the United States, Daphne du Maurier, her U.S. publishers, Doubleday, and various parties connected with the 1940 film version of the novel, were sued by Edwina L. MacDonald for plagiarism. MacDonald alleged that du Maurier had copied her novel Blind Windows. Du Maurier successfully rebuffed the allegations.
- Afterword by Sally Beauman to "Rebecca" (2003 ed. ed.). Virago Press. 30 January 2003. ISBN 978-1-84408-038-0.
- Yardley, Jonathan (2004-03-16). "Du Maurier's 'Rebecca,' A Worthy 'Eyre' Apparent". Washington Post. Archived from the original on 2012-06-08. Retrieved 2006-12-12.
- "Presence of Orson Welles in Robert Stevenson's Jane Eyre (1944)". Literature Film Quarterly. Retrieved 2006-12-12.[dead link]
- Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster
- "Book About Plants Receives Award: Dr. Fairchild's 'Garden' Work Cited by Booksellers", The New York Times, 15 February 1939, page 20. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2007).
• Du Maurier participating in the Hotel Astor luncheon by transatlantic telephone from London to New York. She called for writers and distributors to offset, in the literary world, the contemporary trials of civilization in the political world.
- "BBC - The Big Read". BBC. April 2003. Retrieved 19 October 2012.
- Andriotakis, Pamela (December 15, 1980). "The Real Spy's Story Reads Like Fiction and 40 Years Later Inspires a Best-Seller". People archive. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- "KV 2/1467". The National Archives. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- "The Key to Rebecca". Ken Follett. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- "The English Patient - Chapter VI". Spark Notes. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- "Milton Park and the Fitzwilliam Family". Five Villages, Their People and Places" A History of the Villages of Castor, Ailsworth, Marholm with Milton, Upton and Sutton. p. 230. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- "Il Mondo dei doppiatori, Zona soup opera e telenovelas: Manuela". antoniogenna.net. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- "Telenovelas A-Z: Infierno en el paraíso". Univision.com. Retrieved 2010-02-28.
- DreamWorks Plans Rebecca Remake - ComingSoon.net
- Du Maurier profile at Turner Classic Movies
- 'The Times', Monday, Oct 17, 1983; pg. 15; Issue 61665; col A (Article CS252153169)).
- Lins, Álvaro. Jornal de critica. Olympio , 1941. pgs 234-236
- Tiger in a Lifeboat, Panther in a Lifeboat: A Furor Over a Novel - New York Times
- "Bull's-Eye for Bovarys". TIME. 1942-02-02. Archived from the original on 2012-01-27. Retrieved 2007-10-26.