First edition cover
|Author||Daphne du Maurier|
|Genre||Crime, Gothic, Mystery, Romance|
|Media type||Print (hard and paperback)|
Rebecca is a novel by English author Daphne du Maurier. A moderate best-seller, there were 2,829,313 copies of Rebecca sold between 1938 and 1965 and the book has never gone out of print. The novel is particularly notable for the character Mrs. Danvers, the fictional estate Manderley, and its opening lines:
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . . I came upon it suddenly; the approach masked by the unnatural growth of a vast shrub that spread in all directions . . . There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the gray stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand.
- 1 Plot summary
- 2 Characters
- 3 Locations
- 4 Development
- 5 Publishing history and reception
- 6 Awards
- 7 Dramatic adaptations
- 8 Sequels, prequels, and related works
- 9 Rebecca as a WWII code key
- 10 Popular recognition
- 11 Footnotes
- 12 External links
"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 naïve 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 sinister 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's 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 beauty, 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 in.
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 reveals her contempt for our heroine, believing she is trying to replace Rebecca and reveals her deep, unhealthy obsession with the dead woman. Mrs. Danvers attempts to take revenge 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 being provoked, 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 blue outskirts of London shortly before her death, presumably to confirm her pregnancy. When the doctor is found, he reveals that 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.
- The speaker, Mrs. de Winter: 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; when she signs her name, she signs "Mrs. M de Winter" but the M is Maxim's initial, not hers. 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."
- Mrs. Danvers: The cold-hearted, overbearing housekeeper of Manderley. She is obsessed with Rebecca and preserving her memory, and resents the new Mrs. de Winter, convinced she is trying to "take Rebecca's place."
- Maximilian (Maxim) De Winter: The reserved, unemotional owner of Manderley. He marries his new wife after a brief courtship, yet displays little affection toward her after the marriage. He eventually does reveal that he does love her, yet after several months of marriage.
- Rebecca de Winter: The unseen title character, who has been dead for less than a year, after dying in a boating accident. A famous beauty, whilst on the surface she was a devoted wife and perfect hostess, Rebecca was actually a compulsive liar and an openly promiscuous woman who tormented her husband Maxim with lurid tales of her non-stop affairs. She goaded Maxim into killing her when she found out she was dying of cancer yet her presence overwhelms Manderley. Dialogue concerning Rebecca's exploits suggests she was mentally unstable.
- The fictional Hôtel Côte d'Azur, Monte Carlo
- The fictional Manderley, a country estate which du Maurier's editor noted "is as much an atmosphere as a tangible erection of stones and mortar"
"In 1937, Daphne du Maurier signed a three-book deal with Victor Gollancz" and accepted an advance of £1,000. A 2008 article in The Telegraph indicates she had been toying with the theme of jealousy for the five years since her marriage in 1932. She started "sluggishly" and wrote a desperate apology to Gollancz: 'The first 15,000 words I tore up in disgust and this literary miscarriage has cast me down rather...'" Her husband, Tommy Browning, was Lieutenant Colonel of the Grenadier Guards and they were posted to Alexandria, Eypt with the Second Battalion, leaving Britain on 30 July 1937. Gollancz expected her manuscript on their return to Britain in December but she wrote that she was "ashamed to tell you that progress is slow on the new novel, ... There is little likelihood of my bringing back a finished manuscript in December." On returning to Britain in December 1937, du Maurier decided to spend Christmas away from her family to write the book and she successfully delivered it to her publisher less than four months later. Du Maurier described it as "a sinister tale about a woman who marries a widower... Psychological and rather macabre."
Derivation and inspiration
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. Du Maurier commented publicly in her lifetime that the book was based on her own memories of Menabilly and Cornwall, as well as her relationship with her father. While du Maurier "categorised Rebecca as a study in jealousy ... she admitted its origins in her own life to few." Her husband had been "engaged before – to glamorous, dark-haired Jan Ricardo. The suspicion that Tommy remained attracted to Ricardo haunted Daphne." In The Rebecca Notebook of 1981, du Maurier "'remembered' Rebecca's gestation ... "Seeds began to drop. A beautiful home... a first wife... jealousy, a wreck, perhaps at sea, near to the house... But something terrible would have to happen, I did not know what..." She wrote in her notes prior to writing: "I want to built up the character of the first [wife] in the mind of the second... until wife 2 is haunted day and night... a tragedy is looming very close and CRASH! BANG! something happens."" Du Maurier and her husband, "Tommy Browning, like Rebecca and Maximilian de Winter, were not faithful to one another." Subsequent to the novel's publication, "Jan Ricardo, tragically, died during the Second World War [she] threw herself under a train."
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.
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, for example 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 US 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.
Publishing history and reception
Du Maurier delivered the manuscript to her publisher, Victor Gollancz, in April 1938. On receipt, the book was read in Gollancz's office and her "editor, Norman Collins, reported simply: 'The new Daphne du Maurier contains everything that the public could want.'" Gollancz's "reaction to Rebecca was relief and jubilation" and "a 'rollicking success' was predicted by him." He "did not hang around" and "ordered a first print run of 20,000 copies and within a month Rebecca had sold more than twice that number." The novel has been continuously in print since 1938 and in 1993 "du Maurier's US publishers Avon estimated ongoing monthly paperback sales of Rebecca at more than 4,000 copies."
Du Maurier "did several radio interviews with BBC and other stations" and "attended Foil's Literary Lunch" in August 1938 while Good Housekeeping, Ladies Home Journal, and House & Garden published articles on du Maurier.
Contemporary reception in the professional and popular press
The Times said that "the material is of the humblest... nothing in this is beyond the novelette..." In the Christian Science Monitor of 14 September 1938, V S Pritchett predicted the novel "would be here today, gone tomorrow."
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.
Subsequent popular reception and academic analysis
Rebecca is listed in the 20th-Century American Bestsellers descriptive bibliography database maintained by the University of Illinois. The entry, by Katherine Huber, provided the detailed information on the English and American editions as well as translations listed below.
|Edition||Edition date and place||Publisher and press||# Impressions||Printing/Impression||Date of Printing||# Copies||Price|
|English 1st||August 1938, London||Gollancz||At least 9||1st||August 1938||20,000|
|English 1st||August 1938, London||Gollancz||At least 9||2nd||1938||10,000|
|English 1st||August 1938, London||Gollancz||At least 9||3rd||1938||15,000|
|English 1st||August 1938, London||Gollancz||At least 9||4th||1938||15,000|
|American 1st||September 1938, NY||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. at the Country Life Press in Garden City,NY||At least 10||1st||Before publication in 1938||$2.75 US|
|American 1st||September 1938, NY||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. at the Country Life Press in Garden City,NY||At least 10||2nd||Before publication in 1938||$2.75 US|
|American 1st||September 1938, NY||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. at the Country Life Press in Garden City,NY||At least 10||3rd||Before publication in 1938||$2.75 US|
|American 1st||September 1938, NY||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. at the Country Life Press in Garden City,NY||At least 10||4th||4 October 1938||$2.75 US|
|American 1st||September 1938, NY||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. at the Country Life Press in Garden City,NY||At least 10||5th||7 October 1938||$2.75 US|
|American 1st||September 1938, NY||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. at the Country Life Press in Garden City,NY||At least 10||6th||17 October 1938||$2.75 US|
|American 1st||September 1938, NY||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. at the Country Life Press in Garden City,NY||At least 10||7th||Between 18 October and 10 November 1938||$2.75 US|
|American 1st||September 1938, NY||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. at the Country Life Press in Garden City,NY||At least 10||8th||11 November 1938||$2.75 US|
|American 1st||September 1938, NY||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc. at the Country Life Press in Garden City,NY||At least 10||9th||18 November 1938||$2.75 US|
|29 subsequent editions||Between 1939–1993||Doubleday Doran and Company, Inc.|
|1938||Book League of America|
|1938||Literary Guild of America|
|1938||P.F. Collier & Son, Corp|
|1939||Ladies' Home Journal (condensed)|
|1940||Garden City Publishing Co.|
|1941||Editions for the Armed Services|
|1941||Sun Dial Press|
|1943||The Modern Library|
|1954||International Collector's Library|
|1965||Washington Square Press|
|1980||Octopus/Heinemann (published with Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel, also by du Maurier)|
|1987||The Franklin Library|
|1991||The Folio Society|
|1994||Reader's Digest Association (condensed)|
|Chinese||1972||Hi Tieh Meng||Tíai-nan, Tíai-wan: Hsin shih chi chíu pan she|
|Chinese||1979||Hu die meng||Taibie, Taiwan: Yuan Jing|
|Chinese||1980||Hu tieh meng: Rebecca||Hsin-chich (Hong Kong): Hung Kuang she tien|
|11 other editions in Chinese|
|French||1939||Rebecca: roman||Paris: A. Michel|
|French||1975||Rebecca||Paris: Club Chez Nous|
|French||1984||Rebecca||Paris: Librairie Generale Francaise|
|Italian||1940||Rebecca: la prima moglie||Milano: A. Mondadori|
|Japanese||1939||Rebekka||Tokyo: Mikasa Shobo|
|Japanese||1949||Rebekka: Wakaki Musume No Shuki||Tokyo: Daviddosha|
|Russian||1991||Rebekka: roman||Riga: Folium|
|Russian||1992||Rebekka: roman||Izhevsk: Krest|
|Russian||1992||Rebekka: roman||Kiev: muza|
|German||1940||Rebecca: Roman||Hamburg: Deutsch Hausbucherei|
|German||1940||Rebecca: Roman||Saarbrücken: Clubder Buchfreunde|
|German||1946||Rebecca: Roman||Hamburg: Wolfgang Kruger|
|German||1994||Rebecca: Roman||Wien: E. Kaiser|
|8 other German editions|
|Portuguese||1977||Rebecca, a mulher inesquecivel||São Paulo: Companhia Editura Nacional|
|Spanish||1965||Rebeca, una mujer inolvidable||Mexico: Editora Latin Americana|
|Spanish||1969||Rebeca||Mexico: Eiditorial Diana|
|Spanish||1971||Rebeca||Barcelona: Plaza and Jane|
|Spanish||1991||Rebeca||Madrid: Ediciones La Nave|
|Persian||1980||Rebecca||Iran: Amir Kabir Brinting Co.|
|Persian||1990||Ribika||Tehran: Nashr-i Jahnnama|
|Romanian||1993||Rebecca: Roman||Bucuresti: Editura Orizonturi|
|Polish||1993||Rebeka||Katowice: Od Nowa|
|Greek||1960||Revekka: mytgustirema||Athenai: Ekdosies Dem, Darema|
|Latvian||1972||Rebeka: romans||Bruklina: Gramatudraugs|
|Dutch||1941||Rebecca||Leiden: AW Sijhoff|
|1977||Rebecca||Tihran: Amir Kabir|
|1996||Mrtva a Ziva: [Rebeka]||Liberac: Dialog|
In the US, 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.
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 Jeremy Brett as Maxim, 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 18 November 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.
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.
The novel, and the character of Mrs. Danvers in particular, have entered many aspects of popular culture.
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 No. 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.
In Linda Howard's Veil of Night, Eric compares an assistant to Danvers as well as stating he read the book under protest to pass a high school literature class. (2010)
The book was the inspiration for Paige Harbison's 2012 young adult novel, New Girl.
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.
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 behaviour.
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...".
In 2013, Devon watchmakers Du Maurier Watches, founded by the grandson of Daphne Du Maurier, released a limited edition collection of two watches inspired by the characters from the novel – The Rebecca and The Maxim.
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