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by Daphne du Maurier

A beautiful house by the sea, a wealthy and sophisticated suitor, a whirlwind courtship and an extended honeymoon, REBECCA has all the ingredients of a happy-ever-after romance.
But that is not Daphne du Maurier’s style.
This is a ghost story in the only way contemporary readers understand ghosts: the lingering presence of a powerful, charismatic personality after death in the memories of the people who knew her, the places she created and the effects on those she left behind.

Rebecca, Max de Winter’s beautiful first wife who drowned 10 months earlier, haunts every page. Her routines drive the household. Her spiky handwriting is on the flyleaves of books. Her fountain pen rests on the desk in the morning room. The scent of her azalea perfume lingers in breezes through the house. The old cocker spaniel turns away from the new Mrs. de Winter; the younger one, Jasper, follows the paths of long-past walks with Rebecca, ignoring all calls to other directions.

Tellingly, Rebecca’s name is the title of the book; the second Mrs. de Winter isn’t even given a name. She’s referred to as “Mrs. de Winter,” “Max’s wife,” “the bride” or “my dear.”

“You’re not what I expected,” says Max de Winter’s sister Beatrice. Frank Crawley, the estate manager, pressed by the second Mrs. de Winter, says of Rebecca, “. . . she was the most beautiful creature I ever saw in my life.” The bishops wife recalls “. . . she was so clever . . . a very lovely creature. So full of life.”

Helping to keep Rebecca’s memory alive is Mrs. Danvers, a cadaverous woman who was Rebecca’s maid since childhood and her confidente later. At a single gaze, she can reduce the new Mrs. de Winter to fumbling self-consciousness.

Once at Manderley, a showplace country home in Cornwall, Max de Winter turns brooding and secretive. His bride, vulnerable and self-doubting, wonders if he’s regretting the marriage.

This is a lush and moody book. Du Maurier’s prose sustain it at every step. She describes the winding, forest approach to Manderley that suddenly breaks for a wall of rhododendrons: “blood-red . . . their crimson faces, massed one upon the other in incredible profusion, showing no leaf, no twig, nothing by the slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic. . .”
Every element in the story, from the characters to the house itself, has a shadow. The two Mrs. de Winters are shadows of each other. The second Mrs. de Winter dreams of a future with three little boys leaving piles of fishing rods and cricket bats in the library. The reality overshadowing it is an old, blind cocker spaniel waiting by the fire for Rebecca to return. Neighbors’ memories of fantastic parties at Manderley shadow the new Mrs. de Winters’ desire for a simple quiet life.
The suspense in this book is potent.  It’s not just the question of what happened to Rebecca — and who Rebecca really was. It’s the threat to the young, vulnerable second Mrs. de Winter whose shaky self-esteem could so easily and so dangerously crumble against too much comparison with Rebecca.
The story twists and turns in unexpected ways to the end. Even as you turn the last page, it’s not clear if Rebecca has been vanquished — or triumphed.
Published in 1938, REBECCA won the National Book Award in the United States, and has never gone out of print. It’s still suspenseful, foreboding and haunting 80 years later.


The Author: Daphne du Maurier OBE (1907 – 1989)


Daphne du Maurier came from a family steeped in literature and the arts.

Her grandfather was writer and Punch cartoonist George du Maurier, who wrote TRILBY and created the character Svengali. Her father was actor/manager Gerald du Maurier and her mother stage actress Muriel Beaumont.

She married Major (later Lieutenant-General) Frederick “Boy” Browning in 1932. (He was deputy commander of the First Allied Airborne Army during Operation Market Garden in September 1944 and memorably said of it, “I think we might be going a bridge too far.”) They had three children.

After the success of REBECCA, du Maurier purchased the Cornish mansion Menabilly, which had inspired Manderley. She spent much of her life in Cornwall, which provided settings for most of her works. As she became more successful, she became more reclusive.

Many of her works were adapted to the stage or the big screen including “Rebecca” (1940), starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier; and adapted again in 2020 for Netflix; “My Cousin Rachel” (1952) with Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland, and in 2017 with Rachel Weisz and Sam Claflin; “Jamaica Inn” (1939) and her short stories, “The Birds” (1963) and “Don’t Look Now/Not After Midnight” (1973) with Julie Christie and Donald Sutherland.

Her career was tarnished by accusations of plagiarism for Rebecca and “The Birds.” After her death, several books appeared suggesting that du Maurier was bisexual or gay. She was elevated to the Order of the British Empire as Dame Commander in 1969.


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