Daphne du Maurier, 1938
Book Review by Molly Lundquist
Frst published over 75 years ago, Rebecca remains one of the best loved of modern Gothics: a genre known for its old manses and heavy atmospherics. The sense of foreboding in du Maurier's book is brought to bear on an uneasy marriage—of a naive, untested bride and her sophisticate husband, a man twice her age.
In truth, Rebecca is the story of two marriages, one in the present...and one in the recent past. Our poor heroine finds herself competing for the affections of her husband with his dead wife...who seems all too alive.
Following a brief courtship, Maxim de Winter brings his young bride—who remains nameless throughout the novel—home to Manderley, the family estate on the coast of Cornwall. There she meets her nemesis, the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who for some inexplicable reason takes pleasure in humiliating her shy young mistress at every turn.
Making matters worse, the second Mrs. de Winter knows she is a poor stand-in for the first Mrs. de Winter, Max's deceased wife—the glamorous, exquisite Rebecca. Rebecca is ever present at Manderley: she haunts the halls and the memories of its inhabitants, especially Maxim.
As Du Maurier ratchets up the suspense, our heroine becomes unnerved and unsure of Maxim's love. Events come to a head when a skeleton is found...exactly where it shouldn't be. Whose is it? No spoilers here....
With its famous first line—Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again*—Rebecca has never been out of print...and for good reason. It's a romance, mystery, and Gothic suspense novel all in one. Nothing is as it seems so that the heroine—and reader—are thrown off balance at every turn. A wonderful read, not to be missed.
Hitchcock adopted Rebecca to film, with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine, in 1940. (Dated but good.) A tv-movie version, appeared in 1997 with Charles Dance and Emilia Fox. (I've not seen this one.)
* See New York Times Book Review: 2/09/14: Alena by Rachel Pastan—a new homage to du Maurier's Rebecca.
See our Reading Guide for Rebecca.
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