Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca


Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.

So opens Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and it’s an opening line that piques the reader’s curiosity. Also, it seems to be a retrospective metaphor for the narrator’s, a young girl who remains nameless, life at Manderley.

The late Mrs. Rebecca de Winter, the lady of Manderley, the wife of Maxim de Winter, the attractive tall dark-haired woman, who was politically correct and loved by one and all for her social graces, and her “breeding”, inspired the title of this classic. But, she’s not the narrator. In fact, the narrator is the “other woman”, the new Mrs. de Winter, the new lady of Manderley, a young girl of low social standing, who is also socially awkward and shy.

Maxim de Winter meets the narrator in a hotel at Monte Carlo, while she’s a companion to a rich and pretentious woman. While the woman tries her level best to charm Maxim, he is quite taken by the young narrator, and when the old lady falls ill and hires a nurse, Maxim spends a lot of time with the “companion”, and they both find that they enjoy each other’s company, despite the massive age difference. He never talks of Rebecca, and she never asks. She’s heard the gossip about the lady of Manderley, a Manor house in Cornwall, drowning in a sailing accident, and Maxim’s immediate breakdown.

When her employer decides to cut short the holiday, she runs to Maxim, who proposes marriage: she can be a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, or she can marry him and be the lady of Manderley! She happily agrees to the latter, ignoring the fact that Maxim has never said anything about love. In fact, Mrs. Van Hopper, who the narrator has nothing but contempt for, offers the young girl a final piece of advice:

“Of course,” she said, “you know why he is marrying you, don’t you? You haven’t flattered yourself he’s in love with you?

But, the couple get married, honeymoon in Italy, and then head to the wonder that is Manderley.

Yes, there it was, the Manderley I had expected, the Manderley of my picture post-card long ago. A thing of grace and beauty, exquisite and faultless, lovelier even than I had ever dreamed, built in its hollow of smooth grassland, and mossy lawns, the terraces sloping to the gardens, and the gardens to the sea.

However, the happiness and wonder of the honeymoon ends right there, as the narrator meets the staff, who expect someone from a high social class – someone similar to Rebecca. The scornful Mrs. Danvers, who runs the household, treats the narrator with utter contempt, for, how can someone like her replace the Rebecca that Mrs. Danvers was devoted to? Her social awkwardness, her insecurities, and her mannerisms brings out the worst in Mrs. Danvers, who is excessively hostile, seemingly focusing on making the narrator’s life uneasy…

How much more uneasy can you make someone who is haunted by her husband’s dead wife’s ghost, that she can almost see Rebecca, hear the conversations Rebecca has with the staff, with Maxim? How can she escape the past, and try out a hand at being the Lady of Manderley, when everything that she wants to do has already been done – be it cutting the flowers, or placing them neatly in a vase, for decorative purposes; be it sitting at the desk in the morning room, or going for walks with the cocker spaniel, Jasper? And, how can she compare to the beauty that was Rebecca when Maxim’s own sister told her that she was nothing like Rebecca?! And, is Maxim still in love with his wife who hasn’t even been dead a year?

Just as the reader comes to grip with the story line, the plot twists, and the reader (or me, at least) can’t help but continuously flip the pages, and beg for more – to find out more about Rebecca; to find out more about Mrs. Danvers; and most importantly, to find out more about Maxim. The twists keeps the book interesting and gripping, and one can’t help be amazed by how things pan out.

I loved the book to bits. I really did. In fact, I was due an early night yesterday, but I was up ’til the wee hours of the morning finishing this classic. The prose is descriptive and beautiful, and the story incredible. Manderley sounds heavenly, and I’ve spent most of my day trying to imagine what Manderley would look like, based on du Maurier’s vivid descriptions. Wild flowers, gardens, the sea, the library, the “west wing”, the “east wing”, the works, really!

However, I did find that the narrator’s character one-dimensional, and I don’t think I really understood her. Maybe it’s the times (the book was written in the 1930s), but, I can’t help but wonder what can prompt a young girl to marry someone her father’s age? Is it just the thought that there’s someone out there who loves her, for she did delude herself into thinking Maxim had asked her to marry him because of love? And how can someone be so forgiving, and turn a blind eye to all their lover’s flaws?

Have you read Rebecca? Or, any other DDM? What did you think of it? Would you love to live in a place like Manderley? Or, is it just not for you?

Rating: 4.5

PS: Thanks to Sandy from You’ve Gotta Read This for hosting the read-along. I’m running way ahead of schedule (it was meant to be 16 chapters by the 8th, and the rest of the book by the 15th), but I just couldn’t stop reading! Blame du Maurier and Rebecca, not me!

41 Responses to “Daphne du Maurier – Rebecca”

  1. Rebecca is a great book and I am glad you liked it. I am not sure if I see the narrator as one-dimensional or just quite young and naive. Maxim tells her what to think and she simply believed it – hardly the sign of someone with much depth, but I feel tells you about the nature of the character rather than her perhaps not being a “well drawn” character. I think her role as the narrator is significant and that is why you can never be sure if what you find out by the end is actually true or just her vision through rose-tinted spectacles (of sorts). The narrator is also a character who we don’t get to know all that well in that we never even find out her name, so maybe your comments about her are, in part at least, because of that? I am no expert though, but I think it is an interesting read both for what you do seem to know and what you don’t

    I have read a few of her books. My Cousin Rachel is a good one as well, although not an entirely dissimilar plot.

    • I agree with you completely. In my post, I did say, I don’t think I understood her completely. Perhaps, I should’ve added that it’s a book that was written in the 1930s, so, that should put things in a different perspective. (*off to do a cheeky little edit now*)

      I loved the book, and I was quite taken aback by the ending albeit, to an extent, I saw it coming – the narrator does make some casual statements in the opening few chapters of the book.

      My Cousin Rachel’s on my radar, as is, Jamaica Inn.

  2. Now you need to watch the old Hitchcock movie! It was very well done. I loved Rebecca, too, but haven’t read any of her other books…yet.

    • Ahh, I didn’t even know there was a Hitchcock adaptation. I’ll see if I can find it this weekend. I’m well-intrigued. Plus, I’d love to see Manderley, and what they’ve done with it.

  3. Another movie adaptation to watch is the 1997 version with Diana Rigg (of Masterpiece Theater fame) as the frightening and intense Mrs. Danvers.

    I loved this book so much. Reading this review makes me think I should pick it up again…it has been many years. My Cousin Rachel & Jamaica Inn are also very good, though Rebecca is the most well known for a reason.

    Glad you enjoyed!

    • I really wouldn’t want to meet Mrs. Danvers. She seems evil! Might have to do a Rebecca weekend or something!

      I’ll be hitting a couple of stores this weekend, looking for a couple more du Mauriers. Will make sure those are top of the list.

  4. I enjoyed the movie, but I have not yet read the book. I’ll keep your questions in mind for when I do get around to reading it.

  5. I have this book coming up soon for my Back to School Challenge. Your review has made me even more excited about reading it! I haven’t read anything else by du Maurier, but this seems like a good place to start.

  6. oh yes, I was almost going to accuse you of spoiling it a bit much but really, you didn’t (I just love to know NOTHING when I open a book and this one is especially creepy when all you know is that it was a Hitchcock film and that the housekeeper is dastardly.) I think it ‘s most def a sign of the times – young women could get away with being hopelessly naive then compared to now and hey! wouldn’t you escape ‘no-future’ ie, a life of ‘companion’ to a frumpy annoying old lady for a chance to love Laurence Olivia and be the mistress of the manor?! oh yea. Maybe I’m too old now but I think I could have done it as a 20 yo. PLS read House on the Strand. loved it. fascinating. Daphne DuMaurier ROCKS. and I have no idea why I have only read 2 of her books so far.

    • lol, I almost did… I had to edit the review a lot to make sure I gave absolutely nothing away! I was browsing the reviews of this book on Amazon, and was really annoyed, as one of the negative reviews pretty much gave away the whole plot, right down to the ending. Just so wrong… ruins it for anyone who wants to read the book, but hasn’t yet.

      I don’t think naive goes very far now-a-days. Call me a cynic, but I’m twenty-four, and I can’t ever imagine making a spur-of-the-moment decision to marry someone. I half-thought the narrator was equally excited to be the Lady of Manderley as much as she was excited to marry Maxim. Fair enough though – Manderley was made out to be such a big thing… it was a bit of a pity that got squashed when she reached Manderley and met the staff.

      Haha, I’ll see if I can find that :)

  7. Great review. I read Rebecca this summer, and really enjoyed it (here’s my review). I didn’t quite understand the main character either, but still enjoyed the book a lot.

    Then I read Jamaica Inn and enjoyed that, but My Cousin Rachel annoyed me no end because of its similarity to Rebecca.

    • Yeah, me too (didn’t understand the main character, but enjoyed the book).

      Thanks for the heads up on My Cousin Rachel. Maybe I should wait a while before picking it up?

  8. So you don’t think Maxim loves her? I think he does :)
    The main character wasn’t my favorite too, because she daydreams too much. I kept wanting to shake her back to the earth.
    I love how she is never named throughout the entire book. Genius.

    • I don’t know – I think he loved her because she was naive and innocent. But, maybe for the wrong reasons?

      Haha, I agree with you about shaking her back to earth. However, I loved the story, and the twists it took. The fact that she remained nameless through the book was incredible as well.

  9. I’m not surprised you couldn’t stick to the read along and rushed on to get further into it – it’s such a gripping story. Like JoAnn, I recommend the Hitchcock film, and there is also a UK tv adaption with Charles Dance which I watched recently and available from Amazon which I liked a lot.

    • I go back to my comment on a Rebecca marathon – thanks for the TV adaptation recommendation. I’ll add that on.

      I’m almost embarrassed by not sticking to the read-along, but, I just couldn’t help it. I blame du Maurier :)

  10. Rebecca is absolutely a stay up late kind of book, all those disturbing walks among the flowers and hints at what Maxim may have done!

  11. 21 Jacqui

    I am glad you loved this book – it is one of my all time favourites and I have read it quite a few times! Daphne Du Maurier’s other books are well worth reading – I love Jamaica Inn, Frenchmans Creek and My Cousin Rachael. All her stories are interesting and she is one of the few writers who’s short stories I enjoy too.

    • Ah cool – thank you. I’m going to be trying some of Neil Gaiman’s short stories, and depending on how I get on with those, I’ll try DDM.

      I love it, and can easily see it becoming an all-time favourite, despite the fact that the protagonist wasn’t the character I liked most.

  12. Ooh, going against popular opinion. I have never really liked Rebecca… Probably because I don’t find the narrator a sympathetic character. But opinions do change; as I get older I feel generally less impatient with wet women characters and more motherly towards them. Neither is an objective view!

    But I do like Jamiaca Inn, and I have always loved Frenchman’s Creek.

    • Oooh! Controversial, controversial :) Just kidding….

      I didn’t really like the narrator, and couldn’t quite relate to her, but loved the story in spite of that! A couple of my friends read this book when they were sixteen, and they didn’t enjoy it at all. And when they described it to me, it sounded like a book I wouldn’t like. Hence, picked it up almost warily, and was well surprised.

      Maybe it’s an age thing, as you say?

  13. Rebecca is my favourite novel of all-time and has been since I was thirteen years old. You simply must watch the Hitchcock adaptation! One of my favourite films too.
    I have been considering a long overdue re-read for Sandy’s read-along but I don’t think I’ll have a chance for the 16th.

    I don’t see the other/second Mrs de WInter as one-dimensional but as young and naive; she was trapped and bored as companion to Mrs. Van Hopper and I think she jumped at the freedom Max provided and also loved the thought of being in love and being cared for by someone else, as a mutual companion to someone. Max and his new wife’s relationship is about loneliness -on both their parts- I think and it is hauntingly evoked.

    • I’ll definitely be looking out for the Hitchcock adaptation… it sounds incredible, and as I’ve already said, can’t wait to see how they do Manderley.

      I agree with you, to an extent. However, I don’t think her character grew at all during the book. She remained fairly self-involved – which, of course, might have been a result of always having Rebecca on her mind, and constantly thinking that everyone’s comparing the two of them. I don’t know, but I also found her character fairly society-conscious, specially as the book progressed. Again, one can probably attribute that to the times and society, and not the narrator herself.

  14. I finally finally found this book at the used bookstore (for $1 – yippee) and am so excited. I have some books ahead of it on my list but heck, lists can be changed. I may have to move this one up in the line due to your great synopsis and review.

    • Wow! Don’t you love used bookstores? I’ve had some amazing steals this year, and $1 for Rebecca seems like a jolly good steal.

      I loved the book, so looking forward to seeing what you think of it. Really hope you enjoy it… bump it up the list ;)

  15. I’m reading it now along with the rest of you. Thanks to Sandy I have now discovered your blog. I really enjoyed your insights about the book. I’ve read Rebecca multiple times an am still amazed at all of the new insigts I gain when I read it again. And I know the ending but I still tend to want to hurry and finish to find out what will happen. It is a good question you bring up about why this young girl/woman would want to marry someone her father’s age. I think her lack of sophistication, youth, and her romantic notions cause her to be swept up in the moment. Her self-esteem is so low that when Maxim wants to marry her she doesn’t think to question why he is in such a hurry or why they don’t have a proper ceremony. For a young girl who held that postcard of Manderly in her hands, it must have been quite a moment for her to imagine that she would now be the mistress of Manderly. Her actions are quite impulsive and actions of young women in their early twenties (and even some women my age – 40’s) can sometimes be!

    • It is an amazing book, isn’t it?

      You’re right – the more I think about it, the more I attribute it to naivety and innocence. I almost felt bad for her, as you could see she was trying really hard to convince herself that Maxim really loved her. For the longest time, though, I wasn’t sure what she was more in love with: the idea of being Mrs. de Winters, i.e. the Lady Of Manderley, or, the idea of being loved.

      Call me a cynic, but despite being in my early 20s, I can’t imagine ever doing that. Maybe it’s just me, but, I always want to know the “why” and “what”.

  16. 31 Pam

    I was given this book for my birthday yesterday with 3 instructions:
    1. Do not fall in love with Maxim
    2. Do not regard this as a baroque romance
    3. Do regard this as a novel in aid of feminism
    Let’s see how I go…

    • 1. That should be easy :)
      2. Yeah, I can see why…
      3. Oh yes!

      Best of luck – please let me know how you get on with it. I loved it, so…

      Oh, and happy birthday, belated as the wishes are…

  17. Sounds interesting and very evocative (I just love evocative writing!). I just realized this as I was looking again at the back cover of a Japanese book I recently finished that it says something like “in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca”. But that one’s actually more of a modern horror/mystery with an occult atmosphere. In any case, the narrative also isn’t as elegant and evocative as Rebecca seems to be, based on your descriptions. I might actually read and enjoy Rebecca. Thanks for your review :)

    • This isn’t so much of a horror story, but it is extremely evocative, so if you like evocative writing, I reckon you’ll love this.

      Do give it a shot :))

  18. How fun! I liked this book when I read it as a teen, but it sounds like I need a reread! I can’t remember the details, I just remember liking it.

    • It is one of those books. Unfortunately, when I was a teen, one of my friends told me the book wasn’t good. I took that at face value, and now, I feel so misled. I really really enjoyed Rebecca.

  19. I am reading this book now as part of Sandy’s readalong and just loving it. I started late so I’m a little behind but I have read it twice already and saw the movie recently. I haven’t read the book in many years though and I find it interesting that this is the first time the behavior of the second Mrs. de Winter aggravates me a bit! I want to shake her and say something like “Head up, shoulders back, be confident, show confidence, have a stiff upper lip…” She always seems to be running off and hiding, cringing in embarassment etc. But I also feel sorry for her.
    I didn’t read your entire review yet, but loved what I read! Glad you enjoyed the book!

    • I felt like slapping the narrator a couple of times (whoops!). The more I think about it, though, I feel bad for her – naive and innocent as she is.

      Thank you :) Guess you enjoyed the book as well, based on it being your third read – it’s a safe assumption!

  20. Great review and some interesting comments. I agree that the second Mrs DW was just young. I think a lot of young women are flattered by any attention they get and so jump into things without thinking. I don’t think she was just one dimensional, just a bit stupid!

    • Thank you.

      It’s amazing how times have changed. I can’t ever imagine jumping into something like that, but, maybe that’s just me. I got the urge to shake her to her senses a couple of times…

  21. Your Halloween post was the kick in the pants I needed. I have been meaning to get to this and now I will. I enjoyed your review and I am sure I will enjoy the book. Thank you. (I am skipping over some of the comments until after I have read the book.)

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