Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, published in 1938, is a Gothic Mystery Romance novel. Dame Daphne de Maurier, an English playwright and author, grew up in London and her father, Sir Gerald du Maurier, was a famous actor and manager.  George du Maurier, her grandfather, was an author and Punch cartoonist. Her famous family helped launch her writing career. Also, she was a cousin to the Llewelyn Davies boys, who were J. M. Barrie’s inspiration for Peter Pan. Many of her stories have been made into movies, including Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and The Birds. Alfred Hitchcock directed these films. I’ve only seen The Birds, however, after reading this novel I’m dying to see the film, Rebecca.

The story opens with the narrator discussing her past. Throughout the entire novel, you never learn the first name of the narrator. When she marries Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter she’s referred to as Mrs. de Winter. It’s like she doesn’t have her own identity.

When the narrator meets Maxim she is currently employed by a rich American woman who is visiting Monte Carlo. The future Mrs. de Winter is the American woman’s companion. Maxim shows up at the same resort and the rich woman is determined to meet him since she loves meeting wealthy people. Maxim is in his forties and his first wife has recently died in a boating accident. The narrator and Maxim quickly become friends and after spending a couple of weeks together Maxim proposes to the young woman. She accepts.

The newlyweds return to Maxim’s estate, Manderley. The new bride is not sure about herself and her place in the household. She’s young and begins to question if Maxim regrets marrying such an inexperienced woman who didn’t come from a wealthy family and who doesn’t know the customs of his people. To complicate matters, the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers is an overbearing woman who controls the narrator right from the start. She’s creepy. It’s obvious that Mrs. Danvers worshipped Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife. And the new Mrs. de Winter begins to question if Maxim will ever be able to get over his first wife, who everyone says was beautiful.

What ensues is a delightful psychological thriller with several twists and turns. At first I wasn’t sure if I would like the novel. The first few chapters spent a lot of time describing the setting and character development. I started to wonder if this novel would have been picked up by a publisher today or would it have been deemed too slow and wordy. When I got into the rhythm of her writing I really started to enjoy it. She slowly builds up the suspense. It’s almost like she lulls you to sleep and then BAM! I began to question everything. After finishing this novel I started to miss her storytelling so I picked up another book by her, Jamaica Inn. I’m not too far into it, but so far I’m enjoying it.

I read this novel for R. I. P. and it’s on my 1001 books you must read before you die. Furthermore, this novel counts for my Award Winning Books challenge. It won the National Book Award for favorite novel of 1938. If you like a good mystery, I would recommend it. Now I need to track down the movie.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American living in England. When she isn’t writing, she’s traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs, or reading. Not necessarily in that order.
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51 Responses to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

  1. I LOVE this novel. I think Daphne du Maurier is brilliant and have read ‘Rebecca’ several times. I even know the first line by heart. This is definitely a must-read for anyone who hasn’t and I am so glad you enjoyed it.

  2. I remember being in a classic book club when I was a young teen where you could order old classics that were beautifully bound to look old fashioned. One of the first ones I bought was Rebecca. Now I want to read it again. TBM, you keep making my “to be read” list longer and longer. LOL 🙂

  3. Colline says:

    I am on the hunt for this novel – I love the Gothic romance novels. As you say, a completely different style of writing to the modern day romance writers.

  4. Carl V. says:

    Ah, such a great classic. I read this one back in the early 90’s when I was working part time at a small bookstore and promptly took it home to my wife and she devoured it as well. It is the quintessential gothic novel, the quintessential R.I.P. novel. I’ve only read it the once and it has stuck with me profoundly over the years since reading it.

    Definitely see the old black and white movie but know that it strays in one area from the book, and check out the more recent BBC version with Charles Dance, Emilia Fox and Diana Rigg. It is more accurate and is my favorite of the two.

    Given that I’ve recently read The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters and it has a long, slow, meandering build up I would say that Rebecca wouldn’t have too hard of a time getting published today.

    • TBM says:

      I hope to watch the black and white movie first. It depends on whether or not I can track it down. Finding BBC versions is much easier here 🙂 I recently finished Tipping the Velvet by Waters and fell in love with her writing. Her descriptions are phenomenal. Actually I purchased two more of her novels this past weekend: The Little Stranger and The Night Watch.

  5. Caroline says:

    I remember I liked it quite a bit when I read it but I was stil a teenager. It impressed me a lot but meanwhile I’ve seen the movie a few times and can’t really remember the book.
    I saw a post today that they have added 10 new books to the 1001 list and removed another 10. I never thought of that before.

    • TBM says:

      I had a feeling that would happen to the list. I plan on sticking to my original list and then if I actually complete the 1001 novels, I’ll delve into the additions. My movie list I think gets amended every ten years. And the UN actually approved a new country to the list so technically I should be traveling to 193 countries, not 192. It’s hard to keep up! I’m curious what novels they removed.

  6. IsobelandCat says:

    I read Rebecca after hearing the opening read aloud in a school Public Speaking competition. It is one of those books I return to. And I have reread it many times. There have been various tv versions of it. You might find them in yr library, or via the BBC. Btw, I saw Sarah Waters in my local M&S earlier this year. The dog thta the one in the Little Stranger was based on belonged to a friend of a friend of mine who is a friend of SW.

    • TBM says:

      Rebecca has a great opening line. That’s pretty cool about Sarah Waters. Now I have to read The Little Stranger sooner rather than later to find out more about the dog. did you snap a photo?

      • IsobelandCat says:

        No, but I did speak to her. I recognised but couldn’t place her, so said hello, and we spoke for a few minutes, mainly about the dog… The Little Stranger is my least favourite of her novels.

      • TBM says:

        That’s funny that you couldn’t place her. Too bad I wasn’t shopping with you that day. However, I should admit, I’m horrible at recognizing famous people so I would have been no help.

  7. hugmamma says:

    I love old movies, Rebecca with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine being one of my favorites. I’m certain I read the novel ages ago.

  8. Carol says:

    Loved this one. I was lucky – my mom had a whole collection of Daphne du Maurier books I read when I was a teenager. This is certainly one I’d like to read again. I’ve never seen the movie though.

  9. Natalie says:

    I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed this book! Du Maurier really masters the idea of a “slow burn” in this one; it’s amazing how she keeps our attention without a lot of action. I hope you get to see the 1940 film soon; it’s a solid adaptation, albeit with some alterations to the ending (per the Hays Code) which seem a bit forced today.

  10. I loved this book too. The suspense in the novel was heart-pounding; the movie, not so much. Maybe because I knew the ending? No, it was just a watered-down version. I really need to read her other books.

    • TBM says:

      I’ll let you know about Jamaica Inn when I finish it. I’m about halfway now. So far I would say I prefer Rebecca, but I haven’t finished the other yet so that may change 🙂

      • pearlsandprose says:

        I think I read Jamaica Inn, but can’t remember it at all. Not a condemnation, because it’s been at least 20 years.

      • TBM says:

        I totally understand. I was trying to remember a book I read two years ago and failed miserably. My memory isn’t what it used to be 😉

  11. Jane Risdon says:

    You will love the movie it is full of sinister undertones and is so well acted. Go for the original movie as well. I have spent a lot of time in Cornwall where Daphne lived and she had a wonderful large estate with a huge house called Menabilly (in Par) and it was situated on a cliff top not far from the sea, with a lovely private beach and little house at the bottom not far from a light house. A field was next to the house and the farmer allowed a few lucky people to go through the field to the beach which – since her death – is open to the public, but so few know it is there it is so peaceful. The house is just as I imagined Mandalay to be and in the story I am sure she had it in mind. Not far from Par you will find the Helston River and there are creeks there which are right out of Frenchman’s Creek – another of her wonderful books. I look for the ship and the pirate every time I walk there……of course then there is Jamaica Inn up on Bodmin Moor, named after her book and not vice verse. All made into movies (don’t forget The Birds, The Scapegoat etc)….enjoy them all.

    • TBM says:

      Wow. Thanks for all of the information. Now I have to see all of this for myself. Her descriptions in Rebecca were superb and I would love to find out if what I envision in my head actually fit the “reality.” I plan and reading all of her books and then seeing the movies. Thanks again!

  12. lynnsbooks says:

    Oh, I was holding my breath reading this – hoping that you liked it – phew, breathe out! I love this book. In fact similar to Carol above – my dad, had quite a few books. Rebecca is my favourite although Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel are also really good. I would definitely recommend the old black and white film which is brilliantly atmospheric with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier.
    Lynn 😀

    • TBM says:

      That’s funny that you were nervous. I feel that way when I watch a favorite movie with people. I watch them more than I do the movie. I’m halfway through Jamaica Inn and the suspense is building up. Can’t wait to find out!

      • lynnsbooks says:

        It’s funny how you want people to like the things you do – I suppose it’s some sort of inner need for acceptance. But, I do love this book, I’ve reread it a few times although not for a good few years – I should probably have a revisit.
        Lynn 😀

      • TBM says:

        Oh the desire to be accepted…will that ever go away. At least it isn’t as bad as when we were teens. Those are painful times, at least for me.

  13. Joyce Ray says:

    Thank you for this review. Rebecca is a favorite movie of mine, but I never got around to reading the book! I think I heard there is a newer movie now,or there will be. I did not know du Maurier wrote The Birds! Don’t you just think Daphne du Maurier is a very cool name for an author?

    • TBM says:

      I was surprised by The Birds as well. I had to read it twice to make sure I was thinking of the same movie. And yes, she has a great name.

  14. Jo Bryant says:

    This is my favourite book of all time. The opening sentence make me slide away from this world in to hers.

    • TBM says:

      I have to admit that this book is high up on my list now. And I started Interview last night…I love it! Also, And Then There was None–the ending took me by surprise completely! What other books do you suggest for me.

      • Jo Bryant says:

        I am reading ‘The Vampire Armand’ by Anne Rice. Loving it. You MUST read “The Vampire Lestat” – that is so far my favourite of Anne’s books. More Agatha of course. Try the Tommy and Tuppence ones. Have you read Nicholas Evans – The Smoke Jumper? [I loved it]. “Five Quarters of the Orange” by Joanne Harris is terrific [the author of Chocolat]. “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes – incredible, could not put it down read. “Shades of Grey [no silly not that awful 50 thing] by Jasper Fforde. Heck anything by Jasper Fforde is worth locking yourself away from the world with a f*^@ off do not disturb sign. His Thursday Next series is brilliant. Start with 1.”The Eyre Affair”. “The Big Over Easy” – from his nursery rhymes crime series – there is no way to describe what a clever book that is. And I love his ‘The Last Dragonslayer” series – obviously a huge fan of Mr Fforde. Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” series – have you read those? If not – go get them. I won’t part with mine. Andrew M. Greeley – I first read his “Home by Christmas” by mistake, I was looking for another book of the same name. He is a – wait for it – Roman Catholic Priest. I groaned when I saw that. Man I could not put that book down. His series about “Nuala Anne McGrail” is such – there are no words. Okay that is a start. Now go forth my young apprentice…

      • TBM says:

        Okay! I’ve written them all down on my handy slip of paper I carry in my wallet so when I stumble upon used bookstores (which there are plenty in London) I can remember what people have suggested. I have one book by Joanne Harris, but not the one you mentioned. I own Gentlemen and Players, but haven’t read it yet. Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings has mentioned Jasper Fforde on many occasions and now that you have also brought him up I think it’s time for me to start with his novels. And I’m loving Agatha. I won’t be bored at all this winter. I hope to write my review of And then there were none soon so we can discuss it further. Seriously, her endings make me cry out, “How in the world did I miss that!” My library has many Anne Rice books, but not The Vampire Lestat…what the!!!!

  15. I’ve always wanted to read this novel. It was on my TBR list for a long time and somehow it fell off. Thank you for reminding me to pick it up (and for cautioning me about the slow parts in the beginning.)

    “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

    • TBM says:

      I have a feeling you’ll be hooked right away. The beginning is slow in an action sense, but you’re a writer. You’ll love her skill–at least I did.

  16. patricia says:

    This is a popular topic! I read Rebecca and Jamaica Inn and I enjoyed Jamaica better. I’d like to hear what you think after you’re finished. We just watched this a couple of weeks ago, but French and Saunders did a spoof of Rebecca when they were with Comic Strip Presents. Incredibly funny. The whole cast is great. It’s called “Consuela, or The New Mrs Saunders”.

  17. deslily says:

    I read this a few years ago and have always loved the old black and white movie! I read her Cousin Rachel which was good but not “as good” I doubt any will live up to Rebecca. I am searching for a copy of Frenchman’s Creek by her. I love that most all her books take place in her beloved Cornwall.

  18. Fergiemoto says:

    Looks like another book to put on my list. Thanks!

  19. What a book, how I loved it! yes, the beginning is slow but the writing is so gorgeous, I could read over and over again the first page of it! Get the old movie, fantastic. I need also to read more by her. here is my review: http://wordsandpeace.com/2012/07/15/2012-35-review-rebecca/

  20. This is a wonderful book–I love du Maurier’s lyrical writing. And it’s one of my favorite Hitchcock movies!

  21. Rachel says:

    Thanks for your comments on Rebecca! I’ve been wanting to read this book for a while, but it just sits there on my TBR pile and never gets read….someday. Someday soon!

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