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.