Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca
by
Daphne du Maurier

Here’s a classic Gothic novel about a young, unsophisticated and insecure second wife who tries to overcome the memory of her husband’s revered first wife, Rebecca. When Maxim de Winter brings his second wife to Manderley, she hardly knows how to act. She and Maxim have only just met in Monte Carlo, where she worked as a companion to the social busybody Mrs. Van Hopper. Newly widowed and darkly brooding, Maxim was in a hurry to forget the past and they soon marry.

Rebecca’s memory and her recent tragic death in a boating accident hang heavily in the air at Manderley, an isolated mansion on the Cornish coast in England. Told from the new Mrs. de Winter’s point of view, who is unnamed in the story, the narrator agonizes about Maxim’s dark and often patronizing moods and how to manage a large staff and social engagements.

Her first opponent is Mrs. Danvers, Manderley’s severe and sinister head housekeeper. Deeply resentful, Mrs. Danvers determines to preserve Rebecca’s memory and make the narrator’s life miserable. The new Mrs. de Winter has never run a household, directed servants or called on neighbors and Mrs. Danvers upends the narrator’s unsteady confidence with aggressive questions about household decisions and continuous praise of Rebecca.

Although sure she can never live up to Rebecca’s faultless reputation, the narrator is nevertheless curious about Rebecca and her death. Why are Rebecca’s rooms preserved, untouched, as if Rebecca will return to them? Why won’t Maxim walk down the Happy Valley trail to the shoreline or talk about the cottage at the beach? And who is the mysterious and half-witted man who hangs around the cottage? Few will answer, but she has tentative allies in Maxim’s agent, Frank Crawley and Maxim’s sister Beatrice. They may at least give her the confidence to learn the truth.

The story reaches its climax at the fancy dress ball where Rebecca’s costume causes a shock. Maxim shuns her and the marriage seems doomed. The second Mrs. de Winter should have listened to Mrs. Van Hopper when she said, “I think you are making a big mistake—one you will bitterly regret.” Mrs. Van Hopper was quick to add, “The fact is that empty house got on his nerves to such an extent he nearly went off his head. He admitted as much before you came into the room. He just can’t go on living there alone…” Maybe Mrs. Van Hopper was right.

After the ball, an accident at sea propels Manderley into an unstoppable finish, but Rebecca’s newfound confidence may be enough to save their marriage.

I could say a lot more about Rebecca and how it fits right in with what I love about certain books that incorporate nature into their story lines. There are hundreds of examples of how Manderley is surrounded and defined by the plants, flowers and the sea and how it’s affected by changes in weather. And I love stories in which the house plays a major role in the atmosphere. I would love to be able to walk through the rooms of Manderley and imagine its characters there with me. Or walk down the paths to the sea…

I highly recommend Rebecca, which was published in 1938 and is a best-seller that has never gone out of print. The 1940 film of the same name was directed by Alfred Hitchcock. (Daphne du Maurier also wrote the story for Hitchcock’s film, The Birds.)  And Netflix is releasing a new version of Rebecca on October 21. You can watch the trailer here.

Have you read Rebecca or watched the movie? Leave a comment and let me know what you thought!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

45 thoughts on “Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

    1. I know – I was surprised to see that, but you know Wikipedia is a great thing for trivia tidbits! Can’t wait to watch the Hitchcock movie – I can’t believe I’ve never seen it because I love all the other Hitchcock movies. Thanks for the visit!

      1. I love Rear Window – anything with Grace Kelly. Also To Catch a Thief and Dial M for Murder. I just brought the Rebecca movie home to watch over the weekend. Thanks for stopping by Betsy!

    1. Hi Jill – yes there are so many great ones I’d like to read again. But time, of course is a limiter. I’m so glad I re-read Rebecca. I enjoyed it so much the second time, too! Thanks for stopping by. Have you eaten your cake yet? 😉

  1. I’ve read Rebecca, but so long ago that it’s time I revisited it. It’s so hypnotic, and so multilayered with themes of class, gender roles, feminism — and it positively radiates unspoken, repressed, twisty sexuality. Mrs. Danvers is one of the all-time bad guys. Thrilled to hear there’s a new movie version coming out — I just hope it’s as good as the first one!

    1. Hi Jan – I read Rebecca about 15 years ago and had forgotten a lot about the plot. I’m so glad I re-read it – such a great story. We’ll be discussing it next week at my library book club. Can’t wait! Thanks for the visit 🙂

  2. I read Rebecca when I was in high school, not as part of class, but on my own. I remember being completely smitten with the novel, devouring it. I’ve seen the old movie of it, and even knowing the twist of the plot, it was great.

  3. Wonderful review! I re-read Rebecca just a couple of years ago, and loved it all over again. (I was also surprised by how much I didn’t remember, so the twists were able to shock me.) Looking forward to checking out the new Netflix movie!

    1. Hi Lisa – I will also admit that during my re-read, I didn’t remember all the twists and so enjoyed it just as much, maybe even more! Thanks for the visit. Hope you are doing well 🙂

  4. Great review of one of my favourite books. Mrs. Danvers added so much spice to it. I’m definitely going to look for the original movie now, but I’ll pass on the remake because the reviews are not good.

    1. Hi Jennifer – I haven’t looked at reviews. I watched the trailer and it’s a lot flashier than what the story is really like. The new 2nd Mrs. de Winter is very pretty and polished, not like her character. We don’t have Netflix, so if I ever watch it, it will be a while. Thanks for the visit 🙂

      1. Paul and I watched the original from 1940 last night. The ending was changed so that Rebecca’s death was an accident. I looked up the reason: movies weren’t allowed to portray anyone getting away with murder back then. Also, DuMaurier got the idea from her own life: she was insecure and intimidated by the woman who was her husband’s first wife so she wrote the story to exorcise her from her thoughts. Cool, eh?

      2. Hi Jennifer – I have the movie and will watch it soon. I didn’t know about the ending. Also, that’s interesting that du Maurier was intimidated by her husband’s first wife. I’ve read a few things about her but hadn’t heard that!

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