“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” is the haunting line that begins Daphne du Maurier’s gothic masterpiece, Rebecca. Contrary to expectations, Rebecca is not the main character and narrator. In fact, we never learn the name of the mind we inhabit throughout the book. Rebecca is the dead first wife of the novel’s hero – Maximilian de Winter. When the narrator meets Maxim at a Monte Carlo hotel, she is young and naïve and in training to be a “companion” to a wealthy old gossip. Maxim is twice her age, moody and inscrutable, but he seems to take a liking to the unlikely heroine. When her guardian falls ill, the narrator spends her unexpected free time gallivanting around Monte Carlo with the mysterious Maxim. She quickly falls in love with the dashing (but dubious) hero, but entertains no hope that he returns her affection and is consequently taken completely by surprise when he abruptly proposes to her the day she is set to depart for New York. She accepts (of course) and returns with him to his renowned mansion, Manderley.
Unfortunately, her new life fails to live up to her youthful expectations. At Manderley, the nameless heroine is met at every turn with the memory of her predecessor Rebecca, who was drowned in a boating accident only a year earlier. The servants, especially the malevolent and ghastly Mrs. Danvers, worshipped Rebecca when she was alive and still hold her memory sacred. The narrator finds herself utterly unwelcome and powerless as Manderley’s new mistress and eventually begins to suspect that Maxim does not love her at all, but still pines for his lost first love. In an utterly bone-chilling scene, Mrs. Danvers tries to convince the heartbroken and desperate heroine to jump to her death from one of Manderley’s highest windows. This tragedy is narrowly avoided, and the dark and gripping story then takes a startling turn that will have readers on the edge of their seats until the final astounding page.
Rebecca is a fascinating tale of suspense and romance, markedly distinct from many of the more mundane love stories. The story bears some resemblance to Charlotte Brontë’s amazing Jane Eyre, but pushes the bounds of star-crossed and troubled lovers nearly to their breaking point. Rebecca encapsulates the subtle mix of romance and horror that has captivated modern readers in popular series such as The Twilight Saga, though du Maurier’s thrilling tale was written almost 70 years earlier. The enchanting and haunting darkness shrouding the novel is perhaps what drew film auteur Alfred Hitchcock to the story for his 1940 cinematic adaptation. Reading Rebecca is a sensory experience; du Maurier describes every scene with vivid detail that drops readers in the midst of the starkly contrasting vistas of Manderley’s brackish woods and vibrant multitudes of blood red rhododendrons, living each twist and every turn of the story alongside the forever nameless heroine. Rebecca will have readers questioning their judgment and second-guessing their intuition as they eagerly seek to discover Manderley’s darkest secrets.
This novel can be purchased here.