I think it is only fitting that we begin with Rebecca, the novel that Daphne du Maurier is arguably most famous for, particuarlythe opening lines:
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,
the novel begins. This line has entered the conciousness of society and literature as one of the most famous opening lines, and indeed most know the line even if they have not read ‘Rebecca’.
The opening paragraph continues,
It seems 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. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.
The opening lines create an atmosphere of nostaliga and ghostliness, envoking many feelings, and showing the reader the influence of Du Maurier’s beloved Cornwall on her writing. The words create a magical setting and the story continues to unfold surprising events, which capture the imagination and make the reader want to read on and know more of this magical story.
As the dream unfolds we learn that Manderley lies as a shell of its former self, and the dreamer appears to be dreaming of better days and a time that is now forgotten.
Quite as suddenly the story takes us to the beginning, to a Monte Carlo with our young unnamed heroine, an unpleasant Mrs Van Hopper and the entrance of Maxim De Winter, the hero of the novel. We are taken back into the narrators memories, and become ourselves lost in the story, forgetting that this is all memory.
Eventually we arrive at Manderley and meet the unpleasant Mrs Danvers, who adds a dark undertone to the story with her devotion to the former Mrs De Winter – the namesake of the novel, Rebecca.
And it is the ghost of Rebecca that we come to known throughout the novel, as the new Mrs De Winter compares herself to how she thinks Rebecca was seen and loved by all who met her. The ghost of Rebecca haunts the novel and makes it a compelling read and adds those dark, gothic ingredients which compares it to Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The novel owes a lot to Jane Eyre and is a reworking of the classic story, involving the ‘other’ wife, in this case dead, the new young wife and the huge rambling house.
The house is as much a character as anything else. It plays a huge part in the novel, and the new Mrs de Winter remembers at one point buying a picture postcard of the house when she was a child. And now she is to live there – she cannot believe her luck. Yet the house is more than that; it holds ghosts and memories, and a way of life that our heroine does not expect.
Du Maurier began the novel while in Alexandria, with her husband who was stationed out there. She began writing Rebecca whilst wishing to be away from the intense heat and in Cornwall, where she longed to be and where Menabilly, the house that becomes Manderley in the novel, was. Margaret Foster in her autobiography of Daphne records how Daphne wrote to her publisher, Victor Gollancz, anxious about the story and unsure that it was any good. She was soon to find that readers adored the novel.
The novel remains as enchanting and haunting today as it was then, and the unexpected events make this an unmissable and gripping read.
There is so much within this book, and it is one that I can come back to time and time again and still be enchanted by its beauty and magic.
quotes (c) Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca 1938.