One of the most appealing heroines in all of fiction weaves a special magic to enthral every reader.
Known to millions through the outstandingly successful versions on stage and screen, the characters in this timeless romance become hauntingly real – to be treasured in the memory.
Brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed, Daphne du Maurier’s unforgettable tale of love and suspense is a storytelling triumph that will be read and re-read.
Written by Daphne du Maurier. First published 1938 by Victor Gollancz Ltd. This edition published by Pan Books 1976.
Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn is one of my favourite all-time gothics and since there’s a new anthology of her stories due out this week (more on that later) and the Daphne du Maurier Festival taking place later this month, I thought it was about time I posted a review of what must be her most remembered book, Rebecca.
With one of the best known opening lines in literary history and widely believed to be the book that kick-started the revival for Gothic Romance in the 20th Century, Rebecca is Daphne du Maurier’s fifth novel and for many considered to be the quintessential modern Gothic.
Told in flashback, this is story of an unnamed women’s struggle as she adjusts to a new life married to the wealthy owner of a West Country estate and her fight to come out from under the shadow cast by her husband’s first wife Rebecca.
Rebecca was everything the new Mrs de Winter is not – beautiful, charming, self confident and dead. She drowned in a boating accident in the bay, and it was her husband Maxim de Winter who identified the body when it was supposedly washed up from the sea a couple of months later.
Feeling inadequate and unfamiliar with her grand new lifestyle, the new Mrs de Winter finds it very difficult to adjust, becoming less and less confident with each new faux pas, failing to live up to the standard she thinks is expected of her. And then there is Mrs Danvers – the sly, secretive, skull-faced housekeeper who loved Rebecca more than anyone and who just can’t hide her dislike for her new mistress.
The best gothic romances brim with unspoken secrets and emotions. This book is full of such things and more, as the withered claw of Rebecca’s unburied past reaches out from its watery grave, maintaining its strange stranglehold over the living occupants of Manderley.
Dare I say it however, Rebecca is not my favourite gothic romance – it is not even my favourite du Maurier novel. Though it is beautifully written, I find the voice of the new Mrs de Winter a little too insipid for my tastes and difficult to listen to for long. I’ve picked this book up and put it down again so many times the story has always been a bit of a disjointed blur for me. In my defence though, I have seen the play and I did watch the Alfred Hitchcock movie last night specially for this review.
And what a fab movie it is too!
Joan Fontaine is brilliant. When reading Rebecca I never developed much sympathy for the new Mrs de Winter – I could never understand what all the fuss was about over the costume ball for example – but watching the film made me cringe in sympathy for her. Laurence Olivier really brings the character Maxim alive too, maintaining an undeniable charm on the surface but with an added aura of menace and control over his new bride. And if gloom-ridden, gothic mansions are your thing – well, the opening shots of Manderley are a treat!
Four out of five stars.
Fans of Daphne Du Maurier will be interested to know that Virago press are publishing a new anthology of her short stories this week. Called The Doll, this collection features 13 ‘forgotten’ short stories written by du Maurier early on in her career. The titular story – lost for more than 70 years – is a macabre tale about a man who discovers that the girl he’s smitten with is besotted with a mechanical sex doll.
Here’s a description taken from the Virago website:
‘I want to know if men realise when they are insane. Sometimes I think that my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror – too much despair …I cannot sleep, I cannot close my eyes without seeing his damned face. If only it had been a dream.’
In ‘The Doll’, a waterlogged notebook is washed ashore. Its pages tell a dark story of obsession and jealousy. But the fate of its narrator is a mystery. Many of the stories in this haunting collection have only recently been discovered. Most were written early in Daphne du Maurier’s career, yet they display her mastery of atmosphere, tension and intrigue and reveal a cynicism far beyond her years.
More information can be found at the Virago press website HERE.
And to celebrate all things splendiferously Daphne, I have not one but two copies of Rebecca to give away free to anyone with a UK postal address.
The first is an Arrow edition, published 1992 with a short biography and photograph of the author on the inside cover (pictured above). The second, shown left, is the very nice Virago Modern Classic edition.
Just email me via the contacts page with your preference. First come first served. Enjoy!