Read this book (as with most gothic novels) at night under the warm glow of a non-LED lamp, to the sound of dramatic classical music. Don't light a fire.
Daphne DuMaurier, 1938
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
You probably know you’ve seen it somewhere if you are reading this blog. You may even know it’s the first sentence of Rebecca, the ultimate gothic novel written in 1938 by Daphne du Maurier. The cast of characters includes: penniless, naïve young woman, overbearing employer, dashing older man, creepy housekeeper, unscrupulous cad and some minor supporting characters.
Oh. And Rebecca.
Is she alive? Is she dead? Is she haunting the second Mrs. de Winter? In case you haven’t read the book or seen the movie, I won’t spoil your experience by answering that question.1
Despite the title of the book, perhaps the most enduring character is that of Mrs. Danvers, the creepy housekeeper. The name is synonymous with ‘creepy housekeeper,’ with references throughout film and literature. There might even have been a Mrs. Danvers reference on “The Simpsons,” but that might be wishful thinking.
We never learn the name of the second Mrs. De Winter, who narrates the book in first person. Maybe you can wonder about that as you read. You could also ponder whether some themes or motifs in the story have appeared in previous gothic works – perhaps even a story you may have seen on this blog.
Ms. Du Maurier wrote a play based on the novel in 1939, and Alfred Hitchcock directed the 1940 film starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. The film won an Academy Award for best picture.
Rebecca is widely available, and I would expect you can get the eBook from your local library. Honestly though, the best way to experience this classic would be to get your hands on a well-worn used hardcover edition. Thank you Linda W., for the suggesting I feature this title!
1 There’s no replacing that first read, is there? Never again will you wonder what happens next. We can read the book again but we will never experience it the same way. I do wish I had read the book before I’d seen the movie, but the movie is excellent regardless.