Places: Rebecca

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1938

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Gothic

Time of work: 1930’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedManderley

Manderley. RebeccaEstate in Cornwall to which Max de Winter brings his new bride, the second Mrs. de Winter. There, he earlier lived with his first wife, Rebecca. From the blood-red rhododendrons surrounding this house of secrets to its iron gates holding in its past when Max and his second wife arrive in early May, Manderley is a forceful, menacing, and even malignant presence. The house itself seems to cause the events of the plot by acting upon the characters. As willful and capricious as the spirit of the dead Rebecca herself, the house symbolizes her tomb; her spirit infuses the place. In this ghostly personification, Rebecca actually seems to transcend the gothic form.

Manderley is based on two distinctive houses, one a house du Maurier visited as a child, and the other, Menabilly, a house in which she herself lived for more than twenty-five years. The houses merged in the landscape of her imagination to become Manderley, which inspired one of the most famous opening lines of twentieth century literature: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” As potent as a presence, as moody as a person, Manderley has a living aura and is as much a character in the novel as any man or woman. In fact, the house figures in the sensibilities of both of Max de Winter’s wives more than any living presence by being imbued with the spirit of his first wife, Rebecca.

According to a published memoir, du Maurier visited a family friend’s home, Milton, in 1917, and her memory of that house created the seed for Manderley. Struck by Milton’s portraits of four centuries of family ancestors, du Maurier wondered if the ancestors’ presences still haunted the house–with menace. For her the past is clearly a destructive force, destroying the present, just as the past wreaks havoc on present lives in Rebecca.

*Cornwall

*Cornwall. Historic region of southwestern England to which du Maurier felt a passionate attachment. Her sense of Cornwall’s atmosphere is integral to each of the novels she set there. Remote, distant from the rest of England, full of antiquities from prehistoric times to Arthurian legend, Cornwall infuses the imagination with history in a setting in which the ghosts of the past intrude upon the present. Dramatic things happen in such settings. For example, a shipwreck that du Maurier witnessed off the Cornish coast in 1930 became transposed as a symbol of the tragedy haunting Manderley in Rebecca. Indeed, the novel itself, originated in du Maurier’s memory of place. While she was living in Alexandria, Egypt, she became so homesick for the woods and shores of Cornwall that she was moved to write a novel about it, and that novel became Rebecca.

BibliographyBakerman, Jane S., ed. And Then There Were Nine . . . More Women of Mystery. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1985. A collection of essays. Bakerman’s chapter on Daphne du Maurier argues that in her six “romantic suspense novels,” including Rebecca, can be seen not only new uses of the gothic “formula” but also reflections of other literary traditions. Sees du Maurier as preeminent in her genre.Beauman, Sally. “Rereading Rebecca.” The New Yorker 69, no. 37 (November 8, 1993): 127-138. Points out that the publication in 1993 of Forster’s biography of du Maurier and of Susan Hill’s Mrs. de Winter, a sequel to the novel, indicate the lasting importance of Rebecca in literary history. Beauman voices her surprise that feminist critics have not turned their attention to a work in which the narrator so clearly equates love with submission. A balanced and perceptive analysis.Conroy, Sarah Booth. “Daphne du Maurier’s Legacy of Dreams.” The Washington Post, April 23, 1989, pp. F1, F8. Accounts for du Maurier’s continuing appeal by placing her in the oral tradition. The deep-seated “universal fears” that are experienced by her characters and the rhythms of her prose are reminiscent of fireside storytelling. Of all of her well-developed characters, the most convincing is Manderley itself.Du Maurier, Daphne. The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1980. Examines the birth and adolescence of a novel. Contains all textual notes and personal commentary by the author. A comparison of this source and the final text is fascinating. Also included are family anecdotes.Forster, Margaret. Daphne du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller. New York: Doubleday, 1993. The first authorized biography of du Maurier. With the aid of previously unavailable source materials, Forster reveals du Maurier’s lifelong ambivalence as to her sexual identity. She concludes that the novels permitted du Maurier to be psychologically, as well as financially, independent. Although it contains little critical analysis of the works, the volume is a useful addition to du Maurier scholarship.Hollinger, Karen. “The Female Oedipal Drama of Rebecca from Novel to Film.” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 14, no. 4 (1993): 17-30. A feminist view of the translation of a Gothic novel into the film media.Kelly, Richard. Daphne du Maurier. Boston: Twayne, 1987. Discusses the notebook for Rebecca as well as subsequent film and television versions. Includes commentary from periodicals and a list of all works in chronological order.“Novel of the Week: Survival.” The Times Literary Supplement, August 6, 1938, 517. A contemporary review of Rebecca, “a low-brow story with a middle-brow finish.” Of the characters, only the narrator is believable; however, the work is well crafted and readable, one of the few in its genre which can be considered an unqualified success.Shallcross, Martyn. The Private World of Daphne du Maurier. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1992. An insightful, sympathetic overview of the author by a close family friend. Includes many pictures and a chronological bibliography of the du Maurier canon.
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