July 13, 2020

Book Review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


by Daphne du Maurier

Genres: Gothic, Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Suspense, Classic
Publisher: HarperCollins
Length: 410 pages
Published: September 5, 2006 (originally published in 1938)
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"A PBS Great American Read Top 100 Pick

'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.'

With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten—a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house's current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim's first wife—the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca."


"If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again."


 "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again. It seemed 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 closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.

"No smoke came from the chimney, and the little lattice windows gaped forlorn. Then, like all dreamers, I was possessed of a sudden with supernatural powers and passed like a spirit through the barrier before me. The drive wound away in front of me, twisting and turning as it had always done, but as I advanced I was aware that a change had come upon it; it was narrow and unkept, not the drive that we had known. At first I was puzzled and did not understand, and it was only when I bent my head to avoid the low swinging branch of a tree that I realized what had happened. Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the derive with long, tenacious fingers. The woods, always a menace even in the past, had triumphed in the end. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leaned close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church. And there were other trees as well, trees that I did not recognize, squat oaks and tortured elms that straggled cheek by jowl with the beeches, and had thrust themselves out of the quiet earth, along with monster shrubs and plants, none of which I remembered.

"The drive was a ribbon now, a thread of its former self, with gravel surface gone, and choked with grass and moss. The trees had thrown out low branches, making an impediment to progress; the gnarled roots looked like skeleton claws. Scattered here and again among this jungle growth I would recognized shrubs that had been landmarks in our time, things of culture and grace, hydrangeas who blue heads had been famous. No hand had checked their progress, and they had gone native now, rearing to monster height without a bloom, black and ugly as the nameless parasites that grew beside them."

My Book Review:

In my opinion, Rebecca is a perfect novel--perfect in its slow, long simmering suspense until it boils over in a thrilling ending. The language is absolutely lovely with its Gothic descriptions of Manderley and the way the house itself becomes a character. I've read it twice and would easily rate it among my favorite novels of all time. Hitchcock's film adaptation is good too, but the novel itself is perfection.

The mood and atmosphere are outstanding. While the book stands on its own merit, it has the haunting Gothic quality of Wuthering Heights, The Turn of the Screw, The Haunting of Hill House, Howard's End, and The Age of Innocence. Heavily influenced by Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre, Rebecca isn't exactly a direct retelling but more likely a nod to this classic Victorian romance.

The novel begins with its famed opening line, "Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again," as the narrator--the second wife of widowed Max de Winter--awakes from her recurring, haunting nightmare of the Manderley family estate. The story moves back in time as it retells the story of their meeting. The narrator remains unnamed, readers only get snippets about de Winter's life and the story of his first wife in scattered puzzle pieces, but as the new Mrs. de Winter moves to his home and meets the staff and begins to learn more about what life was like at Manderley before she arrived, the mystery grows and grows.

The narrative voice is engaging, the quiet suspicion and intrigue grow slowly over time, and I love the questions that arise in your mind as you question the motives of Mr. de Winter, become increasingly frightened by the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, and wonder about the fate of this young, second wife. I simply adore this novel. If you're looking for a fast-paced thriller this is not the book for you, but if you enjoy slow-burning Gothic mysteries, this is one of the finest books in its genre.

If You Like This, Then Try:

Other Gothic Mysteries
Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre
Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights
Henry James's The Turn of the Screw
Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House

Other Novels with Strong Settings
E.M. Forster's Howard's End
Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence

Additional Books by the Author
Daphne du Maurier's My Cousin Rachel
Daphne du Maurier's Jamaica Inn
Daphne du Maurier's The House on the Strand

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