Roberta Writes – Book review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca was recommended to me by my dear blogging friend, Rebecca Budd. Rebecca Budd is a wonderful appreciator of good literature and, together with her sister, Sarah, has a blog called The Book Dialogue where they discuss all sorts of interesting books. You can find The Book Dialogue here:

Introduction to Rebecca

Rebecca is the story of a lonely and unnamed orphan (the narrator) who is the paid companion to a wealthy American women, Mrs Van Hopper (Mrs VH), at the beginning of the story. Mrs VH is rather nosy and interfering, she continuously embarrasses her English companion with her crass and obvious attempts at social climbing.

The pair are staying in a luxurious hotel on the French Riviera and the companion meets the wealthy land owner, Mr de Winter, through Mrs VH’s pushy and overbearing behaviour. Mrs HV is fascinated by Mr de Winter (Maxim) because he is believed to be suffering from a broken heart following the death of his wife through accidental drowning. Mrs VH shares what she knows of the story with her companion.

Mrs VH becomes ill and is confined to bed under the care of a nurse. This leaves her companion free to seek her own entertainment and Mr de Winter invites her to have luncheon with him. His interest in the young companion, only 21 to his 42, increases and the pair start going about together in his car. Mr de Winter invites the young narrator to call him Maxim. He also gifts her a book of poetry which is inscribed with a message from his deceased wife, Rebecca. The narrator, who has fallen in love with Maxim, is instantly jealous of Rebecca and feels intimidated by her memory. The narrator rips the signed page out of the poetry book and burns it.

Mrs VH finally recovers and wants to leave Monte Carlo and return to New York in America. She will meet up with her daughter and grandchild there. The narrator is devastated and seeks out Maxim to tell him she is leaving. Unexpectedly, he asks her to marry him, which despite some reservations, the narrator agrees to do.

After a whirlwind wedding and honeymoon, the new Mrs de Winter finds herself mistress of Manderley, the ancestral home of Mr de Winter. The narrator soon realises that the spirit of the late Rebecca pervades throughout the house and is deliberately kept alive by the creepy housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. The second Mrs de Winter believes she is competing for attention from everyone, including her new husband, with the ghost of Rebecca. These intrusive thoughts heavily impact on her relationship with her husband and her ability to play her role as the mistress of the manor.

One of the interesting quotes that highlight the narrator’s feelings in this regard is as follows:

“I could fight with the living but I could not fight the dead. If there was some woman in London that Maxim loved, someone he wrote to, visited, dined with, slept with, I could fight her. We would stand on common ground. I should not be afraid. Anger and jealousy were things that could be conquered. One day the woman would grow old or tired or different, and Maxim would not love her anymore. But Rebecca would never grow old. Rebecca would always be the same. And she and I could not fight. She was too strong for me.”

The narrator feels that she is being haunted by the ghost of Rebecca:

“Rebecca, always Rebecca. Wherever I walked in Manderley, wherever I sat, even in my thoughts and in my dreams, I met Rebecca. I knew her figure now, the long slim legs, the small and narrow feet. Her shoulders, broader than mine, the capable clever hands. Hands that could steer a boat, could hold a horse. Hands that arranged flowers, made the models of ships, and wrote “Max from Rebecca” on the flyleaf of a book. I knew her face too, small and oval, the clear white skin, the cloud of dark hair. I knew the scent she wore, I could guess her laughter and her smile. If I heard it, even among a thousand others, I should recognize her voice. Rebecca, always Rebecca. I should never be rid of Rebecca. Perhaps”

The relationship between Mrs Danvers and the late Rebecca is rather mysterious as Mrs Danvers cared for Rebecca as a child and has an unhealthy obsession’s with her. Rebecca is not portrayed in a good light, even by Mrs Danvers, as she is described as being repeatedly unfaithful to her husband, in particular with her first cousin, Jack Favell. Mrs Danvers makes it clear she despises the new Mrs de Winter for attempting to take Rebecca’s place, but she does not condemn Rebecca for her infidelity or for her incestuous relationship with her first cousin.

Rebecca flouts the morality and patriarchal attitudes of the time with her sexual wantonness and as a result, she was despised by her husband and the manager of the estate, Frank Crawley. The narrator gets on well with Frank and confides in him to a certain extent. When she compares herself unfavourably to Rebecca, Frank says:

“You have qualities that are just as important, far more so, in fact. It’s perhaps cheeky of me to say so, I don’t know you very well. I’m a bachelor, I don’t know very much about women, I lead a quiet sort of life down here at Manderley, as you know, but I should say that kindliness, and sincerity, and if I may say so—modesty—are worth far more to a man, to a husband, than all the wit and beauty in the world.”

The setting of Rebecca, the beautiful but cold and creepy Manderley, gives the story a gothic and dark flavour. This is exacerbated by Mrs Danvers who is described as a tall and gaunt woman who dresses in deep black clothes. Her physical appearance is almost that of a corpse as she has a skull-like face, high cheekbones, hollow eyes, and a pale complexion. It almost seems as if she lost her own life when Rebecca lost hers. Mrs Danvers turns out to be the villain of the story and her peculiar and devoted behaviour made me wonder whether she wasn’t in love with Rebecca.

Jack Favell comes across as a drunken and selfish man who didn’t care for Rebecca at all, but just used her for his personal amusement and as a meal ticket. Rebecca’s relationship with such a small minded man, who is prepared to blackmail Mr de Winter, rather showed her up as being a foolish and self centred woman.

Themes of Rebecca

Love and Marriage –

The narrator and Mr de Winter have a short and intense courtship which culminates in marriage after a few weeks. The new Mrs de Winter is very young and insecure and doubts Maxim’s love for her after they return to Manderley and she discovers what a strong character the late Rebecca was. She doesn’t understand that Maxim hated his deceased wife and does love her for her very sweet childishness and innocence. She loves him passionately.

“I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word.”

When Maxim confides in the narrator that her murdered his first wife, he believes she cannot love him.

“He had never loved her, never, never. They had never known one moment’s happiness together. Maxim was talking and I listened to him, but his words meant nothing to me. I did not really care. “I thought about Manderley too much,” he said. “I put Manderley first, before anything else. And it does not prosper, that sort of love. They don’t preach about it in the churches. Christ said nothing about stones, and bricks, and walls, the love that a man can bear for his plot of earth, his soil, his little kingdom. It does not come into the Christian creed.”

Rebecca and Maxim were married but their relationship was a deceitful and unhappy one which ended in Rebecca’s early death. Rebecca lied to Maxim at the end of her life, goading him into killing her. Maxim feels extreme guilt about murdering his first wife and finds it difficult to overcome these emotions, especially when the newly weds return to Manderley after their honeymoon.

There are other types of love in Rebecca. Mrs Danvers unshakable and desperate love for Rebecca and Rebecca and Jack Favell’s underhanded infidelity.

Death and Memory –

Death is a pervasive theme in Rebecca. Manderley lies in the shadow of the dead Rebecca and the entire mansion is infiltrated with her spirit and personality. Mrs Danvers is a slave to the ghost of Rebecca and maintains her rooms as shrines to the dead woman.

Maxim is haunted by the murder he committed even though, as we learn much later, Rebecca is dying of a terminal disease.

The narrator is obsessed with the ghost of Rebecca and sees herself as a poor replacement. This obsession quickly dies when the narrator learns that Maxim never loved Rebecca, and had, in fact, murdered her. Admittedly, it is a little hard to understand how such a young and innocent woman could so easily accept and forgive murder by her husband, especially murder of his first wife.

“She was dead. She had been dead now for a year. She lay buried in the crypt of the church with all the other dead de Winters.”

Justice –

There is a strange justice in the story because although Maxim is exonerated from Rebecca’s death which is chalked up to suicide due to her terminal illness, Manderley, the home he loves is burned down by Mrs Danvers.

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,

And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.”

It was a mixed up portrayal of justice though. Did Rebecca deserve to die given how cruel and evil she was? She wanted to die so wasn’t her death a form of suicide as she goaded Maxim into shooting her in a fit of rage? Did Maxim deserve to lose the home he loved? I am still not sure, but the ending was appropriate.

Deceit –

There are a lot of lies and misrepresentations presented in Rebecca. There is also a lot of manipulative behaviour.

Maxim lies about the circumstances surrounding his first wife’s death on numerous occasions.

Rebecca presents one persona to the world and another to Maxim and Mrs Danvers. Rebecca lies to Maxim about being pregnant by another man in order to goad him into killing her. Rebecca sees the doctor in London under an assumed identity.

Mrs Danvers tries to convince the narrator that Maxim loved Rebecca and that she is unwanted. She encourages the narrator to commit suicide. Mrs Danvers also influences the narrator into dressing up as the same character as Rebecca had at the fancy dress ball. She deliberately tries to cause discord between Maxim and his new wife.

“I won’t push you. I won’t stand by you. You can jump of your own accord. What’s the use of your staying here at Manderley? You’re not happy. Mr. de Winter doesn’t love you. There’s not much for you to live for, is there? Why don’t you jump now and have done with it? Then you won’t be unhappy any more.”

Sexuality –

Rebecca is very sexual and has affairs with several men including her first cousin. She is sexually unrestrained and some of the Manderley staff know about her behaviour, including Frank.

Maxim is quite sexually restrained and the sex life between the narrator and him seems to die when they return to the haunted Manderley. It is reignited once Maxim confesses to Rebecca’s murder and the narrator is freed from her feelings of inferiority.

Mrs Danvers appears to love Rebecca and their relation could have been lesbian. It is not entirely clear but something Mrs Danvers says about Rebecca not caring about any men could be indicative.

My opinion

I really enjoyed Rebecca. I loved the dark descriptions which seemed gloomy and creepy even when the subject was something beautiful and bright like flowers. I loved how the author portrayed Mrs Danvers and also the young innocence of the narrator.

Rebecca is a terrific novel with lots of action: murder, two boats sinking, blackmail, terminal illness and a fire. It is exciting and fast paced and is also a compelling psychological thriller.

48 thoughts on “Roberta Writes – Book review: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

  1. I loved the story of Rebecca (made a great movie), but I had difficulty with the writing style (too meandering for me). Still, I understand why so many people love this book. Great review, Robbie!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi, Robbie. So you discovered “Rebecca.” I enjoyed reading your reactions to the book. Though it’s been many years, I read it several times. It was also one of several books that I re-read from the perspective of “Why was it exciting? Why did I enjoy it?”
    One thing that stood out to me was that du Maurier did not name the narrator. I felt that was one reason why I identified so very strongly with her. Although “the companion” was like me in other ways. There were several scenes where her actions and thoughts were described, and I realized that I had done those exact things. Anyhow it really is an exceptional work of literature. I’m happy you also enjoyed it. Hugs.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Maybe that’s what du Maurier had in mind — I had not considered that — with so many psychological aspects in the storytelling, that’s probably the case. I thought it was a device to cause the reader to put themself in the heroine’s place.

        Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve only read three of hers. “Jamaica Inn,” I enjoyed but the tone of the story felt very different to me from Rebecca. I wouldn’t have known it was the same author. I liked it well enough, but I can’t say the same for a TV version I saw (but couldn’t finish). “My Cousin Rachel,” was interesting, but it just didn’t hit the right chords with me.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Literature, like film, has evolved so much in the past century that the rhythm and pacing feels antiquated at times – but a good story well told is timeless


  4. A story “borrowed”, in parts verbatim, from Caroline Nabuco. Not the only such accusation leveled against duMaurier. Find a translation of “A Sucessora”. This situation was taught at the college level as is it plagiarism or is it a common trope. To understand the line about Rebecca not caring about any men we should look to the 20th century psychology of the Gold Digger mentality and its use of the age old “beauty opens every door”. Understanding that psychology leads directly to disposable men and loyal same sex followers, not necessarily sexuality.


  5. This book is actually the reason the Kiss of Death group with Romance Authors of America came up with the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, one of the most prestigious awards in romance. She is an amazing writer. I enjoyed the quotes you shared. There’s such a world of depth to her thoughts, isn’t there?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Jacquie, I must admit I was really taken with this book and I loved the writing and style. I don’t know why I’ve never read it before. My mom read it when she was a young woman but she never mentioned it to me. We’ve had some good conversations about it now.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Excellent review of the book, Robbie. I read it in college I think or maybe my friend read it and kept telling me every page as she read it. I always felt I read it. Your detailed review helped me remember the discussions we had. My daughter read it last year. I suppose it’s time I give it a re-read. Some books are meant to be re-read because they teach you so much.

    Liked by 1 person

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