Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: A Haunting Gothic Romance

Rebecca Book Cover

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: A Haunting Gothic Romance

Rebecca Book CoverWith one of the most famous opening lines in literature – “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca draws readers into an unforgettable story of love, jealousy, and dark secrets. This atmospheric tale has captivated generations of readers and inspired numerous adaptations. In this review, we’ll explore the timeless allure of Rebecca.

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Plot Summary

The novel is narrated by an unnamed young woman who is working as a paid companion to a wealthy American woman, Mrs. Van Hopper, in Monte Carlo. There she meets the handsome, brooding widower Maxim de Winter. After a brief courtship, Maxim proposes and the narrator accepts.

The newlyweds return to Maxim’s beautiful country estate, Manderley. The new Mrs. de Winter struggles to adjust to her role as mistress of the grand house, especially in the shadow of Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca. The housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, who was devoted to Rebecca, is hostile to the new bride and makes her feel inferior at every turn.

As the narrator grows more fearful that Maxim is still in love with Rebecca, the discovery of Rebecca’s sunken boat raises questions about her death. Maxim confesses that he murdered Rebecca, who he says was unfaithful and evil. But further investigation reveals that Rebecca was terminally ill and likely manipulated Maxim into killing her. Though the death is ruled a suicide, absolving Maxim, tragedy strikes when Manderley is set ablaze, seemingly by the crazed Mrs. Danvers.

Character Analysis

The novel revolves around three central characters:

  • The Narrator – The protagonist, a shy and naive young woman who marries Maxim de Winter and struggles to adapt to life at Manderley under Rebecca’s shadow. Her growth from an insecure girl to a stronger woman forms the heart of the story.
  • Maxim de Winter – The dashing but mysterious owner of Manderley. Tormented by the memory of his first marriage, Maxim’s dark moods and secrets drive much of the plot’s suspense and intrigue.
  • Rebecca – Maxim’s dead first wife, who haunts the novel’s characters. Beautiful, brilliant and charismatic, Rebecca is a powerful unseen presence throughout the story. The revelation of her true nature provides the novel’s major plot twist.
  • Mrs. Danvers – The sinister housekeeper of Manderley. Devoted to Rebecca, she resents the new Mrs. de Winter and seeks to undermine her at every turn, psychologically tormenting her. Mrs. Danvers represents the power of the past.

the grand estate of Manderley with its mysterious, gothic mansion, reflecting the novel's suspenseful and atmospheric qualitiesThemes

  • Identity – The narrator’s struggle to establish her own identity as the new Mrs. de Winter, escaping Rebecca’s long shadow, is a central theme. The novel explores how a person’s sense of self can be consumed by a role.
  • The past – The power of the past to haunt the present is embodied by Rebecca’s lingering hold on Manderley and its inhabitants. Letting go of the past is a key character journey.
  • Jealousy – The corrosive effects of jealousy drive the story, as the narrator becomes obsessed with her husband’s mysterious first wife.
  • Appearance vs. reality – As the novel progresses, the characters’ perceptions of Rebecca and Maxim shift as hidden truths come to light, upending what seemed to be reality.

Writing Style

Du Maurier’s lush, poetic prose vividly evokes Manderley’s atmospheric setting and the characters’ turbulent emotions. Her masterful pacing slowly builds suspense and a sense of foreboding. The story is both a suspenseful page-turner and a nuanced psychological portrait.


A gripping mystery, a haunting ghost story, and a psychological thriller exploring marriage, love and female identity, Rebecca has enthralled readers for over 80 years. Daphne du Maurier’s most famous work continues to cast a long shadow as a classic of gothic romance and psychological suspense.

While a product of its time in some ways, Rebecca endures because its themes of love, jealousy and the struggle for selfhood are universal. Readers who enjoy romantic suspense with rich atmosphere and complex characters will find Rebecca a compelling and thought-provoking read.

Spoilers/How Does It End

After Rebecca’s boat and body are discovered, Maxim confesses to the narrator (his second wife) that he had murdered Rebecca. He reveals that Rebecca was a cruel, manipulative woman who tormented him psychologically. On the night she died, Rebecca told Maxim she was pregnant with her cousin Jack Favell’s child. In a rage, Maxim shot her, put her body in the boat cabin, and sank the boat to make it look like an accident.

This revelation changes the narrator profoundly. Her jealousy and insecurity regarding Rebecca evaporate, replaced by feelings of love and loyalty to Maxim. She resolves to stand by him no matter what. The knowledge of the truth frees her from Rebecca’s shadow.

An inquest is held and it looks like Maxim may be arrested for murder. However, through a visit to Rebecca’s doctor in London, the narrator discovers that Rebecca was actually dying of cancer and could not have been pregnant. This provides a motive for Rebecca’s supposed “suicide” and clears Maxim of suspicion.

Maxim and the narrator return to Manderley, only to find it ablaze, likely set on fire by the deranged Mrs. Danvers who then disappears (her fate is ambiguous in the book). The novel ends with Maxim and the narrator in exile abroad, Manderley destroyed but their love stronger than ever after surviving the crucible of Rebecca’s lingering influence.

Character Growth and Change

In the end, the narrator has matured from a naive girl into a strong, loyal woman over the course of her tumultuous first year of marriage. Maxim is freed from the guilt and ghost of Rebecca that haunted him. With Manderley gone, they seem poised to build a new life together, though the memory of the events will always linger. The ending is bittersweet and ambiguous, typical of the gothic romance genre.

About the Author

Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989) was a British novelist, biographer and playwright. Part of a creative dynasty, du Maurier achieved literary fame writing gothic romances and psychological thrillers, including Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, and My Cousin Rachel.

Many of her works were inspired by her love of Cornwall, where she lived for most of her life. Known for her complex female characters, atmospheric settings, and compelling storytelling, du Maurier was a literary pioneer whose works have inspired countless adaptations and influenced generations of authors.

Publication History

Rebecca was an immediate bestseller when published in 1938, selling nearly 40,000 hardback copies in the UK in its first year. It has never gone out of print and has been translated into dozens of languages. The novel’s success was bolstered by Alfred Hitchcock’s acclaimed 1940 film adaptation.

Over time, Rebecca has become a classic of gothic and romantic suspense literature. It won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century and was listed at number 14 on the UK survey The Big Read.

Bibliographic Information

  • Author: Daphne du Maurier
  • Title: Rebecca
  • Genres: Gothic novel, Romantic suspense, Mystery, Psychological thriller
  • BISAC Categories:
    • FIC022040 FICTION / Mystery & Detective / Women Sleuths
    • FIC027110 FICTION / Romance / Suspense
    • FIC014000 FICTION / Gothic
  • Publisher: Victor Gollancz (UK), Doubleday (US)
  • Publication Date: August 1938
  • ISBN-10: 0380730405
  • ISBN-13: 978-0380730407
  • Format: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
  • Pages: 416 (may vary by edition)
  • Original Language: English
  • Dewey Decimal Classification: 823.912
  • Library of Congress Classification: PR6007.U47 R4 2006

Where to Buy

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In summary, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a must-read classic – an unforgettable, haunting story of love, jealousy and the lingering power of the past. With its lush prose, rich atmosphere and psychological depth, this novel continues to captivate new generations of readers. If you enjoy gothic romance, suspense, and complex characters, add this enduring masterpiece to your reading list.
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