Study Guide

Rebecca

By Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca Introduction

Rebecca is the story of a woman named Rebecca… oh wait. Nope. It's totally and completely not. It's actually the story of the wealthy, dashing, and creepy widower, Maxim de Winter, and his fabulous country estate, Manderley. It's narrated by Maxim's second wife, known only as Mrs. de Winter, who finds herself living in the shadows of Maxim's first wife (that's Rebecca, although we never meet her).

Published in 1938, Rebecca is the fifth novel by Cornish author Daphne du Maurier, also known as Lady Browning. The novel was an instant bestseller and has never gone out of print (source). In addition to her seven novels and numerous short stories, du Maurier also wrote twelve books of non-fiction, including an autobiography. On top of everything else, she was also an avid historian. Apparently that's a great combination for writing a fast-paced psychological thriller, because she totally nailed it.

Actually, in her day, du Maurier was most often considered a hack writer of insubstantial gothic romances. Luckily, contemporary critics are taking her more and more seriously and Rebecca, the most famous of du Maurier's works, is coming into its own as a classic.

The novel has been adapted for the stage, and both the big and small screen. Even Alfred Hitchcock took a stab at it in his 1940 feature film. Rebecca was Hitchcock's first American movie, and it won Oscars for Best Picture, and Best Cinematographer, Black-and-White, while garnering a nomination for Best Director (a prize Hitchcock never did win). The movie is a must-see, a classic piece of cinematic history. But, you'll probably enjoy it a lot more when you've devoured the deliciously disturbing novel on which it's based.

The best thing about this novel? It's both serious literature and guilty pleasure – Rebecca lets us have our cake and eat it, too.

What is Rebecca About and Why Should I Care?

For all you serious Shmoopers who prefer classic, critically acclaimed literature, check out WSIC 1.

And the rest of you, who run straight to the new Janet Evanovich novel, check out WSIC 2.

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WSIC 1:
Rebecca is a classic tale of deception and betrayal. It's a serious look into the flaws of upper class society and the war between good and evil within a single person. It has echoes of the classic literature that preceded it and it will leave you pondering the meaning of sacrifice, desire, and nostalgia.

WSIC 2:
Hello, lovers of guilty pleasure! So, you love page-turners that you can fly through in hours? You're looking for something to read on a long plane ride? Rebecca is totally for you. This is a soap-opera crime thriller: the story of obsession and murder; old lovers and new lies. It's daytime TV at its best.

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Okay, you get the point. You should care about this book because it seamlessly merges classic, serious literature with everyone's favorite literary temptation: guilty pleasure. It's not easy to do, and Daphne du Maurier pulls it off without a hitch.

Rebecca Resources

Websites

The Whole Enchilada
You can read the entire novel online. (Can you still call it a page turner?)

Virtual Tour of Manderley
Well, this is really a tour of Menabilly, the place on which Manderley is based. But it's better than nothing.

Daphne
This site is loaded with all things Daphne du Maurier, and answers to many of the questions you may have about her life and work.

Movie or TV Productions

Hitchcock tries Rebecca
This 1940 adaptation stars Lawrence Olivier as Maxim de Winter. It's not nearly as dark as the book, and changes some key elements of the plot, but it's Hitchcock, so it's clearly pretty awesome.

Masterpiece Theater Gives it a Shot
This 1997 version actually won an Emmy. It's majorly worth a look.

Articles and Documents

Daphne du Maurier, Not a Hack
Cynthia Crossen examines du Maurier's critical reception through the years.

Hot Movie Set Gossip
Read here about some feisty disagreements on the set of Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of Rebecca.

"Real Places Behind Famously Frightening Stories"
The Smithsonian magazine talks about Menabilly, the beautiful estate on which Manderely is based. These pictures can't be missed.

Designing a Creepy Masterpiece
Here are a few words on designing Rebecca's boathouse in the Alfred Hitchcock adaptation of Rebecca.

The du Maurier Family Papers
Interested in Daphne du Maurier's fascinating family? Read up on them, and then plan a trip to check out their archives.

Videos

Black and White
Watch the opening of Hitchcock's classic adaptation of Rebecca.

In Color
Check out a clip of BBC's "fact based drama" exploring the life of Daphne du Maurier.

Audios

Theme Song!
Listen Franz Waxman's haunting theme from the 1940 film adaptation.

Images

Daphne with Pearls
Here's a photo of young Daphne looking quite demure.

Can't You See I'm Trying to Write Here?
Here's the author, typing at her desk.

Rebecca's Boathouse
This is a photo of the Rebecca's boathouse, from the set of Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of Rebecca. Is it what you imagined?

"A brilliant novel of an unforgettable wife…"
We love this old-school cover.