Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Daphne du Maurier

Daphne du Maurier was born to a prominent show-business family: her father was a famous theater manager, and her mother was a well-known author. As a teenager, du Maurier wrote and read constantly, and her parents encouraged her to paint and act in addition to her literary endeavors. Throughout the 30s, 40s, and 50s, du Maurier wrote an astounding number of short stories, plays, and novels. Inspired in part by her father and mother, she wrote the bulk of these works in a suspenseful style, aiming to dazzle and thrill her readers. Her short stories were highly popular, and several of her novels, including Rebecca (1938) and Jamaica Inn (1936), were bestsellers. Du Maurier became enormously wealthy after a number of her writings were turned into Hollywood films. These works include Rebecca, adapted as an Academy Award-winning film by Sir Alfred Hitchcock, “The Birds,” also adapted as a Hitchcock film, and “Not After Midnight,” adapted as the celebrated 1973 horror film Don’t Look Now. Du Maurier married Frederick Browning in 1932, and remained married to him for the rest of her life, despite many suggestions that she was unhappy in her marriage, or was a repressed homosexual. Du Maurier died in 1989, just as she was ceasing to be regarded as a mere “genre writer” and beginning to be celebrated as one of the 20th century’s most talented authors.
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Historical Context of Rebecca

Rebecca doesn’t explicitly allude to many historical events, but it’s worth keeping in mind the culture of the 1930s, when the novel was published. At the time, the English aristocracy still enjoyed a high degree of protection in the journalistic world: their infidelities and illicit affairs would be kept out of the newspapers out of a sense of respect and decorum. And yet this pact between the aristocracy and the journalist world was slowly disappearing. The rise of modern tabloids and gossip magazines in the 20s and 30s (paralleling the rise of motion pictures in the U.S.) gave journalists a desire to provide their readers with scandalous news about the social elite. In the second half of Rebecca, newspapers pose a real danger to Maxim de Winter: they threaten to reveal his scandalous relationship with Rebecca to the public, ruining his reputation forever.

Other Books Related to Rebecca

The most important point of comparison between Rebecca and its related literary works is its strong Gothic atmosphere. The Gothic novel was a popular English genre in the 18th and 19th centuries. In a novel of this kind, a young protagonist, almost always female, is summoned to live at a mysterious, imposing manor house, where she has to contend with intimidating new circumstances and mysterious characters with shadowy pasts. The Gothic is an obvious influence on Rebecca: the narrator comes to live at Manderley (a mysterious, imposing manor), and contends with the intimidating, sinister Mrs. Danvers while piecing together her husband’s complex past. One Gothic novel to which Rebecca explicitly alludes is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847). Much like the narrator of Rebecca, Jane Eyre, the titular heroine, falls in love with Rochester, the shadowy master of Thornfield Hall, in spite of Rochester’s conflicted relationship with his previous wife, Bertha (who, much like Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca, sets fire to the manor house at the end of the novel). Another, even earlier story that Rebecca draws from is the French folktale of Bluebeard, in which a rich, powerful nobleman marries a naïve young wife, who explores his mansion and eventually discovers that he has murdered all his wives before her.
Key Facts about Rebecca
  • Full Title: Rebecca
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: April 1938
  • Literary Period: 1930s mystery
  • Genre: Mystery, Gothic
  • Setting: Manderley, England
  • Climax: Dr. Baker reveals that Rebecca had uterine cancer
  • Antagonist: Mrs. Danvers / Rebecca de Winter / Jack Favell (though there’s also a convincing argument that Maxim de Winter is the novel’s true antagonist)
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for Rebecca

Famous cousins: Daphne du Maurier was born into a famous show-business family, and her parents knew many of the greatest writers and actors of the time. One of Daphne’s oddest family connections, however, is that she was the cousin of the famous “Davies boys,” the four children for whom the writer J.M. Barrie wrote Peter Pan, one of the most famous children’s books of all time!

Hollywood headaches: Daphne du Maurier is one of the most frequently “adapted” writers of the 20th century: much like Stephen King, her books inspire a never-ending list of movies. Unlike King, however, du Maurier despised almost all of the films based on her books. Though the Internet Movie Database lists du Maurier as having a whopping 54 film credits, she claimed that her books had been made into only two decent films: Rebecca (1940), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and Don’t Look Now (1973), directed by Nicolas Roeg.