The novel begins, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” The narrator remembers a dream about approaching a large metal gate that’s been locked. Behind the gate, she sees an old house with lattice windows and a chimney. Walking along the drive to her house, she notices plants and flowers that clearly haven’t been cut or trimmed in years.
Right away du Maurier sets the tone for the book. Rebecca is structured as a series of flashbacks. Individual memories blur together, and it’s not always easy for us to tell if the narrator is experiencing the present or only recalling the past. For the time being, the narrator’s past dominates her life—she can’t escape it.
The narrator passes “like a spirit” through the gate and proceeds to the house. The moon is shining—it’s night, apparently—and the moonlight illuminates long, tangled ivy vines. As the narrator stares up at the house, she has the sense that the house is alive. She remembers the dog, Jasper, the newspapers she used to read, and other intimate details of the house. As the narrator wakes up, she decides not to tell anyone about her dream, because “Manderley was ours no longer. Manderley was no more.”
The idea of Manderley (the name of the estate) being alive will come back to haunt the narrator time and time again. The house and grounds have a clear identity of their own, but in contrast, the narrator remains anonymous. Although we’ll learn more about the narrator in due time, we’ll never learn her name—a potent reminder of her uncertainty and lack of a strong identity.