Daphne Du Maurier was born in England in 1907, the daughter of a wealthy father who was one of the country's most famous actor-managers. Indulged as a girl, she had her first novel published when she was in her early twenties, and married a soldier-nobleman, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Browning. For most of her life she and her husband lived on the coast of Cornwall in a picturesque mansion called Menabilly--a place that would be the inspiration for Manderley in Rebecca. In an era of modernist experimentation in literature, Du Maurier achieved literary fame as the author of traditional historical romances and gothic thrillers, for which she drew on her extensive research into her own family history, as well as the legends of Cornwall's past. Rebecca, published in 1938, remains her most famous work, filmed by Alfred Hitchcock and adored by generations of readers. With its story of a nameless, shy young woman's quest to overcome the ghost of her husband's dead wife and achieve happiness, Rebecca possesses a remarkable degree of psychological sophistication, while still delivering Du Maurier's trademark brand of suspense. In recognition of her literary accomplishments, Daphne Du Maurier was named a Dame of the British Empire in 1969 (the female equivalent of being knighted). She died in 1989. -------------------------------------------------
Rebecca's narrative takes the form of a flashback. The heroine, who remains nameless, lives in Europe with her husband, Maxim de Winter, traveling from hotel to hotel, harboring memories of a beautiful home called Manderley, which, we learn, has been destroyed by fire. The story begins with her memories of how she and Maxim first met, in Monte Carlo, years before. In her flashback, the heroine is working as the young traveling companion to a wealthy American named Mrs. Van Hopper. In her flashback, Maxim is staying at the same hotel as the heroine and her employer, and after knowing the heroine for only a few weeks, he proposes marriage. She accepts, and he marries her and takes her back to his ancestral estate of Manderley. But a dark cloud hangs over their marriage: Maxim's first wife, Rebecca, drowned in a cove near Manderley the previous year, and her ghost haunts the newlyweds' home. Rebecca's devoted housekeeper, the sinister Mrs. Danvers, is still in charge of Manderley, and she frightens and intimidates her new mistress. Despite the encouragement of the house overseer, Frank Crawley, and Maxim's sister, Beatrice, the heroine struggles in her new life at Manderley. She feels that she can never compare favorably to Rebecca, who was beautiful, talented, and brilliant--or so everyone says--and soon she feels that Maxim is still in love with his dead wife. Manderley traditionally hosts a costume ball each year, and it is soon time for the gala to take place. Swept up in the preparations, the heroine's spirits begin to revive. But the ball ends in disaster: on Mrs. Danvers's suggestion she wears a costume that, it turns out, is the same dress that Rebecca wore at the last ball. Upon seeing the heroine, Maxim is horrified, and the heroine becomes convinced that he will never love her, that he is still devoted to Rebecca. The following day, Mrs. Danvers almost convinces her to kill herself, and she only breaks away from the old woman's spell when rockets go off over the cove, signaling that a ship has run aground. When divers swim near the grounded ship, they find the wreckage of Rebecca's sailboat, with Rebecca's dead body in the hold. This discovery prompts Maxim to tell the heroine the truth: Rebecca was a malevolent, wicked woman, who lived a secret life and carried on multiple affairs, including one with her cousin, Jack Favell. On the night of her death, Maxim had demanded a divorce, and she had refused, and told him that she was pregnant with Favell's child. Furious, he seized a gun and shot her, and then...