Rebecca Historical Context

‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier has been inspired by du Maurier’s own life, including her childhood visits to Cornwall and Menabilly, as well as her turbulent marriage with her husband, Frederick Browning.

Rebecca is a study in jealousy of a second wife who is constantly haunted by the ghost of her predecessor, Rebecca. Set in the beautiful estate of Manderley, this novel has been greatly influenced by various factors including Daphne du Maurier’s own life as well as the historical context in which it was written. Rebecca is one of du Maurier’s most iconic works even today, and it has had a lasting impact on literature, film, radio, and pop culture.

Rebecca Historical Context


Publication history

Published in August 1938, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier became world-famous almost overnight. With more than 200,000 copies being sold in just 4 months of its release, the novel was an instant hit both in the United Kingdom and in the United States. It became clear to du Maurier’s publisher, Viktor Gollancz just two weeks after the publication of Rebecca that no more advertisement was going to be necessary to promote this novel. Word about du Maurier’s thrilling best-seller spread like wildfire and Rebecca quickly became the talk of the town. 

Despite its success, Daphne du Maurier had an extremely slow start to Rebecca. She had been thinking about replicating the jealousy in her marriage in one of her novels ever since 1932. She finally signed a 3-book deal with her publisher in 1937. She admittedly had a sluggish start to the novel and even tore up her first manuscript “in disgust.” She called this a “literary miscarriage” that hindered her progress on the novel. She finally finished it in early 1938, however, and immediately sent it in for publication.

Even though du Maurier had already written several popular novels in the past and continued to do so in the future, none of them garnered as much attention as Rebecca did. Contemporary critics received the novel as an exemplary masterpiece that was both exciting and ingenious at the same time. The Times Literary Supplement praised du Maurier’s knack for storytelling and almost every critic at the time seemed to agree upon the trance-like narrative voice and the gripping nature of the plot itself. Rebecca has enjoyed lasting popularity, and it has never gone out of print since it was first published. The novel has remained a classic over the years and is still just as well-loved by readers even today. 

Daphne du Maurier’s Personal Context

Rebecca was hardly Daphne du Maurier’s first best-selling novel. Du Maurier had already been an established writer who was recognized for a distinct writing style and highly memorable plot structures in all of her works. Her career began as a short story writer after which she moved into writing novels, with the first of her repertoire being The Loving Spirit. Published in 1931 to a generally favorable reception, the novel did not achieve lasting fame like some of her later works did.

Over the next few years, du Maurier continued to hone her skills with the publication of four other novels, including the sharp and witty I’ll Never Be Young Again (1932) and best-seller Jamaica Inn (1936). The author proved herself capable of navigating various genres with ease especially with the publication of a novel about her ancestors, The du Mauriers (1937) as well as a biography of her late father, Sir Gerald du Maurier (an actor/manager) titled Gerald: A Portrait (1934).

By the time du Maurier wrote Rebecca, she had already earned a reputation of being an excellent creator of setting and place – a reputation that was effectively sealed with the depiction of Manderley in Rebecca. Several influences inspired the creation of Manderley estate in the novel, some of them including Menabilly, Cornwall, and Milton Hall. 

One of the major inspirations for Rebecca is Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, which follows a similar structure in terms of plot. Du Maurier’s own life (specifically the jealousy that she felt towards her husband’s ex-wife) served as inspiration for the plotline as well.

Gothic influence on Rebecca

Although Rebecca is often categorized under the genres of crime fiction, murder mystery, or romantic suspense, the novel is an embodiment of a Gothic novel at its heart. 

Rebecca contains several defining characteristics of the Gothic including death, a haunted home, overpowering love or romance, ghosts, women in distress, and so on. The picturesque setting of Manderley hardly calls to mind a peaceful or blissful atmosphere that you might expect with a grand ancestral estate. Instead, the air is shrouded in mystery and suspense – an atmosphere that is amplified by the ghost of Rebecca that haunts the house.

Rebecca’s eerie presence is felt no matter where you go in Manderley, and her memory is kept alive by the sinister Mrs. Danvers, who is the picture of goth herself. Dressed in deep black with a tall, gaunt figure and a white skull-like face, Mrs. Danvers sends shivers down the spines of both the narrator and the readers every time she enters a scene.

Several elements serve to enhance the Gothic nature of Rebecca. The very beginning of the novel, for instance, produces a mystery in the minds of the readers. With the iconic first line, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again,” the readers are given a glimpse into the secret-enshrouded house of Manderley. A mysterious incident has taken place there – one which was so traumatic that it has left Mr. and Mrs. de Winter lost and wandering for the rest of their lives. The opening lines immediately set the tone for the novel, which continues on its Gothic journey. 

The romance between an older man and a younger woman is a popular Gothic plot element that seems to have been inspired by the 19th-century classic, Jane Eyre. In fact, Rebecca has heavily borrowed from this novel by Charlotte Bronte, which has been duly celebrated for its macabre and suspenseful plot, as well as its Gothic characters. A second resemblance is usually drawn between Rebecca and one of its literary predecessors, the French folktale about BluebeardBluebeard is a story about a rich and wealthy nobleman who brings his young wife to his mysterious mansion, where she discovers that her husband had previously killed all of his ex-wives.

Violence, which is a popular element of the Gothic novel, makes an appearance as well. In a fit of rage and emotion, Maxim de Winter brutally shoots his wife, Rebecca to death. Further, in classic Gothic fashion, the weather in the novel mirrors the emotions of the characters in several instances. For example, a mysterious fog seems to hang over Manderley whenever Mrs. de Winter feels miserable, while on the other hand, the skies seem to clear up whenever she feels some self-assurance. Similarly, on the night that Rebecca confesses to Maxim that she was pregnant with another man’s child, a terrible storm rages on while Maxim flies into a fit of temper.

Finally, fire, a popular Gothic element, makes it into the novel as well. The house of Manderley is set on fire in the very last lines of the book. This incident brings the book full circle and reveals the tragic secret behind the lives of Mr. and Mrs. de Winter as well as the eerie Manderley. Although the so-called truth is out by the end of the novel, the air of Gothic mystery and suspense never leaves the reader even after they turn the last page.

FAQs

Did Rebecca kill herself in Rebecca?’

Maxim de Winter, Rebecca’s husband shoots Rebecca to death when she confesses to him that she had an affair and got pregnant with another man’s child. Maxim then takes Rebecca’s body out to sea in her old sailboat, drills holes into the bottom of the boat and then sinks it along with Rebecca’s body, making it look like a suicide.

What genre is ‘Rebecca?’

Though often categorized as a romance novel, Daphne du Maurier did not wish for Rebecca‘ to be seen as simply that. Rebecca‘ is an amalgamation of several genres including crime fiction, mystery, romance, gothic fiction, and suspense.

Was Rebecca pregnant in Rebecca?’

No, Rebecca was not pregnant in Rebecca‘. She lies to her husband, Maxim, that she has gotten pregnant with another man’s child but this statement turns out to be false in the end, when Dr. Baker reveals that Rebecca was not only terminally ill, but also infertile.

How long does it take to read Rebecca?’

Rebecca‘ by Daphne du Maurier is 416 pages long. If you read at approximately 250 words per minute, it should take you roughly 9 hours to complete this novel.

About Neesha Thunga K
Neesha graduated in 2020 with a degree in MA English. Before that, she has spent several years teaching English and writing for various organizations. As a lover of English literature, she truly believes that crafting stories through words is the greatest achievement of mankind. She is now pursuing her passion for literature as an Expert on the Book Analysis team.

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