Rebecca | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca | Context


Published in 1938, Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca was an immediate best seller that was adapted for film two years later. The novel takes place in a world very like the one in which the author grew up—a world of privilege in early 1900s England. In fact, Manderley, the grand estate by the sea where much of the story takes place, is probably based on a real house in Cornwall where du Maurier lived. She wrote about the house, called Menabilly, after the first time she glimpsed it, and she later leased and lived in it for more than 20 years.

Gothic Form

At a time when many other authors, such as modernists James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, were experimenting with form, du Maurier hewed to a large extent to the traditions of the gothic romance and the influence of 19th century gothic writers such as Charlotte Brontë. In fact, at the time of the book's publication, critics maintained that she had attempted to imitate Brontë's Jane Eyre but was not as gifted a writer.

Rebecca does share many elements of the gothic romance with Brontë's Jane Eyre. For instance, both novels feature an innocent, orphaned protagonist; a brooding, distant leading man; a grand, isolated estate; a mysterious former wife; and a dark secret. However, du Maurier departs from the form in making her protagonist an insecure, nameless character; giving the main characters an ambiguous ending; making the hero a murderer; and creating a character who dominates and drives the plot although she is dead. Thus, some scholars have asserted that the novel contains some more modern elements in its themes and plot choices.

Class Structure

Du Maurier's Rebecca is relatively uncritical of the upper classes of British society to which the author belonged. While the character Rebecca clearly broke upper-class rules, the narrator struggles to exist in the same privileged world. She is, in fact, little more than a servant herself when she meets Maxim, and her lack of a sense of authority contributes to her awkwardness around the Manderley staff.

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