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Rebecca | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca | 10 Things You Didn't Know


When Daphne du Maurier submitted her fifth novel, Rebecca, to her publisher, her editor reported: "The new Daphne du Maurier contains everything that the public could want." He was right—the public ate it up. Rebecca sold out its first print run in less than a month.

Despite enjoying phenomenal success with the public, du Maurier did not, at least in her lifetime, receive the recognition she deserved from critics. Many dismissed her as a second-rate romance novelist, although many who read her novels today can see that they are much more than that.

Rebecca's popularity has endured ever since its 1938 publication. It won the 1938 National Book Award in the United States, and in 2003 it was number 14 in the BBC's Big Read—a ranking of Britain's best-loved novels. Rebecca has been adapted countless times for television, film, theater, radio, and even opera.

1. The Nazis used Rebecca to create a secret code.

During World War II, a copy of Rebecca was discovered among the possessions of two captured German spies. British intelligence officers determined it had been used to transmit a secret code to a German agent thought to be in Egypt. This idea was later fictionalized in Ken Follett's novel The Key to Rebecca.

2. Du Maurier was inspired by her jealousy of her husband's ex-fiancée.

For five years prior to writing Rebecca, du Maurier toyed with the idea of writing a novel that explored the theme of jealousy. She had been dealing with her own jealousy of Jan Ricardo, her husband's first fiancée. According to du Maurier's son, his mother had come across some of Ricardo's letters, which had been signed with a grand and fancy letter R—a detail that made its way into Rebecca.

3. Du Maurier trashed the first 50 pages of an early draft of Rebecca.

She began writing Rebecca in Alexandria, Egypt, where she was stationed with her husband, an officer in the British army. It was there that du Maurier sketched the plot of Rebecca and began writing. Unnerved by the unfamiliar surroundings, she came down with a serious case of writer's block. She wrote to her publisher: "The first 15,000 words I tore up in disgust and this literary miscarriage has cast me down rather."

4. Despite earlier writer's block, du Maurier wrote Rebecca in four months.

Once du Maurier returned home to England, her writer's block evaporated, and she was able to write the entire book in only four months. Her secret? Arranging to spend time away from her children. She wrote: "I am not one of those mothers who live for having their brats with them all the time."

5. Literary critics dismissed Rebecca as chick lit.

Despite enjoying monumental sales and popularity with the public, Rebecca was not received well by literary elites. The Times Literary Supplement called it a "lowbrow story with a middlebrow finish," and critic V.S. Pritchett predicted it would be "here today, gone tomorrow." He was wrong.

6. Du Maurier was accused of plagiarism.

Brazilian critics have long argued that, for Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier plagiarized Brazilian author Carolina Nabuco's book The Successor. The two novels share many plot similarities, but the allegations were never proven one way or the other.

7. Manderley was inspired by two English houses.

Many of the descriptions of the great house of Manderley were inspired by Daphne du Maurier's childhood visits to Menabilly, the house in Cornwall she lived in for many years as an adult. Like Manderley, Menabilly was an isolated house near the sea and the woods. According to du Maurier's son, Manderley was also inspired by Milton Hall, a giant manor house in Cambridgeshire. This was where Daphne spotted a sinister-looking housekeeper who, years later, would serve as the model for Mrs. Danvers.

8. Alfred Hitchcock won Best Picture for his screen adaptation of Rebecca.

Rebecca has been adapted for film several times, but the best-known adaptation is Hitchcock's 1940 film Rebecca. This adaptation won Best Picture along with Best Cinematography at the 1941 Oscars, in addition to being nominated for nine more Academy Awards. A reviewer for the New York Times called it "an altogether brilliant film, haunting, suspenseful, handsome and handsomely played."

9. The first copies of Rebecca sold out almost instantly.

Du Maurier's publisher, Victor Gollancz, ordered a first print run of 20,000 copies. In the first month, twice that many were sold. By 1965, almost three million copies of Rebecca had been sold.

10. Du Maurier's grandson designed Rebecca-inspired watches.

Daphne du Maurier's grandson, Ned du Maurier Browning, is a luxury watchmaker. His company is called—unsurprisingly—Du Maurier Watches. Watch styles include the "Maxim" for men and the "Rebecca" for women. Ned explained in an interview why these characters' names were chosen:

We've taken everything we know about them and created a backstory. It's almost like taking a picture of Maxim and representing that as a watch.

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