“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Despite being caught up in its spell, I wasn’t dreaming. I went again to Manderley, not in Hitchcock’s classic film, but, for the first time, in Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel.
Literature has given us many complex female characters – Blanche DuBois, Elizabeth Bennet, Scarlett O’Hara, Emma Bovary, Milly Theale. The reader is often outside the character, observing, examining, but in “Rebecca,” you are inside and at one with the female narrator.
I cannot give this woman a name, because Dame du Maurier said simply she "could not think of one to give her." She is known to readers (and movie buffs) worldwide only as “the second Mrs. de Winter.”
Movies have never been a substitute for the books on which they are based, but Hitchcock came close. In one very important aspect, he failed. It is only through the words of du Maurier that one learns the narrator’s most fearful antagonist is neither the inescapable presence of Rebecca (the first Mrs. de Winter) nor the demented obsession of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. What most troubles our narrator, we find, is that she is a martyr to her own inferiority complex.
My Talking Books version is based on a special edition which features a wonderful Author’s Note and the original epilogue to the book.
At the time of Dame du Maurier’s death in 1989 at the age of 82, there were 3 million copies of her "unsurpassed masterpiece" in print, translated into 25 languages.
As she reveals in her “Author’s Note,” Dame du Maurier, upon finishing her novel, cleverly made changes. She added two vital characters. She moved the epilogue, rewritten, to the beginning of the story and rewrote the ending. She changed the master of Manderley’s name from the “too plain” Henry to Maximillian or Maxim. No spoiler to reveal that in the original epilogue Manderley eventually becomes a country club where the morning room is converted to a billiards room and “The Happy Valley” becomes a golf course. Those who have experienced “Rebecca” will know, then, how this must have altered the book’s concluding scene.
Those who have not read it are missing a Gothic mystery and romance which sweeps the reader along like “the salt wind from the sea.”