Rebecca is a novel by Daphne du Maurier. When Rebecca was published in 1938, du Maurier became – to her great surprise – one of the most popular authors of the day. Rebecca is considered to be one of her best works. Some observers have noted parallels with Jane Eyre. Much of the novel was written while she was staying in Alexandria, Egypt, where her husband was posted at the time.
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" is the book's often quoted opening line, and from here its unnamed narrator recollects her past as a naïve, middle-class woman in her early twenties. While working as the companion to a rich American woman on holiday in Monte Carlo (the French Riviera), she meets Maxim de Winter, a reasonably young widower from England. After a brief courtship, she agrees to marry him, and accompanies him to his mansion.
The housekeeper of Maxim’s beautiful estate Manderley is Mrs Danvers. The cold and creepy woman was profoundly devoted to Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter, who died in a boating accident. A hard time for the protagonist begins, because Mrs Danvers always suggesting to her that she will never attain the charm and urbanity that Rebecca possessed. Lacking self-confidence, the protagonist commits one faux pas after another. The climax occurs at Manderley's annual costume ball. Mrs Danvers manipulates the protagonist into wearing the same costume worn by Rebecca shortly before her death.
Hours after the ball, Mrs Danvers encourages the second Mrs de Winter to commit suicide, but is thwarted by the disturbance occasioned by a nearby shipwreck. It is Rebecca's sailing boat with her dead body still on board. This revelation leads Maxim to confess the truth to the protagonist about Rebecca – a cruel and selfish woman who had numerous love affairs. The night of her death, she told Maxim that she was pregnant with another man's child. In a rage, he had shot her, then disposed of her body by placing it in her boat and sinking it at sea. The narrator is relieved to hear that Maxim had never loved Rebecca, but really loves her.
Rebecca's boat is raised and it is discovered that it was deliberately sunk. An inquest brings a verdict of suicide. However, Rebecca's lover Jack Favell attempts to blackmail Maxim, claiming to have proof that Rebecca could not have intended suicide. It is revealed that Rebecca had had an appointment with a Doctor Baker in London shortly before her death, presumably to confirm her pregnancy. When the doctor is found, he reveals that Rebecca had been suffering from cancer. Maxim assumes that Rebecca, knowing that she was going to die, manipulated him into killing her quickly. Mrs Danvers had said after the inquiry that Rebecca feared nothing except dying a lingering death. After her image of Rebecca is ruined, Mrs Danvers burns Manderley to the ground.
Rebecca has been adapted several times. The most notable of these was the Academy Award winning 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film version Rebecca, the first film Hitchcock made under his contract with David O. Selznick. The film, which starred Laurence Olivier as Max, Joan Fontaine as the Heroine, and Judith Anderson as Mrs. Danvers, was based on the novel. However, the Hollywood Production Code required that if Max had murdered his wife, he would have to be punished for his crime. Therefore, the key turning point of the novel – the revelation that Max, in fact, murdered Rebecca – was altered so that it seemed as if Rebecca's death was accidental. At the end of the film version, Mrs. Danvers perishes in the fire, which she had started. The film quickly became a classic and, at the time, was a major technical achievement in film-making.