1930s Classics Mystery

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier


Rebecca is a book which everyone seems to rave about. The brooding, Gothic mystery sounded like the sort of thing I would love. I hoped that it would become one of my favourites, but although I enjoyed reading it, Rebecca won’t make it into my top 50.

The book begins with a young woman falling in love with Maxim de Winter, but after a hasty marriage she realises that everything she does is compared to Rebecca, Maxim’s seemingly perfect first wife, who died in tragic circumstances a year earlier

It was slow to start, but after about 100 pages I was completely hooked. I loved the first glimpses of Manderley and the vivid descriptions of the house and grounds.

Yes, there it was, the Manderley I had expected, the Manderley of my picture post-card long ago. A thing of grace and beauty, exquisite and faultless, lovelier even than I had ever dreamed, built in its hollow of smooth grassland and mossy lawns, the terraces sloping to the gardens, and the gardens to the sea.

The girl’s jealousy and feelings of inadequacy where incredibly well written, but I was disappointed by the mystery aspect of the book. Although I was vaguely aware that Rebecca’s death might not have been accidental, this wasn’t confirmed until Maxim admitted the murder. I felt that this was too quick – the mystery was solved the moment it was created and I felt let down that I hadn’t had at least a few chapters to try to solve the crime myself.

There were some amazing characters in this book. I loved the way that even the side characters were fully formed. Mrs Danvers was a deliciously dark character and I would love to know more about her.

I thought the book went downhill quickly once we knew Rebecca had been murdered. All the emotion seemed to disappear, replaced with an average police investigation. Did you enjoy this part of the book? I haven’t seen it mentioned before, so am wondering if people just forget that almost half of the book was reasonably dull.

The last page of the book was fantastic. I love the ambiguous ending and the  destruction of Manderley. Do you think all the staff were killed in the fire? Do you think it was started deliberately?

Overall, this book had some amazing sections, but overall I was slightly disappointed. I think this book will grow on me, as over time I will remember the emotional aspects of the book, but slowly forget about the dull half. I would still recommend this to everyone, but I think there are a lot of better ones out there.


Thank you to Sandy for arranging the readalong for this book.

Do you think Rebecca is one of the best books ever written?

Were you disappointed by any sections?

59 replies on “Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier”

I am indeed a huge Rebecca fan. I think you have a good point with regards to the book turning into a police investigation, but at the same time the reader is left wondering quite what will happen to take the second Mrs De Winter to dreaming about Manderley. Have you seen either the Hitchcock film or the ITV adaption with Charles Dance/Emilia Fox? Both quite chilling!

Verity, No, I haven’t seen any screen adaptation for this book. I will keep an eye out for them, as I’d love to see how they film it.

Rebecca is my all-time favourite book so I don’t find part of it dull. I think that most definitely Mrs Danvers set the fire deliberately and was herself killed in it; I don’t think that the other staff died but I believe that Maxim was blinded/injured, which is one of the strongest parallels with Jane Eyre and Rochester being blinded by the fire started by the madwoman (his first wife) in the attic.

Claire, How do you know all that?! I can see the hints that Mrs Danvers started the fire (as she stripped out her room in advance) but I don’t see how Maxim was injured – he wasn’t there – he just saw the fire from his car. I like the fact it mirrors Jane Eyre though, that is a nice touch – if only I could see these things for myself!

I don’t know but there are suggestions. It’s been a long time since the last time I reread it (I first read it when I was fourteen and I think the last time may have been ten years ago so a reread is most definitely in order) but going from memory there’s some things at the beginning that suggest that Maxim can no longer see but that could easily be from old age. Or, I may remembering things from a “sequel”! Okay, a reread is in definite order so that I can back this up or retract. The JE stuff is there though. Did you see parallels with The Little Stranger?

Rereading the opening chapters I think my interpretation was based on all of the mentions of the second Mrs De Winter reading aloud to Maxim; granted this could just be due to old age as there is nothing to say that he does (or doesn’t) go into the burning Manderley when they arrive (it ends as they are still driving towards it). With the Jane Eyre parallels it makes a nice symmetry in my mind and I’m always going to retain the things I’ve read into it.

I highly recommend the Hitchcock adaptation (one of my favourite films); the lesbian overtures of Mrs Danver are far more pronounced, in my opinion, and the ending more revealing. I love Mrs Danvers as a literary villain; in Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series there are clone Danvers, used as an army. Very amusing.

Claire, I’m quite glad that I didn’t miss anything obvious, but it is really nice to have these insights. I like them, whether they were intended or not! I’ll keep an eye out for the Hitchcock film – I did spot the hints at lesbianism, so it will be interesting to see how they deal with it.

I will be interested to see what you think on re-reading it. I couldn’t say that any book I read 10 years ago was a favourite, as my tastes have changed so much.

Rebecca, I’d love to hear your thoughts once you’ve re-read it. I can imagine loving this if I’d read it as a teenager. It is a shame I have waited so long to read it for the first time.

I read Rebecca as a teen and it’s one of those books where I wonder if I would find it as enjoyable with more fully formed critical thinking skills. I think I had a lot more patience or was much more into the romance back then but I suspect I would want the current Mrs DeWinter to develop a backbone. Mrs Danvers ran her!

Nicole, I know! It is a shame that I over analyse every book I read and compare it to everything else I’ve ever read. This is a very good book, but overall it just didn’t have the magic all the way through. I’m sure it would make my top 100 books of all time, but I have read a lot of excellent books recently and this just didn’t manage to live up to their brilliance.

A Bookshelf Monstrosity, I don’t know – amazing books live up to the hype. Blindness and The Hunger Games both managed to survive the hype and I loved every word of them. The first half of Rebecca managed to live up to the hype, but that second half of the book was a big disappointment for me.

I agree with the previous comment that it’s difficult to read a book that has been so widely raved about, as it seldom lives up to the hype. I enjoyed Rebecca a lot, though. To tell you the truth, I wasn’t exactly sure how the fire happened but liked that it ended on its own mystery. I like Claire’s explanation though, and the Jane Eyre parallel.

Laura, There has been a lot of hype around this book recently and I can see why people love it. I love the Jane Eyre parallel too – it is nice to have a bit of mystery at the end of the book.

I remember loving the book — but I haven’t read it in a long time. I don’t remember the end part being dull, but I like mysteries, so maybe I liked the police investigation? It’s been decades since I last read Rebecca, so I can’t really comment.

Beth, The problem was that there wasn’t really a mystery at all, but perhaps that you’ve just forgotten about that bit, as the rest of it was so good. Time for a re-read?!

I didn’t think of the book as a mystery – maybe that’s why you felt a bit let-down by it? It’s suspenseful, but that’s more because of the growing power that Rebecca’s presence has over the characters throughout the novel. When Maxim revealed that he had killed her, I didn’t think of it as the resolution to something I’d been wondering about, but just another way that Rebecca held power over her husband even in death.

The last bit wasn’t dull to me, but one of the most suspenseful & exciting things to me is when someone has done something wicked and you’re waiting to see if they’re going to get caught.

Jenny, I think you might be right – I am looking at it in the wrong way. I see what you mean about it just being an increase in Rebecca’s power.

I loved Out by Natsuo Kirino in which the whole book revolves around whether the woman will be caught for murdering her abusive husband, but I didn’t feel the same suspense in Rebecca. I think this may be because I didn’t really empathise with Maxim. I don’t really know what Rebecca did and so can’t forgive him for the murder. I just didn’t care enough about him. It is great to discuss this difference of opinion though!

I finished this last week but am waiting for Trish to finish because we’re going to buddy review it. See, I knew ahead of time both about Rebecca being shot and about Manderley burning down, so there was no mystery going into the story, so I wasn’t disappointed by all that. From page 1 I thought it was delicious writing, and I loved every page of it. I have no doubt that Mrs. Danvers burned the house down, though the abrupt ending had my screaming “What??? You can’t end it like that!!!” I loved it. It’s one of my new fav classics and will likely make my top 10 of the year.

Amanda, I look forward to your review – I think this is the perfect book to review together. Perhaps I would have been better off knowing the spoilers in advance too? I loved the cliff-hanger ending though. I often think writers end things too neatly, so the ambiguity was great!

This is my all time favourite (for now) so I have to agree with Claire I can’t find any of it dull, but thats down to personal tastes. I read this about fve years ago and though my tastes have changed some what that book haunts me still and I think about it a lot so I think it can still be my favourite. My gran still has favourites from when she was a child and teenager and thats over 4o years ago.

I love Mrs Danvers I think she is utterly brilliant and played so well in the Hitchcock version of the film which just happens to be one of my favouirte movies of all time too. Daphne and Hitchcock had huge respect and admiration for one another, that could be a good book. It took me ages to realise it was daphnes short story The Birds that inspired Hitchcocks movie. I can be a bit slow on the uptake on occasion.

Simon, I didn’t realise that Daphne and Hitchcock had any connection either. I wasn’t even aware she had written a story about Birds! I’ll have to try to get hold of a copy of the Rebecca DVD as soon as possible.

I can imagine that I will still think about this book in the future – perhaps it will be one of my favourites in years to come. I agree that Mrs Danver is a great character. I look forward to seeing her in the film.

My first experience with Rebecca was watching it on Masterpiece Theater when I was 12 or 13. After that, I checked the book out of my school library and read it several times, and probably declared it my favorite book at one point or another. However, I haven’t picked it up since I was a girl. I wonder what it would be like to read it now?

Priscilla, I would love to know what you think of it now. I am thinking about re-reading a childhood favourite, but am scared that I won’t love it anymore – it is such a dilemma!

Andi, It took me a long time to get to this book too! You should get round to reading it soon, as it is a classic!

I did find some parts of it a bit dull, but I wonder if they’re the same parts as what you think are dull. I found the middle part is a bit long and I got tired of her daydreaming. I also felt like I could see the end, but it was just so long to get there (though once we’re there it develops very quickly). The pacing just didn’t sit right with me.

Check out the Hitchcock black and white movie. It’s great!

mee, I think we did find different sections dull. I enjoyed the daydreaming, as I thought it showed her emotions well. I think we both struggled with the same section near the end though.

I loved this book, despite the fact that I really wanted to slap the second Mrs. De Winter a fair few times. In fact, funnily enough, our reviews have the exact same quote 🙂

I don’t know about one of the best books ever written – it’s not my all-time favourite book (yet), and considering my all-time favourite book has remained the same since I was fourteen, I doubt it’s going to change. I do love the book though, as well as Du Maurier’s writing. Her writing had me completely hooked, and I didn’t find the second half dull. In fact, while the beginning of the book indicates that Maxim is living a normal life, I couldn’t help wondering if he’d be convicted/tried, and that made the second half more interesting for me.

It really is a great book, and the more I think about it, the more I like it.

anothercookiecrumbles, I ignored your review, as I knew I’d be reading it soon – I must go and have a look now. It is strange that we picked the same quote!

I loved the writing too. It is amazing that it hasn’t dated at all. I agree – the more I think about it, the more I like it.

I think I’m the last person on earth to read this book, but the good thing is I’ve this book in my pile, LOL. Next time when I get to read this book I’ll have to bear in mind that it has an ambiguous ending! 😛

Thanks for your review, Jackie!

Melody, I’m sure there are a lot of people who haven’t read this yet – I hope that you enjoy reading it!

Did you know that when this book was first published it was reviewed as a ‘true romance’ and regarded as the 1930’s equivellent of chick-lit? Daphne du Maurier hated this idea and was keen to defend it against critics.
I did enjoy the book at the time of reading it and couldn’t understand why I’d waited so long to get to du Maurier. After I finished Rebecca I immediately went on to My Cousin Rachel and loved that too. Interestingly though it is the story of Rachel which comes into my mind when I think of Daphne du Maurier these days and since I scarfed both books down, I have read some other excellent books and find Rebecca fading into the background a little as it slides down my top 50 books of all time list.
I do remember reviewing Rebecca and being appalled at the fact that the second Mrs de Winter was as much a victim of Maxim as Rebecca had been. By the end of the story (or the beginning, if you like) Maxim had sucked all the youth from her and she had grown old so fast, ending up being more or less his nursemaid and confined to staying away from others. Few people seemed to talk about this aspect of the story and I thought it was the scariest bit of all.
Thanks for the review, Jackie, you made me think about reading some more du Maurier, I’ll check out my bookshop this week.

Kim, I have a copy of My Cousin Rachel here, so am pleased to hear that it is good too. I don’t like to read books by the same author close together, but I hope to get to it next year. I hope that you find some more Du Maurier books soon!

I have read Rebecca a couple of times now – once for a university course and again last year for pure pleasure. I must admit I don’t think I enjoyed it as much when I read it the second time. I have to agree with some others – I really love the Hitchcock film version.

Karen, It is interesting that you enjoyed it less on re-reading it. I wonder if that was due to your age, or the fact you knew what was coming?

Thats what happened to me, when I finished the book I thought it was very good but not great. But over time I remember only the positives aspects of the book, mainly the beautiful and gothic atmosphere. I think I might re-read this sometime.

Violet, I thought that would be the case. This is one of those that grow on you. I wonder how long it will be before it enters my top 50!

Rebecca is my favourite book but I understand where you are coming from on the dull bits, I personally don’t find them dull as all the other parts of the book make up for them. I love your description of Mrs Danvers as deliciously dark and agree about the side characters being fully formed. I think that is what I love about Du Maurier, nothing is wasted or pointless, every character and scene has a purpose, they are never there merely to fill space.

Dot, I agree. It is the sign of an amazing writer when all the characters are fully formed and play an important part in the story.

Well, from the beginning I had a feeling that the housekeeper is hiding something. I thought she was related to Rebecca since she hated the new Mrs de winters. She contributes to the suspense.

lizzy, I’m not sure I wanted him to get away with it. I didn’t really care either way, and I think that is a problem – I should have done.

I adored Rebecca the first time I read it…the second time and so on! I read it some time ago, in my early 20s. I’d like to read it again to see what I think of it now. I bought a beautiful copy at a used bookstore but have yet to crack it open.

Ti, It is nice to know that you have enjoyed it with each re-read. Congratulations on finding a beautiful copy of it. I hope that you enjoy it when you read it again!

I have always counted this as one of my favorites, I too have reread it numerous times. The writing took hold of me, the shyness of the main character appealed to me a a teen. As an adult I couldn’t understand the attraction, Max seems more of a parent role. DuMaurier is an excellent author, The Birds is a short story and well done also. She also wrote a historical fiction “The King’s General” which is mysterious and suspenseful. At the FantasticFiction website, it mentions that she wrote this book at Menabilly, the model for Maderly in Rebecca.

Carolyn, Sorry to have not responded to your comment until now – I must have missed it 🙁 I’m intrigued by The Birds. I haven’t seen the film, but I keep seeing scary clips. It is interesting that your perspective has changed with age. This is a book I wish I’d read as a teenager.

Rebecca is one of the books I read as a teenager. Even now after many years it stays warm and fresh in my memory. A must for every yougster.

I read ‘Rebecca’ years ago and found it completely engrossing. I didn’t find it at all dull, but then, I like crime novels, so I wouldn’t have found the police investigation tedious. I can remember watching a television adaptation a few years ago and I enjoyed that as well. Has anyone read ‘Rebecca’s Story’ by Sally Beauman? I keep picking it up, but something seems to be stopping me reading it, maybe it’s the thought of being disappointed!

Yvonne, Sorry to have not responded to your comment until now – I must have missed it 🙁

I’m afraid that I haven’t read Rebecca’s Story but I hope to get around to it one day.

Oddly enough – I think that the post discovery section of the book is one of the best things about it – it changes into a different kind of book at that point against the readers expectations and of course introduces the moral dilemma which is one of the things which makes the book such a non standard read – the fact that the readers want an outcome which is not really morally defensible. My book group loved reading this one so I was glad that I recommended it.
thanks for sharing another great review – I am having a prolific time reading your posts this afternoon!

Hannah, It is great to see you working through my archives 🙂

I think you’re right in that this book improves with time. In retrosect this book is a far better book than I thought it was on reading. I can see why it makes a fantastic reading group read – so much to talk about 🙂

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