Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

“Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again.”

With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten—a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house’s current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim’s first wife—the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier HarperCollinsPublishers


Book Club Party Ideas

Decorations

The second Mrs. de Winter had quite a first impression of Manderly:

Suddenly I saw a clearing in the dark drive ahead, and a patch of sky, and in a moment the dark trees had thinned, the nameless shrubs had disappeared, and on either side of us was a wall of colour, blood-red, reaching far above our heads.  We were amongst the rhododendrons.  There was something bewildering, even shocking, about the suddenness of their discovery.  The woods had not prepared me for them.  They started me with their crimson faces, massed one upon the other in incredible red, luscious and fantastic, unlike any rhododendron plant I had seen before … these were monsters, rearing to the sky, massed like a battalion, too beautiful I thought, too powerful, they were not plants at all. (page 66.)

I didn’t have access to blood-red rhododendrons, but I did have some bold red flowers blooming in my yard to use and gather for decoration.

For another flower decorating idea, you could consider our heroine’s later, more favorable impression of Happy Valley:

We stood on a slope of a wooded hill, and the path wound away before us to a valley, by the side of a running stream. There were no dark trees here, no tangled undergrowth, but on either side of the narrow path stood azaleas and rhododendrons, not blood-coloured like the giants in the drive, but salmon, white, and gold, things of beauty and grace, dropping their lovely, delicate heads in the soft summer rain. (page 110)

Afternoon tea was an important ritual for Mr. and Mrs. de Winter, so laying out a pretty tea set could be another option.


 

Book Club Menu

The de Winter’s afternoon tea ritual (and feast) is where I found my menu.

… Those dripping crumpets, I can taste them now, alternating with piping-hot floury scones and tiny crisp wedges of toast.  Sandwiches of a delectable but unknown nature, mysteriously flavoured, and that very special gingerbread.  Angel cake that melted in the mouth, and its rather stodgier companion, bursting with peel and raisins.  There must have been enough food there to keep a starving family for a week.  I never knew what happened to it all. (page 8)

Dripping Crumpets

Piping-Hot Floury Scones

Tiny Toast Wedges

I found a recipe for Mystery Sandwich Filling at VintageRecipeProject.com (a recipe really exists).  I’m not sure it sounds appetizing enough to serve to my guests, but click here for the recipe for Mystery Sandwich Filling.  If you decide to give the recipe a try, let me know how it turns out.

For the Very Special Gingerbread, I decided to prepare the gingerbread in mini muffin cups and top with whipped vanilla cinnamon honey butter.

Angel Cake

If you prefer to prepare the Angel Cake’s “rather stodgier companion” click here for a traditional recipe for Orange Peel Raisin Cake at Food.com.


Book Club Resources

Rebecca is one of may favorite gothic fiction novels!  I was hooked from the opening line (the best ever):  “Last Night I Dreamt I Went To Manderley Again.”  


Discussion

Discussion questions are from Random House

1. Du Maurier admitted that her heroine has no name because she could never think of an appropriate one—which in itself is a telling comment. What effect does it have on the novel that the heroine has no first name?

2. What kind of character is our heroine—as she presents herself at the beginning of her flashback? Describe her and her companion, Mrs. Hopper.

3. What kind of character is Maxim de Winter, and why does a man of his stature fall in love with the young heroine? What draws him to her?
Read more . . .

4. The heroine describes Maxim thus: “His face…was arresting, sensitive, medieval in some strange inexplicable way…rob him of his English tweeds, and put him in black, with lace at his throat and wrists, he would stare down at us in our new world from a long distant past—a past where men walked cloaked at night, and stood in the shadow of old doorways, a past of narrow stairways and dim dungeons, a past of whispers in the dark, of shimmering rapier blades, of silent, exquisite courtesy.” Why is this an apt description? In other words, how does it set the tone and foretell the events of the novel?

5. In what way does the relationship between the young heroine and Maxim change during the months after their arrival to Manderley?

6. What role does Mrs. Danvers play in this story—in her relationships to the characters (dead and alive) and also in relation to the suspense within the novel?

7. What is the heroine led to believe about Rebecca? In what way does the dead woman exert power over Manderley? At this point, what are your feelings about the new Ms. de Winter? Are you sympathetic toward her plight…or impatient with her lack of assertion? Or are you confused and frightened along with her?

8. What is the heroine’s relationship with Maxim’s sister Beatrice and her husband Giles? What about the advice Beatrice offers the heroine? ?

9. Both Beatrice and Frank Crawley talk to the heroine about Rebecca. Beatrice tells the heroine, “you are so very different from Rebecca.” Frank Crawley says that “kindliness, and sincerity, and…modesty…are worth far more to a man, to a husband, than all the wit and beatufy in the world.” What are both characters trying to convey to the heroine…and how does she interpret their words?

10. What are some of the other clues about Rebecca’s true nature that the author carefully plants along the way?

11. How might the costume ball—and the heroine’s appearance in Rebecca’s gown—stand as a symbol for young Mrs. de Winter’s situation at Manderley?

12. Were you suprised by the twist the plot takes when Rebecca’s body is found…and when Maxim finally tells the truth about his and Rebecca’s marriage? Did the strange details of plot fall into place for you?

13. How, if at all, do Maxim’s revelations change your attitude toward him? Did you feel relief upon first reading his confessions? Can you sympathsize with his predicament, or do you censure his actions? What do you think of the heroine’s reaction? In her place, how might you have reacted?

14. How does this new knowledge alter the heroine’s behavior and her sense of herself?

15. After Favell threatens to blackmail him, Maxim calls on Colonel Julyan. Why? Why does Maxim act in a way that seems opposed to his own best interests?

16. In the end, what really happened to Rebecca? What is the full story of her death? Is it right that Maxim is absolved of any crime? Was he caught in an untenable position? Was Rebecca simply too evil—did she end up getting what she deserved?

17. How do you view the destruction of Manderley? Is it horrific…or freeing…or justified vengeance on Rebecca’s part? Would the de Winters have had a fulfilling life at Manderley had it not burned?

18. Now return to the beginning of the book. How would you put into words, or explain, the sense of loss and exile that permeates tone of the opening? (You might think about a spiritual as well as physical exile.)


The Author

 From the Daphne du Maurier website
Daphne was born in 1907, grand-daughter of the brilliant artist and writer George du Maurier, daughter of Gerald, the most famous Actor Manager of his day, she came from a creative and successful family.
She began writing short stories in 1928, and in 1931 her first novel, ‘The Loving Spirit’ was published. It received rave reviews and further books followed. Then came her most famous three novels, ‘Jamaica Inn’, ‘Frenchman’s Creek’ and ‘Rebecca’. Each novel being inspired by her love of Cornwall, where she lived and wrote.

Fun Fact

Did you know that Rebecca was based on Daphne du Maurier’s jealousy over her husband’s first fiancée, Jan Ricardo?  In fact, du Maurier’s description of how Rebecca wrote her first name,   “The name Rebecca stood out black and strong, the tall and sloping R dwarfing the other letters,”  was based on actual way the former fiancée signed her last name!