“Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again…” Rebecca is the greatest and most haunting Gothic novel, the one to which all others written since have been compared. Set in the English countryside in the 1920’s, in a mansion by the sea, Maxim de Winter lives with his much younger new bride, whose name we never learn. This shy girl narrates the story of her new life at Manderley, with its lavish gardens, long stretches of woods, and a beach cottage, not far from where the first Mrs. de Winter is said to have drowned. Life at Manderley can be staggering for the former Lady’s companion, especially with an ominous housekeeper named Mrs. Danvers and her obsession with the late Rebecca, whose things she leaves set out on the bed in the dead woman’s bedroom, as if still awaiting her arrival home. This novel is filled with suspenseful drama, lush landscapes, and sympathies you never knew you could have for a character. In England, there is a manor house in which you will dream of living, and a tall, black-haired woman who still walks its halls, smiling and shaking her thick raven locks in a last, crazed laugh.
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The House at Riverton by Kate Morton runs very parallel to this novel in many ways, especially with the dramatic buildup to the ending, and the perspective of an elderly woman narrating her past and an un-revealed secret. Also by Kate Morton, The Distant Hours shares the symbol of the mansion haunted by former inhabitants, and a man who could escape them or his past, but it is told alternately from the perspective of his author daughters, and a book editor who longs to know the truth about the life of her favorite author.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield is also filled with the scandals and twists of an old lady’s secret past, as learned by a young writer, who is the first to learn the truth about the identity of the woman before her, and the story behind her novels.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is the story of a young girl taken away from her former life, and swept up in the drama of a wealthy, eccentric, and tortured man whom she grows to love. It is also set in England, but in the 1800’s.
The Lake of Dead Languages by Carol Goodman is about a teacher who returns to alma mater, only to have the dark occurrences of her senior year relived by the machinations of
Daphne du Maurier wrote other intriguing novels, including My Cousin Rachel, Frenchman’s Creek, The King’s General, Jamaica Inn, and many more, as well as several books of short stories, including her most famous, The Birds.
Themed Recipe: Blackberry Black-Raspberry Victoria Sponge Cupcakes
Victoria Sponge Cupcakes were chosen because that’s one of the foods mentioned as being served at Manderley to Maxim and the second Mrs. de Winter. I chose to fill them with a black-raspberry blackberry jam because Rebecca had inky black hair, and raspberry because there was a conversation with Colonel Julyan about raspberry jam, which was served alongside the fruit salad the morning that Rebecca’s boat was discovered. One could even say that his comment about them was a symbolic metaphor and prognostication: “I suppose you are coming to the end of your raspberries…it’s been a wonderful summer for them.”
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 ¼ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 ½ sticks or 1 ¼ cups salted butter, melted
- 6 eggs, large
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup sugar
- 20 tsps seedless black-raspberry blackberry jam, or blackberry, raspberry or even strawberry jam, if you prefer
- 1-2 tbsps powdered sugar, for dusting
- blackberries, for garnish
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray insides of two muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray.
- Sift together dry ingredients into one medium bowl.
- Melt butter in the microwave in a microwave-safe bowl or cup. Be careful when removing! Use a hot pad! Full sticks take about 1 ½-2 minutes each in my microwave, but it may vary depending on yours, so check the sticks every 30 seconds.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, begin whisking melted butter on low speed, and adding the eggs, one at a time. Mix on medium speed for one minute. Drop speed to low, then add the vanilla.
- add the dry ingredients to the wet mix, still on low, about a cup at a time. Stop the mixer half-way through to scrape down the sides of the mixer with a spatula. When fully incorporated, add by heaping tablespoons to muffin pan. This recipe filled only 20 cups. Make sure you leave enough batter to top the cupcakes after adding the jam!
- After you have filled 20 cups, add 1 tsp to the top of each batter-filled cup. Then top the jam with another tablespoon of batter. try to make sure the batter is spread out across the top of the muffin cup by pressing down lightly on it with your clean fingers. Adding a little olive oil to your fingers will help stop the batter from sticking to them.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes (mine took 17 minutes) on the bottom rack of the oven. I only baked one pan at a time, for more even cooking, because I have an older oven.
- Wait at least ten minutes before removing from the pan. Then dust each cake with powdered sugar. Garnish with a blackberry or two.
- Maxim points out that the narrator’s name is very unusual and pretty, but no mention of it is ever made. Some think it was the author’s name, Daphne. What do you think her name is, and why would the writer leave it out?
- The second Mrs. de Winter believes that “men and women emerge finer and stronger after suffering, and that to advance in this or any world we must endure ordeal by fire.” How is this true for some, and destroys others? In a way, how is it both true and false of Maxim?
- She also states that “happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.” How did she achieve this mentality?
- The Hound of Heaven is the only literature quoted in the story. Why would the author have chosen this poem, as well as the particular quoted passage, and especially as a present from Rebecca to Maxim? What does that say about their relationship, and about what sort of person she was? Should this have been a clue to alleviate some of the fears of the second Mrs. de Winter? If so, why did she miss it?
- Mrs. de Winter’s husband’s dependence on her has led to her loss of shyness and timidity. How does this seem to create a sort of balance in their relationship-first when they met, and as a young married couple, then now as they are? Does Maxim seem to have become a little like her former self?
- If a little thing like Mrs. Van Hopper being a snob had not happened, the entire story of this girl’s life might have turned out differently. How is it that tiny things can create such cataclysmic snowballs? Were there any other such “small factors” that inevitably led to large reactions?
- While riding around in the car one morning with Maxim, the girl has a profound thought about seeing a peasant girl in the street, and noting that she must remember this, “This moment now…must never be lost.” Does she have those at other times as well? Are they usually premonitions of substantial changes about to happen in her life? Have you ever had a moment like that, which you wished to hold, feeling the impermanence of life’s moments?
- Maxim admits that she has “blotted out the past for me…far more than all the bright lights of Monte carlo.” How has she done this? Is it because of her strong contrast to Rebecca? And in what ways?
- Beatrice assumes that Maxim’s young new wife knows the whole story of his previous one, but she actually pieces together practically every detail (at first) from others. Why did he choose to leave her so in the dark, and for so long? Think later too about how he says her face and behavior change once she does know. What is it about her he adores so much and is striving to protect?
- Why does Frank believe “that kindliness, and sincerity, and modesty are worth for more to a man-to a husband, than all the wit and beauty in the world”? Would Maxim agree? Would most men, or are there various depending factors? What makes a man appreciate certain things like this more than beauty, charm, or wit?
- The new Mrs. de Winter is very timid, and despite Mrs. Danvers’ odd guest, Mr. favell, she does not “want to get Mrs. Danvers into trouble or make any sort of scene. More important still I did not want to worry Maxim.” Why would she think this way, or choose to keep silent, if she was so worried this man would cause trouble for Maxim-wouldn’t it be better to tell him immediately so it could be dealt with? Why does she change her mind and mentality (and even, to a degree, her personality) later?
- Mrs. Danvers sometimes imagines she sees or hear Rebecca at Manderly. She asks, Do you think she can see us, talking to one another? Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?” What do you think Mrs. Danvers thinks? Or the new Mrs. de Winter? Or Maxim? What do you think?
- Beatrice comments that “What on earth can one do with [people, other than play cards] between tea and dinner in the winter? One can’t just sit and talk.” Mrs. de Winter wondered why. What do you think? Is she capable of such, with anyone other than Maxim, even though Beatrice isn’t? Why can some people spend hours talking, and others can’t tolerate it? And isn’t there some talking involved in playing cards-so why is that different for her than not playing anything? Is boredom like this one of the frustrations of the extremely wealthy, and benefits of the lower classes, during this time period?
- Mrs.de Winter, upon meeting Maxim’s grandmother, thought “how little we know about the feelings of old people. Children we understand, their fears and hopes and make-believe. I was a child yesterday. I had not forgotten.” She even wonders if the elderly lady observes Beatrice’s boredom and desire to leave. Does this statement reveal why it is so difficult for some to relate to the elderly? If not, then what are other reasons, even if it is our own family? When a child’s mind wanders, it tends to go to the future or to fantasy. When elderly person’s mind wanders, where do you think it goes, and does that impact their observational skills?
- Maxim’s wife, upon playing in her mind a fantasy about how Rebecca might have acted over dinner, had an odd expression on her face. He said she “looked older suddenly, deceitful…a flash of knowledge in your eyes. Not the right sort of knowledge.” But he never explained what that meant. What isn’t the right sort of knowledge for her, according to what Maxim might think? Are there types of knowledge that aren’t right for anyone? What might they be?
- Mrs. de Winter noticed “how alike people are in a moment of common interest. Frank was Frith all over again, giving his version of the story, as though it mattered.” What makes people do this, relating their version of the same event to each other? Are there any major historical events that you have lived through and done this with other people? Are generations partly defined by the events that they can do this with?
- How can Maxim seem to be a double person, or living a double life, knowing what he does about Rebecca, and the boat, yet being so helpful with the crew? Frank points out that “You’ll find he will invite the whole crew back to Manderley and feed them, and give them beds into the bargain.” Is it to assuage his guilt, or was this possibly a remnant of his former personality before the “incident”?
- “‘I’d forgotten,’ said Maxim…’that when you shot a person there was so much blood.’” To what famous literary character is this a reference, and from what play? What do she and Maxim have in common, and how are they completely different? Is he a partial victim, or his actions understandable, and possibly an only option, given the circumstances?
- In realizing that Maxim does not love Rebecca, the new wife is no longer afraid of her, nor does she hate her, why? How is it so easy for her to sympathize with her husband, a criminal in the eyes of the law, and yet not hate Rebecca for what she had done to him?
- In discovering the truth about what happened to Rebecca, the young Mrs. de Winter admitted “I would never be a child again. It would not be I…any longer, it would be we, it would be us.” What died inside her upon learning this truth, and why did it? Do you think Maxim ever regretted the loss of her child-like self? Might that have been part of what first attracted him to her? How was she able to be a better spouse and companion to him after? How did the way he petted her from then on show how his mentality toward her had also changed?
- When Maxim was at the trial hearing about Rebecca’s boat, and his new wife came and fainted at the heat and the terrifying drama of it all, he appreciated her faint. He told her “Seeing you there, by the door, made me remember what I had to do. If you had not fainted like that, I should never have done it.” Why did seeing her remind him of his goal and even calm his temper? What about her did that for him, even though she is such a meek, timid character?
- What did you think of the ending? Did the author warn you well enough at the beginning, or had you forgotten about the beginning chapters, because of the intense dramatic climax of book’s final chapters? What do you think became of Mrs. Danvers and Favell, or the other servants, Robert and Frith?