‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ A sentence I shall never forget, the opening line to one of the greatest, in my opinion anyway, books ever written. I love all her books, but admit that this is my favourite – it’s my name, it is an epic read, and it immerses you in a world that is long gone. It is a mystery, a love story, and a thriller all rolled into one, and written with such aplomb…genius!
One of the mysteries is the name of the central character, the narrator, the second Mrs. Maxim De Winter, and it is never revealed. She is without family or fortune, paid companion to a wealthy American widow, Mrs Van Hopper when we meet her on the French Riviera, and then she meets the widowed Maxim and her world changes, much to her surprise as well as that of Mrs. Van Hopper. But there are dark secrets in his past, and he has told her little of his previous life. When she returns to his family home, Manderley, an ancient Cornish estate, she is singularly un-prepared not only for her new life as the mistress of a great house, but to deal with the unforgettable Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper. And knows nothing about Maxim’s secret.
Rebecca was Maxim’s first wife. She rules the story, her world, and the narrators life, even though she died a year earlier. A beauty, capable, confident, strong-willed – her imprint on Manderley is enduring, with, apparently, reminders at every turn for the narrator that she is a completely inadequate replacement. Du Mauriers prose is so strong, you want to take this girl and shake her! And shoot the beastly Mrs Danvers too.
I can’t really say much more without ruining the story for you, and I also recommend both movies – the 1940 black and white version starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier is brilliant, and I also recently watched the remake starring Lily James and Armie Hammer in which the show is stolen by Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers. And the beach in that version is Hartland Quay in North Devon, I’m sure of it, which might have upset Daphne Du Maurier who lived in Cornwall where most of her novels are set, and adored it.
Anyway. I have Mum’s copy here – probably not the first copy she owned because I believe this is where my name came from, but this one she read in 2007 – and I will happy gift it forward and hopefully, to someone who has not read Du Maurier previously…because once you have read this, you will be looking for more. I personally will be looking for a copy of Frenchmans Creek now…
Here’s a quick link to buy a copy