Looking at the interiors of a house is like looking into someone’s soul, catching a glimpse of the character and personality of the owner, feeling the emotions and atmosphere residing inside.
Menabilly was the house that, at first, Daphne du Maurier could only observe from the outside, admiring its exterior and trying to connect with its soul. Then a chance presented itself to get a glimpse of the insides. It became possible when she noticed that a caretaker ‘had left a blind pulled back’.
‘Once again I would sit on the lawn and stare up at her windows. Sometimes I would find that the caretaker at the lodge, who came now and again to air the house had left a blind pulled back, showing a chink of space, so that by pressing my face to the window I could catch a glimpse of a room. There was one room – a dining room, I judged, because of the long side board against the wall – that held my fancy most. Dark panels. A great fireplace and on the walls the family portraits stared into the silence and the dust. Another room, once a library, judging by the books upon the shelves, had become a lumber place, and in the centre of it stood a great dappled rocking horse with scarlet nostrils.’ (from ‘The House of Secrets’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)
Both the Menabilly’s dining room and library that Daphne du Maurier got a glimpse of would be featured in her ‘Rebecca’ and assigned very specific roles in it. The Manderley’s dining room stripped of Menabilly’s interior would represent Max de Winter and his real-life counterpart, John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961), and the Manderley’s library with added elements from the Menabilly’s dining room – Maximilian de Winter and his real-life counterpart, Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905). The grandson and his grandfather.
In real life, the Menabilly’s library turned ‘a lumber place’ represents the way the new Lord of the manor, John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961) regarded his grandfather and the house in general, and the collection of books that he had inherited as part of the interiors of the house in particular. Judging by what had been auctioned by him six months after his grandfather’s death, it was not the books as such, but the topics some books covered that he personally detested: ‘This afternoon Messrs. Hodgson and Co. begin a three days’ sale of rare books including the libraries of the late Rev. F. Procter and the late Mr. Jonathan Rashleigh, of Menabilly, Cornwall. Among the numerous illustrated works to be sold is a copy of Joel M’Cringer’s scarce ‘Treatise on Modern Education’, 1802, with eight coloured plates etched by Thomas Rowlandson, in fine condition and admirable examples of this famous caricaturist’s exceedingly rare etched work. Fine copies of Drummond’s ‘Histories of Noble British Families’, two volumes, 1846, and of Ackermann’s ‘Oxford University’ will also be included in the sale.’ (London Evening Standard, 1 November 1905) The titles of some of the auctioned books provide a hint to what John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961) exactly disapproved of. It was the way of living and the education and educational methods of the English upper classes, especially the titled gentry to which his grandfather belonged. Theoretically, John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh also belonged to the same circle, but practically he resented it.
It is unlikely that Daphne du Maurier, in the mid 1920s, while peering through the windows of Menabilly was aware of the fact. But it is very probable that some years later she might have learnt about it. Perhaps, that is why in her own book, she turned the library of the house into the place where most of the important events took place. Even in the dream of the first chapter of the ‘Rebecca’, it is the library that Daphne du Maurier chose to zoom in: ‘Light came from the windows, the curtains blew softly in the night air, and there, in the library, the door would stand half open as we had left it, with my handkerchief on the table beside the bowl of autumn roses. The room would bear witness to our presence. The little heap of library books marked ready to return, and the discarded copy of The Times. Ash-trays, with the stub of a cigarette; cushions, with the imprint of our heads upon them, lolling in the chairs; the charred embers of our log fire still smouldering against the morning.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)
One of the elements of the Menabilly’s library interior that was singled out by Daphne du Maurier is ‘a great dappled rocking horse with scarlet nostrils.’ It takes a central place in the library and is connected to Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905). Whether the connection was made by Daphne du Maurier consciously or on a subconscious level is now hard to say, but it can be linked to a curious incident that goes back to the time of Jonathan Rashleigh’s youth: ‘The Wayside cross near Polmear. Polmear consists of a few houses at the eastern end of Par beach, and is on the main road from Par to Fowey. A steep hill has to be ascended after passing Polmear and about half-way up is a modern granite cross about seven feet high inscribed as follows – ‘1845 1887 ‘I thank Thee O Lord, in the name of Jesus, for all Thy mercies, 1905.’ The cross was put there in 1887 by the late Jonathan Rashleigh, Esq., of Menabilly as a memorial of a serious accident which befell him when riding at the spot in 1845. Th last date, 1905, is of the gentleman’s death.’ (The Cornish Telegraph, 18 August 1910)
The accident is echoed in the ‘Rebecca’ in two instances. The first one involves the location - a precipice in Monte Carlo that Maximilian de Winter visits while taking the narrator for a drive: ‘I realized, too, that the car could climb no more, we had reached the summit, and below us stretched the way that we had come, precipitous and hollow. He stopped the car, and I could see that the edge of the road bordered a vertical slope that crumbled into vacancy, a fall of perhaps two thousand feet.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier) The second instance is a remark that Colonel Julyan makes during a conversation over lunch at Manderley: ‘Oh, I know. But then it’s the horse falling generally that lets you down.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier) The remark is inserted into the discussion about sailing and rather sticks out, at the first glance not making much sense within the context. Yet it does, the insertion indicates that the conversation that is taking place refers to the times of Maximilian de Winter and not Max de Winter.
Although, in the ‘Rebecca’, horse riding and hunting as pastime is frequently mentioned and made fuss of, none of the characters, including the narrator, ever pictured actually doing it. In contrast, in the first draft of the book, Daphne du Maurier planned the narrator to take riding lessons: ‘Chapter VI. Riding efforts, no good at all, Henry overly kind.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’ Daphne du Maurier) ‘Henry’ is the initial name of Mr de Winter that had been changed in the final version of the book to Maximilian, Maxim, and Max, making the character play several roles at once.
Comparing to the library, the room that held Daphne du Maurier’s fancy most – the dining room of Menabilly, – in the ‘Rebecca’, is featured less favourably, with the elements of the room’s interior that caught Daphne du Maurier’s interest being positioned elsewhere in the house. The ‘great fireplace’ and the ‘dark panels’ had been moved to the Manderley’s library: ‘It was a deep, comfortable room, with books lining the walls to the ceiling, the sort of room a man would move from never, did he live alone, solid chairs beside a great open fireplace…’ […] ‘Whatever air came to this room, whether from the garden or from the sea, would lose its first freshness, becoming part of the unchanging room itself, one with the books, musty and never read, one with the scrolled ceiling, the dark panelling, the heavy curtains.’ And ‘the family portraits’ of Menabilly had been moved to the minstrels gallery of Manderley: ‘Isn’t there a minstrels’ gallery at Manderley, and some very valuable portraits?’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)
By removing the admired interior elements from the Menabilly’s dining room, Daphne du Maurier creates a certain ‘emptiness’ in the corresponding room of Manderley. The room’s emptiness is then filled with broken dreams, ephemeral fantasies, and unfulfilled promises, most of which are linked to Maxim and Max de Winter and their real-life counterparts, Jonathan Rashleigh (1845-1872) and John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961). Although both were the heirs to their father and grandfather respectively, neither of them ever lived at Menabilly, especially as the Lords of the manor. Jonathan Rashleigh (1845-1872) died before being able to inherit the estate, and his son, John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961) was born in London at 3, Cumberland-terrace, Regent’s Park, and after his parents’ death – his father died in 1872 and his mother in 1874 – lived with his great uncle. At first, in London at 36, Hill Street, St. George Hanover Square, and later, at The Tempsford Hall, Church End, Tempsford, Biggleswade, Bedfordshire.
The dining room of Manderley first comes into focus when the narrator is fantasizing being Mrs de Winter: ‘I would be Mrs de Winter. I saw the polished table in the dining room, and the long candles. Maxim sitting at the end. A party of twenty-four. I had a flower in my hair. Everyone looked towards me, holding up his glass.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier) The next fantasy takes place in the room itself. This time, sitting at the dining table, the narrator imagines herself to be Rebecca: ‘As I sat down to dinner in the dining-room in my accustomed place, with Maxim at the head of the table, I pictured Rebecca sitting in where I sat now, picking up her fork for the fish and then the telephone ringing and Frith coming into the room and saying ‘Mr Favell on the phone. Madam, wishing to speak to you,’ and Rebecca would get up from her chair with a quick glance at Maxim, who would not say anything, who would go on eating his fish. And when she came back, having finished her conversation, and sat down in her place again, Rebecca would begin talking about something different, in a gay, careless way, to cover up the little cloud between them. At first Maxim would be glum, answering in mono-syllables, but little by little she would win his humour back again, telling him some story of her day, about someone she had seen in Kerrith, and when they had finished the next course he would be laughing again, looking at her and smiling, putting out his hand to her across the table.
‘What the devil are you thinking about?’ said Maxim.’ I started, the colour flooding my face, for in that brief moment, sixty seconds in time perhaps, I had so identified myself with Rebecca that my own dull self did not exist, had never come to Manderley, I had gone back in thought and in person to the days that were gone.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)
In specific scenes, the dining room of Manderley also serves as an indicator of presence or absence of emotions and love between the narrator and Max de Winter: ‘I went into the hall and through to the dining-room. My place was still laid, but Maxim’s had been cleared away. The cold meat and salad awaited me on the sideboard.’ […] ‘We had new candles in the silver candlesticks, they looked white and slim and very tall. The curtains had been drawn here too against the dull grey evening. It seemed strange to be sitting in the dining-room and not look out on to the lawns. It was like the beginning of autumn.’ […] ‘Then I turned and went downstairs to breakfast. It was cold in the dining-room, the sun not yet on the windows, and I was grateful for the scalding bitter coffee and heartening bacon. Maxim and I ate in silence.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier) The use of such words as ‘cleared away’, ‘cold, ‘dull’, ‘grey’, ‘autumn’, ‘bitter’ suggests that the relationship lacks on love and mutual feelings. It sounds like the autumn of the relationship, slowly fading away.
It is also in autumn, during one of her secret visits to Menabilly that Daphne du Maurier ‘found a window unclasped’ and got to discover the ‘ugly north wing’ of the house: ‘One autumn evening I found a window unclasped in the ugly north wing at the back. It must have been intuition that made me bring my torch with me that day. I threw open the creaking window and climbed in. Dust. Dust everywhere. The silence of death. I flashed my torch on to the cobwebbed walls and walked the house. At last. I had imagined it so often. Here were the rooms, leading from one to another, that I had pictured only from outside. Here the faded crimson wall. There the long drawing room, with its shiny chintz sofas and chairs, and here the dining room, a forgotten corkscrew still lying on the sideboard. Suddenly the shadows became too many for me, and I turned and went back the way I had come. Softly I closed the window behind me. And as I did so, from a broken pane on the floor above my head came a giant white owl, who flapped his way into the woods and vanished…’ (from ‘The House of Secrets’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)
Daphne du Maurier’s experience of exploring the ‘ugly north wing’ is mirrored in the ‘Rebecca’ when the narrator accidentally ends up in the west wing of Manderley. As the ‘ugly north wing’, it bears signs of disuse and neglect. In the book, the west wing is associated with the inhabitants of the house and the east one with outsiders and visitors: ‘Oh, nothing much,’ said Maxim briefly, ‘only redecorating and painting the suite in the east wing, which I thought we would use for ours. As Frith says, it’s much more cheerful on that side of the house, and it has a lovely view of the rose-garden. It was the visitors’ wing when my mother was alive.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier) Now, whose mother Maxim really makes a reference to? The answer can be found by looking at the inhabitants of Menabilly, in particular the ones belonging to the family of Jonathan Rashleigh Eqs. (1820-1905). Having inherited the house and the estate in 1871, he moved there with his second wife, an Irish heiress, Jane Elizabeth Pugh (1836-1902), daughter of Arthur Pugh, of Lissadrone, Co.Mayo, and the children from his first and second marriages. The children from the first marriage were Caroline Mary Rashleigh (1844-1880), Jonathan Rashleigh (1845-1872) – married and living in London, Alice Henrietta Rashleigh (1848-1934), Evelyn William Rashleigh (1850-1926), and Mary Anna Rashleigh (1852-1905). The children from the second marriage were Eleanor Elizabeth Rashleigh (1870-1956) and Arthur Rashleigh (1871-1952). The mother figure the Maxim-character mentions in the book cannot be the one of Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905), for this would be way too far into the family history. She cannot be the mother of Jonathan Rashleigh jun., (1845-1872) either, for he was not born and raised in Menabilly. The most likely the reference is made to Mary France (Labouchere) Rashleigh (1849-1874), the mother of John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961).
In the book, ‘the creaking window’ through which Daphne du Maurier got into the ‘ugly north wing’ becomes the opened shutters of Mrs de Winter’s bedroom that the narrator spots while returning from her walk: ‘For no reason, perhaps because the sunlight flickered a moment on the glass, I looked up at the house, and as I did so I noticed with surprise that the shutters of one of the windows in the west wing had been opened up.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier) However, the first accidental exploration of the west wing of Manderley happens earlier in the story (Chapter 9) when the narrator ends up in a passage that takes her to the west wing: ‘I must have lost my bearings, for passing through a door at the head of the stairs I came to a long corridor that I had not seen before, similar in some ways to the one in the east wing, but broader and darker - dark owing to the panelling of the walls. I hesitated, then turned left, coming upon a broad landing and another staircase. It was very quiet and dark. No one was about. If there had been housemaids here, during the morning, they had finished their work by now and gone downstairs. There was no trace of their presence, no lingering dust smell of carpets lately swept, and I thought, as I stood there, wondering which way to turn, that the silence was unusual, holding something of the same oppression as an empty house does, when the owners have gone away.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)
The oppression of an empty house ‘when the owners had gone away’ felt by the narrator in the west wing of Manderley resonates with the ‘silence of death’ experienced by Daphne du Maurier in the ‘ugly north wing’ of Menabilly. Both relate to abandonment and absence.
A room that the narrator comes across as she walks along the corridor in the west wing of Manderley resembles the library turned lumber room in Menabilly. The resemblance mainly concerns the room being used for storing things: ‘I opened a door at hazard, and found a room in total darkness, no chink of light coming through the closed shutters, while I could see dimly, in the centre of the room, the outline of furniture swathed in white dust-sheets. The room smelt close and stale, the smell of a room seldom if ever used, whose ornaments are herded together in the centre of a bed and left there, covered with a sheet. It might be too that the curtain had not been drawn from the window since some preceding summer, and if one crossed there now and pulled them aside, opening the creaking shutters, a dead moth who had been imprisoned behind them for many months would fall to the carpet and lie there, beside a forgotten pin, and a dead leaf blown there before the windows were closed for the last time. I shut the door softly, and went uncertainly along the corridor, flanked on either side by doors, all of them closed…’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)
The ‘close and stale’ air of the discovered by the narrator room correlates with the staleness of the air in the library of Manderley as ‘whatever air came to this room, whether from the garden or from the sea, would lose its first freshness, becoming part of the unchanging room itself…’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier) The ‘unchanging room’ is a reference to the traditional, conservative, and somewhat rigid approach of Maximilian de Winter and his real-life counterpart, Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905) to life. Both appear not to like any changes especially in what they believed should remain unchanged.
Since Daphne du Maurier, while exploring Menabilly, did not seem to have a chance to go to any of the bedrooms which are usually positioned on the first floor of such mansions, the two bedrooms – ‘a room in total darkness’, which the narrator accidentally discovers, and the bedroom of Mrs de Winter that she later purposefully visits – are fictional but nonetheless connected to real-life events of the period of Jonathan Rashleigh (1820-1905). In particular, the beginning of 1870s, which are marked by several life changing events, including the marriage of Jonathan Rashleigh’s son, the birth of his grandson, and the death of his son and his daughter-in-law.
The bedroom, which door the narrator opened ‘at hazard’ can equally relate to Jonathan Rashleigh jun., (1845-1872) and to his wife, Mary Frances Labouchere (1848-1874), both of whom were dead and forgotten, as the choice of words in the room’s description indicates: ‘a dead moth’, ‘a forgotten pin’, and ‘a dead leaf’.
After the adventure of ‘breaking’ into the house and exploring the ‘ugly north wing’, Daphne du Maurier had decided to obtain the permission of John Cosmo Stuart Rashleigh (1872-1961) to walk about the grounds of his estate: ‘Some shred of convention still clinging to my nature turned me to respectability. I would not woo my love in secret. I wrote to the owner of the house and asked his permission to walk about his grounds. The request was granted. Now I could tread upon the lawns with a slip of paper in my pocket to show my good intentions, and no longer crawl belly to the ground like a slinking thief.’ (from ‘The House of Secrets’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)
Asking for the permission was a sort of legalisation of Daphne du Maurier’s relationship with Menabilly. Similarly, the narrator’s relationship with Manderley is ‘legalised’ when Mr de Winter proposes to her and offers to take her there. It is this opportunity of a life time that tips the balance in his favour. For, at that moment, it is Manderley that the narrator truly longs for and is fascinated with, not Mr de Winter: ‘’… I’ll take you to Venice for our honeymoon and we’ll hold hands in the gondola. But we won’t stay too long, because I want to show you Manderley.’ He wanted to show me Manderley… And suddenly I realized that it would all happen; I would be his wife, we would walk in the garden together, we would stroll down that path in the valley to the shingle beach. I knew how I would stand on the steps after breakfast, looking at the day, throwing crumbs to the birds, and later wander out in a shady hat with long scissors in my hand, and cut flowers for the house. I knew now why I had bought that picture post card as a child; it was a premonition, a blank step into the future. He wanted to show me Manderley… My mind ran riot then, figures came before me and picture after picture…’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)
It appears that, in these particular circumstances, the prospect of being Mrs de Winter: ‘… I am going to be Mrs de Winter. I am going to live at Manderley. Manderley will belong to me,’ is what attracts the narrator most, and overshadows everything else. She even turns a blind eye to the fact that Mr de Winter had never told her that he loved her, assigning such a slip to not having time: ‘In love. He had not said anything yet about being in love. No time perhaps. It was all so hurried at the breakfast table. Marmalade, and coffee, and that tangerine.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)
Indeed, no time for love…