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'Rebecca' - From Structured Conscious to Mysterious Subconscious

Daphne du Maurier at her desk. Photography by Hans Wild

Few know that the ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier as it’s been known to the readers around the world is not quite what the author originally planned to write. The book’s original development of the plot and its structural representation defer from the ones of the final publication.

Whilst it is not unusual for writers to change the plot and structure of the books while they are writing, it is intriguing when it happens by ‘accident’ as Daphne du Maurier recalls:

It is now forty years since my novel Rebecca was first published. […] …the story of Rebecca became an instant favourite with readers in the United Kingdom, North America and Europe. Why, I have never understood! It’s true that as I wrote it I immersed myself in the characters, especially in the narrator, but then this has happened throughout my writing career; I lose myself in the plot as it unfolds, and only when the book is finished do I lay it aside, I may add, finally and forever. This has been more difficult with Rebecca, because I continue to receive letters from all over the world asking me what I based my story on, and the characters, and why did I never give the heroine a Christian name? The answer to the last question is simple: I could not think of one, and it became a challenge in technique. The easier because I was writing in the first person.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

The three important questions: ‘what I based my story on, and the characters, and why did I never give the heroine a Christian name’ that the readers used to keep asking Daphne du Maurier were the most difficult for her to answer. Her not giving the name to the narrator she explains as ‘I could not think of one’. This is rather unusual, unless the name of the narrator does not play any role in the story and the narrator herself/himself is simply an observer and not an active participant of the events she/he tells about. But in the ‘Rebecca’’ case this is not true.

One of the possible explanations for Daphne du Maurier’s not being able to think of the narrator’s name could be that the narrator is an amalgam of voices and therefore it was difficult to assign one name to her/him.

The collective subconscious from which the narrators’ voices emerged and into which Daphne du Maurier ‘immersed’ contained certain messages. Familiar with the basics of the coded language, since it was used at home by her father to communicate with his children, Daphne du Maurier was able to include the messages of the ‘narrators’ into the content of the book without consciously decoding them. As a result, messages merged with the voice of the original narrator, creating ambiguity and mystery that many a reader has been fascinated by.

The initial idea for ‘Rebecca’ and its plot structure was pretty clear and even somewhat simple. It was a story of the two women, a man, and jealousy of the second wife towards the lingering memory of the first: ‘A beautiful home… a first wife… jealousy… a wreck, perhaps at sea, near to the house...’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

As Daphne du Maurier was putting down her ideas on paper, it was her own personal conscious experiences and knowledge that provided inspiration for the plot: ‘I wondered if she had been jealous of the first wife, as I would have been jealous if my Tommy had been married before he married me.’ […] ‘Houses with extensive grounds, with woods, near the sea, with family portraits on the walls, like the house Milton in Northamptonshire, where I had stayed as a child during the First World War, and yet not like, because my Cornish house would be empty, neglected, its owner absent, more like – yes, very like, - the Menabilly near Fowey, not so large as Milton, where I has so often trespassed.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

Daphne du Maurier, similar to the narrator, had social obligations. Hers were due to her husband’s military career and status: ‘I think I put a brave face on the situation and went to the various cocktail parties which we were obliged to attend…’ Also, during the time of thinking about the idea for the book, Daphne du Maurier lived in a rented house by the sea: ‘Boy – Tommy to me – and I were living in a rented house, not far from the beach, Ramlech I believe it was called…’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

In her initial notes for the structure of the ‘Rebecca’, among other things, Daphne du Maurier had included such elements as ‘few but well-defined’ characters and ‘simplicity of style’:


1. Atmosphere

2. Simplicity of style

3. Keep to the main theme

4. Characters few and well defined

5. Build it up little by little’

(‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

But, in the final version, the ‘few and well-defined’ characters somehow turned out to be rather ambiguous, seemingly lacking on the background and details of personal stories.

The two main characters – the narrator and her husband, Henry, in the original version, – and their love story seemed to have been inspired by the legend Daphne du Maurier had heard from one of her friends about the owner of Menabilly, which owner is not mentioned though:

And surely the Quiller-Couches had told me that the owner had been married first to a very beautiful wife, whom he had divorced, and had married again a much younger woman.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier) The element of a ‘wreck, perhaps at sea, near to the house’ had been drawn from the same ‘Quiller-Couches’ source: ‘…as there had been at Pridmouth once near Menabilly.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

On the left Alexandria, on the right, Daphne du Mauirer

Some clues to the background of the main characters, – Henry and the narrator, – can be found in the original epilogue written in Egypt. Although no particular details of the background provided, one can pick up the overall theme that was used in describing the characters. It seems the descriptions were inspired by the information contained in the collective subconscious of the place, – Egypt, – where Daphne du Maurier was residing at the moment of writing.

Being an expatriate, Daphne du Maurier had a certain personal experience associated with her status. Some of it was conscious and some subconscious. As she was not the only expatriate who lived in Egypt, her own experience stored in her personal subconscious merged with experiences and backgrounds of other English expatriates and created a pool of information which provided the descriptions of the main characters of the ‘Rebecca’ book. As a result, during her Egypt period of writing the book, Daphne du Maurier imagined Henry and the narrator as a stereotypical English married couple of certain age abroad: ‘Of course there are replicas of us all over Europe. Both of us bear upon our persons the unmistakable signs of the wandering English who live abroad.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

Mr de Winter of the Egyptian period was described as a ‘vaguely familiar to you’ man, meaning that he had common features of all travelling English men of certain class and status. His looks were generalised looks of an Englishman or, possibly, a noble Englishman: ‘There is something arresting about his profile and the line of his jaw, but it is impossible to put a name on him.’ (‘Epilogue’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier) Another common to all Englishmen abroad of that particular period, especially in hot countries, characteristic is an air of immaculate crispness: ‘He very immaculate, with fresh linen, smelling of eau de cologne and bath salts, a copy of The Times on his lap, his panama hat set at just the right angle…’ (‘Epilogue’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

The narrator and the companion of Mr de Winter was described as a dishevelled and disillusioned English woman who possessed no taste in dressing, appearing almost as an old-maid interested in reading and knitting. A kind of dull and listless person: ‘…and I with faded hair and colouring, darker glasses concealing eyes that have lost their brightness, and upon my rather dumpy body one of an unending series of cotton frocks, too long for me and sagging at the hem. Later in the day you run up against me in the English library, the bag of knitting still under one arm and three books under the other, and as I pass you I leave a little whiff of lavender water in my wake. I dab it on with the stopper behind each ear every morning, and it lasts me for the day.’ (‘Epilogue’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

On the right, a movie still from the British TV series 'Rebecca' (1997)

The two main characters of the original ‘Rebecca’ were to be placed abroad after a certain tragic experience: ‘But something terrible would happen, I did not know what… I paced up and down the living room in Alexandria, notebook in hand, nibbling first my nails and then my pencil. The couple would be living abroad, after some tragedy, there would be an epilogue but on second thoughts that would have to come at the beginning – then Chapters One, and Two, and Three…’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

The tragedy then was outlined by Daphne du Maurier as a car crash: ‘Chapter XXVI. Going towards Manderley. We still have to go away - they take the decision, they go over it all. After all it has happened. Perhaps Rebecca will have the last word yet. The road narrows before the avenue, a car with blazing headlights passed. Henry swerved to avoid it and it came at us rearing out of the ground, its huge arms outstretched to embrace us, crashing and splintering above our heads.’ (Chapter XXVI, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

And then, Daphne du Maurier planned that as a result of the car accident Henry would become crippled: ‘You see then that he is crippled, he walks slowly and awkwardly with the aid of sticks, and it is some little time before I have settled him for the afternoon. There is the long chair to adjust, the pillows to arrange, and the rug over his knees…’ and the narrator would be somehow disfigured: ‘His maimed body and my disfigurement are things of no account, we have learnt to accept them, we live, we breathe, we have vitality, the spark of divinity has not passed us by.’ (‘Epilogue’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

Although Daphne du Maurier conceived the idea of the ‘Rebecca’ and even wrote some chapters while residing in Egypt, the main work on the book was put aside until her return to England: ‘And so it started, drafts in my notebook, and the first few chapters. Then the whole thing was put aside until our return to England in only a few months’ time.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

Daphne du Maurier’s coming back home had brought the change of the environment and as a result a new pool of the collective subconscious that had prompted changes in the plot line, the characters, the names of the characters, the epilogue, and the ‘tragedy’. In addition, the text of the final publication was full of secretive references and coded messages.

Back home, Tommy and his battalion were stationed at Aldershot, and we were lucky enough to rent Greyfriars near Fleet, the home of the great friend in the Coldstream Guards, who had taken over from Tommy in Alexandria. Reunited with the children and happy in the charming Tudor house, I was able to settle once more to the novel Rebecca. This much I can still remember: sitting on the window seat of the living room, typewriter propped up on the table before me, but I am uncertain how long it took me to finish the book, possibly three or four months. I had changed some of the names too. The husband was no longer Henry but Max – perhaps I thought Henry sounded dull. The sister and the cousin, they were different too. The narrator remained nameless, but the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, had become more sinister. Why, I have no idea. The original epilogue somehow merged into the first chapter, and the ending was entirely changed.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

Being in a different location full of historical and cultural references meant having a different creative inspiration comparing to Egypt. While away in the foreign country, Daphne du Maurier missed England and perhaps because of that gave one of the main characters as well as to her book the name ‘Rebecca’. In her notes, Daphne du Maurier does not mention anything about the reason of choosing this particular title. This can be because her choice was made on a subconscious level, without her giving it any conscious consideration. But this does not mean that the name bears no depth or profound influence. For, one of the meanings of the name ‘Rebecca’ is ‘land’, ‘earth’. ‘Land’, in this case, relates to Daphne du Maurier’s own homeland – England. In Egypt, her thoughts and emotions were coloured with nostalgia. In England, relishing being back home, Daphne du Maurier, while writing, happily immersed into the wealth of stories associated with the country, its history, and cultural legacy.

On the left, Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459 – 1519) , on the right, the Greyfriars - a Tudor house

The ‘ghosts’ of the ‘charming Tudor house’, where Daphne du Maurier resided with her husband and children, found their way in to the book in a form of sprinkled here and there mentions and references to the period, such as ‘a Tudor woman’ dancing at the Fancy Dress ball at Manderley: ‘ … and that sailor once more, with another partner; they stopped beside me, I did not know her; she was dressed as a Tudor woman; any Tudor woman; she wore ruffle round her throat and a black velvet dress.’ […] ‘She swept on to the Blue Danube in the arms of the sailor, her velvet frock brushing the ground like a carpet-sweeper, and it was not until long afterwards, in the middle of some night, when I could not sleep, that I remembered the Tudor woman was the bishop’s wife who liked walking in the Pennines.’ (‘Rebecca’, Daphne du Maurier)

Although Daphne du Maurier explains her changing the name of the main character from Henry to Max, or Maximilian in full, as ‘…perhaps I thought Henry sounded dull’, it was also done on the subconscious level under the influence of the Tudor house environment. In England, the Tudor period is associated with the 15th and the 16th centuries – 1485-1603. Maximilian is the name of The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459 – 1519) who lived and ruled within the historical period. Another reference to the period is less direct but nonetheless present. It is the name of Mrs Van Hopper’s nephew – Billy, short from William. One of the prominent historical figures associated with the name is William Shakespeare (1564-1616).

On the left, William Shakespeare (1564-1616), on the right, an illustration to 'As You Like It’ play by William Shakespeare

The Tudor literary influence of William Shakespeare in the book is reflected in the first chapter that describes a dream. The dream with its nature secret references and tree symbolisms creates a mysterious and even grotesque impression. Woods as part of setting were often used by William Shakespeare in his plays. Sometimes, the whole stories were set in the woods. For an instance, ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ and ‘As You Like It’ plays.

In ‘Rebecca’, the woods and the overgrown grounds of Manderley that are featured in the dream of the first chapter resemble something of the enchanted woods in the Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. The symbolism of trees in the dream is so prominent that at the closer look one cannot help but notice that they represent the characters of the book. Almost exact visualisation of the line from the Shakespeare’s play ‘As You Like It’:

O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,

And in their barks my thoughts I’ll character

That every eye which in this forest looks

Shall see thy virtue witnessed everywhere.


It appears that the Shakespearean influence present in the dream of the first chapter is a combination of conscious and subconscious worlds of Daphne du Maurier. On the conscious level, being an avid reader and a child of an actor, she certainly was acquainted with the plays by William Shakespeare, their characters and famous quotes. On the subconscious level, however, she was simply influenced by her everyday surroundings and the stories and associations contained within it, i.e. Tudor lifestyle and historical and cultural personages.

The romanticised elements of the Tudor culture and fashion are reflected in the description of Maximilian de Winter. Gone is the immaculately dressed English coloniser in crisp linen and panama hat, his place had been taken by the medieval romantic knight: ‘He belonged to a walled city of the fifteenth century, a city of narrow, cobbled streets, and thin spires, where the inhabitants wore pointed shoes and worsted hose. His face was arresting, sensitive, medieval in some strange inexplicable way, and I was reminded of a portrait seen in a gallery, I had forgotten where, of a certain Gentleman Unknown. Could one but 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 when, 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.’ (‘Rebecca’, Daphne du Maurier)

On the left, Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482) portrait

One of the least prominent yet detectable Tudor period references is the correlation between the first marriage of Maximilian de Winter and the marriage of The Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I (1459 – 1519) and Mary of Burgundy (1457-1482). The correlation present in the text hints at how the first wife of Maximilian de Winter might have died. As in the case of Mary of Burgundy, the death of the first wife of Maximilian de Winter is connected to horse riding: ‘Oh, I know. But then it’s the horse falling generally that lets you down. […] I must have watched her many times in the handicap race on Saturdays from Kerrith, and I never saw her make an elementary mistake. It’s the sort of thing a novice would do. In that particular place too, just by the ridge.’ (‘Rebecca’, Daphne du Maurier)

The horse racing mentioned suggests that the first wife of Maximilian de Winter fell off the horse somewhere ‘by the ridge’, whether during the race or hunting. It is her fall that caused the fatality. Hence Colonel Julyan commenting on her death being swift and sudden, for drowning cannot be really called sudden or swift: ‘The only consolation is that now we know poor Mrs de Winter’s death must have been swift and sudden, not the dreadful slow lingering affair we all believed it to be.’ (‘Rebecca’, Daphne du Maurier)

The subconscious Tudorism in ‘Rebecca’ overlaps with the conscious one. The choice of the setting for the unfolding of the story, the estate Manderley, is partially based on Daphne du Maurier’s personal very conscious experience – her visits to Milton Hall, the largest private house in Cambridgeshire. The house dates 1594 and is the historical home of the Fitzwilliam family. Daphne du Maurier made one of her first visits to Milton Hall in 1917 at the age of ten along with her mother and two sisters. Twenty years later, in her correspondence with Lord Fitzwilliam she mentioned that certain elements of the interiors of Manderley, in the ‘Rebecca’, were based on her recollection of the rooms and ‘big house feel’ of Milton Hall. But Milton Hall was not the main conscious inspiration for the Manderley estate setting. It was the Menabilly estate, in Cornwall, which Daphne du Maurier was particularly fascinated with. Her interest in the estate and frequent visits of the grounds created a combination of conscious and subconscious elements that were weaved in to the final text of her ‘Rebecca’ story.

The conscious elements are the descriptions of the Menabilly’s drive: ‘The drive twisted and turned in a way that I described many years afterwards, when sitting at a desk in Alexandria…’; the red rhododendrons before the house: ‘Then I saw them for the first time – the scarlet rhododendrons. Massive and high they reached above my head, shielding the entrance to a long smooth lawn.’ […] ‘The scarlet rhododendrons encircled her lawns, to south, to east, to west.’; the iron gates and the lodge: ‘We came to the lodge at four turnings, as we had been told, and opened the creaking iron gates with the flash courage and appearance of bluff common to the trespasser.’; as well as the dining room, the library, the portrait gallery, the drawing room: ‘There was one room – a dining room, I judge, 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. […] ‘Here was the staircase, and the faded crimson wall. There the long drawing room, with its shiny chintz sofas and chairs…’. (‘The House of Secrets’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, by Daphne du Maurier)

The subconscious elements derived from Menabilly’s visits are connected to its secrets and tales that Daphne du Maurier could intuitively feel having established a special connection with the house as called it ‘she’: ‘She was, or so it seemed to me, bathed in a strange mystery. She held a secret – not one, not two, but many – that she withheld from many people but would give to one who loved her well.’ (‘The House of Secrets’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, by Daphne du Maurier) The secrets that were withheld from others had become accessible to Daphne du Maurier, for she fell in love with the house. And as she did, she had also learnt more about the inhabitants of her beloved Menabilly: ‘Little by little, too, I gleaned snatches of family history. There was the lady in blue who looked, so it was said, from a side window, yet few had seen her face. There was cavalier found beneath the buttress wall more than a hundred years ago. There were the sixteenth-century builders, merchants and trades; there were the Stuart royalists, who suffered for their king; the Tory landowners with their white wigs and their brood of children; the Victorian garden lovers with their rare plants and their shrubs.’ (‘The House of Secrets’, ‘Rebecca Notebook’, by Daphne du Maurier)

This interlacing of consciously and subconsciously gained information about the house had created a hybrid of the original epilogue, written by Daphne du Maurier in Alexandria, and the beginning of the story, written in England, which became the second chapter of the book. And although Daphne du Maurier was claiming that she could not quite explain this merge, it was convenient for introducing different story threads associated with secrets and mysteries of Menabilly.

One of the crucial changes in the epilogue-beginning was the omitting of names, main characters included. In the initial version of it, however, written in Alexandria, the name of the narrator’s companion’s name was clearly stated: ‘But I have had enough of melodrama in this life, and would bereave my Henry of his five senses if it would ensure him his present peace and security’; as well as the name of the place where the narrator and Henry stayed at the moment of telling the story: ‘If you travel south you will come upon us in the end, staying in one of those innumerable little hotels that cling like limpets to the Mediterranean shore. You will be passing through to somewhere more attractive, but we are fixtures there, and have been for many months.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

Due to the name omission, almost every word in the final epilogue-beginning had become open to various interpretations and even misinterpretations. So much so that sometimes it is not clear if the storyteller is she or he and whom the narrator had ended up with and where. The only references, although ambiguous, to might be location of the narrator and her companion are the mentions of glaring sun, vineyards, mandarins, and bougainvillea: ‘The scrubby vineyards and the crumbling stones become things of no account, for if I wish I can give rein to my imagination, and pick foxgloves and pale campions from a wet, streaking hedge.’ […] ‘And how different my present companion, his steady, well-shaped hands peeling a mandarin in quiet, methodical fashion, looking up now and again from his task to smile at me…’ […] ‘It is when I remember these things that I turn with relief to the prospect from our balcony. No shadows steal upon this hard glare, the stony vineyards slammer in the sun and the bougainvillaea is white with dust.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

In the text, these descriptive elements sound ambiguous because they can be assigned to a variety of countries – Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, south of France, Florida, California, even Switzerland, especially the Lake Leman area. Being vague about the location seems to have no clear reason or purpose. Yet it does. It allows the author to combine in one narrator several storytellers whose stories revolve around the same family, and similar themes differentiated by certain time periods – mid to end of the 19th century – from 1870s to 1890s, - to the beginning of the 20th century, – from 1900 to mid 1920s.

The ambiguity in storytelling of the final ‘Rebecca’ is further enhanced by changing in the epilogue-beginning of the ‘we’ references in such a way that it becomes unclear what kind of relationship the narrator and her/his companion are in. Father and daughter? Father and his son? Husband and wife? Two lovers of the same or different gender? Mother and her son?

In contrast, in the epilogue written in Alexandria, the type of the relationship is crystal clear – it is a married couple, a husband and wife: ‘I have watched my beloved husband come through a great crises, and I – I was not a silent spectator. I know now that it is not easy to live. Sooner or later, in the life of everyone comes a moment of trial. We all of us have our own particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end. Henry and I have conquered ours, or so we believe. The devil does not ride us any more. But we are shorn of our little earthy glory, he a cripple and his home lost to him, and I, well, I suppose I am like all childless women, craving for echoes I shall never hear, and lacking a certain quality of tenderness.’ (‘Rebecca Notebook’, Daphne du Maurier)

In the final epilogue-beginning, there is no mention of the ‘beloved husband’ and of the narrator being ‘like all childless women’. Instead, in the text, one can find references that can be assigned to various interpersonal relations, and not necessarily romantic ones. For example, the ones that describe the relationships and ties between close family members, such as the daughter-father one. In this case, the narrator’s description of her companion resembles the one of the daughter-nurse taking care of her older and not so mentally balanced father. Even the adjective ‘patient’ in combination with ‘wonderfully’ sounds very much like the noun ‘patient’- the one who receives medical treatment, - in combination with an adjective ‘wonderful’: ‘He is wonderfully patient and never complains, not even when he remembers… which happens. I think, rather more often than he would have me know, I can tell by the way he will look lost and puzzled suddenly, all expression dying away from his dear face as though swept clean by an unseen hand, and in its place a mask will form, a sculptured thing, formal and cold, beautiful still but lifeless.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

Movie stills from Brideshead Revisited (1981)

Another type of relationship that can be detected in the final epilogue-beginning is the one between two men. The presence of the word ‘fear’ in the description suggests that the relationship might be homosexual and, therefore, the narrator and his companion had to leave England and be in exile for the fear of being prosecuted. ‘We have no secrets now from one another. All things are shared. Granted that our little hotel is dull, and the food indifferent, and that day after day dawns very much the same, yet we would not have it otherwise. We should meet too many of the people he knows in any of the big hotels. We both appreciate simplicity, and we are sometimes bored - well, boredom is a pleasing antidote to fear.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

The personal relationship can be overlapping with a business one, such as the boss and his employee or two business partners. There are indirect references to suggest such options, as Max de Winter shows lots of interest and spends lots of time with his agent, Frank. In the course of the story, it is obvious that he does it at the expense of the time he could have spent with his wife. In the epilogue-beginning, there is a hint that the male narrator can be Max de Winter himself. For, it is very unlikely that a female narrator would be so much interested in ‘schoolboy sports’ and ‘boxing bouts’: ‘Oh, the Test matches that have saved us from ennui, the boxing bouts, even the billiards scores. Finals of schoolboy sports, dog racing, strange little competitions in the remoter counties, all these are grist to our hungry mill.’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

A more direct reference to the male gender of the narrator is made in the following phrase that is present in the final epilogue-beginning and is absent from the original epilogue: ‘But your timid fellow, your nervous poacher - the woods of Manderley are not for him. He might stumble upon the little cottage in the cove and he would not be happy beneath its tumbled roof, the thin rain beating a tattoo. There might linger there still a certain atmosphere of stress…’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

The pronoun ‘he’ and the noun ‘fellow’ both apply to men. The question then arises: Why in this particular description Daphne du Maurier referred to the female narrator as ‘he’ and not ‘she’? The only possible answer is that the author was influenced by the information that she consciously or subconsciously accessed and wanted to weave it into the text of the book, without making it stand out too much.

Although the original husband-wife companionship is present in the final epilogue-beginning, there is an additional variation on the theme that can be spotted in the text. The variation concerns the relationship between two lovers – a woman and a man. The man, in this case, being not Maximilian de Winter or Max de Winter, but the one with whom the narrator has consciously chosen to be. It appears from the description that this particular decision brought the narrator to a foreign country, but the choice was made willingly: ‘Poor whims of fancy, tender and un-harsh. They are the enemy to bitterness and regret, and sweeten this exile we have brought upon ourselves.’ […] ‘How different the little restaurant where we are today to that vast dining-room, ornate and ostentatious, the Hotel Cote d’Azur at Monte Carlo; and how different my present companion, his steady, well-shaped hands peeling a mandarin in quiet, methodical fashion, looking up now and again from his task to smile at me, compared to Mrs Van Hopper…’ (‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier)

Realising what an amalgam of all the conscious and subconscious information the book contained, Daphne du Maurier regarded it as not quite finished, and therefore could not quite understand why it had become so popular. Readers, however, associated and still associate this amalgam and the ambiguity of the book with mystery which each of them can try to solve and interpret in their own way. This would not have been be possible had the book been consciously edited and all subconscious elements of it clarified.

Seraphima Bogomolova

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