“Rebecca”, Alfred Hitchcock’s movie.
But more importantly, “Rebecca”, Daphné du Maurier’s novel.
I will not linger on Hitchcock’s adaptation because, although I adore his movies, even a Hitcock couldn’t ever fully recreate the atmosphere and the depth of Daphné du Maurier’s novel.
The movie is clearly the result of a compromise between Hitchcok and Selznick, who’s artistic relationship was tumultuous at best. Nonetheless, it won the Oscar for the best movie in 1941.
But let us discuss Daphné du Maurier’s novel. Published in 1938, “Rebecca” is probably the first modern romantic gothic in English literature.
The gothic historic novel was rediscovered at the same time as English gothic architecture, and found its inspiration in all things supernatural. Women such as Ann Radcliff (The Mysteries of Udolpho, in 1794) or Mary Shelley (Frankenstein, in 1818), as well as men such as Oscar Wilde (The Portrait of Dorian Grey, in 1809) and Bram Stoker (Dracula, in 1897) were the first ones to make the genre famous.
It then slowly fell into oblivion, until an electric choc brought it back to like in 1938. “Rebecca” was set in the time it was written and was not full of obvious supernatural elements or thirsty vampires but it created an atmosphere so maddening and tense you could cut it with a knife.
There are five characters: three living beings, a deceased woman and an English mansion.
The heroin, who is also the narrator but who’s name we shall never know, is a very young, shy woman from a modest background, who works as the lady-in-waiting for a horrible shrew on a holiday in the Côte d’Azur of the 1930’s.
The young lady meets a dark, seductive middle-aged widower, Maxim de Winter, who, after courting her for what seems to be an excessively short amount of time, asks for her hand in marriage.
The wedding occurs and the widower remains dark, the young bride remains timid. They leave for Maxim de Winter’s mansion on the English coast.
The psychological horror begins.
Enter the mansion, Manderley, and Ms Danvers, the governess. One is as gothic as the other.
Manderley. Huge, majestic, menacing and frozen in the memory of the first Madame de Winter – Rebecca. The place reminds one of Blue Beard’s castle, as it closes on the young lady, who loses her way frequently, like a cage. The rhododendrons in the garden are too red, exuberant, aggressive, like blood. The sea that breaks so close has nothing joyous about it, it is but a reminder of Rebecca, who’s sailing boat was damaged at sea and took her down with it. Her tomb.
Ms Danvers, who adored Rebecca, is alive but appears dead to this world, dressed in black and as silent as a grave. She incessantly criticizes the young bride and psychologically manipulates her with one objective in mind: make her disappear, purely and simply.
As one turns the pages, the truth becomes obvious: everything about Rebecca is alive. She is still the charming mistress of Manderley. And that of Maxim de Winter’s heart.
Despite having been dead for about a year, Rebecca appears powerful in her triumphant beauty, her social nature, her physical bravery and magnetic charisma. How can one fight a ghost, especially when the adversary is the young, bland bride, who is so ghostly and shy that she does not even have a name?
Yet, appearances can be deceitful. The wrecked ship is found, Rebecca’s body with it. A police investigation begins and the veil is torn.
This novel is simply mesmerizing. It is heavy, suffocating, bewitching and not a ray of sunshine in it.
Daphné du Maurier manages to create an atmosphere that isn’t properly supernatural but rather psychological, fantastical, which is both a romantic thriller and a police intrigue. It is a cruel fairytale.
I give you my interpretation of Rebecca, in the beautiful Gaillard palace, a masterpiece of the Parisian neo-gothic style.
Roland Mouret dress – Dior belt – Valentino jacket – Gucci heels – Bvlgari purse – Prada coat with a Chanel brooch – Eshvi bracelet – Vintage gloves and bibi hat
At Citéco, Paris