Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.
Gollancz, 1938; Virago (present publisher).
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…
Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier’s best known novel, has never been out of print in 82 years. It’s generated sequels, retellings, films, tv series, an internationally staged musical, fanfiction, and a system of codes used by a Nazi spy. Some are better than others – but they keep coming.
Only one character in the novel – the villain – is openly lesbian. But to those in the know, the novel was probably always part of queer culture.
It’s a novel of two women who fight for a beautiful, ancient house. The male character, Maxim, wears the trappings of a gothic hero. But the story is about the power of Manderley and the war between the female characters: the 21 year old second wife and the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, who claims the house for the dead first wife, Rebecca.
The story works on many levels and there is something in it for everyone. But gradually the queer content has emerged and, if anything, increased the novel’s appeal.
After du Maurier’s death in 1989, biographies revealed her bisexuality. She saw her creative side as ‘the boy in the box’. He escaped in fantasy and sometimes, in reality. Married with children, she quietly had affairs with women.
Meanwhile, the book, once viewed as a superficial gothic romance, is now seen as a classic – a brilliantly plotted mystery whose characters, like Rebecca herself, have survived – and deepened – long after their time.