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"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
—The Second Mrs. de Winter, her opening narration from both film and novel.
A 1938 novel written by Daphne du Maurier (who also wrote the story that became The Birds). In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock directed the film version, his first American project, which won the Oscar for Best Picture (though, for the first of many times, Hitchcock failed to win for it). A musical version debuted in Vienna, Austria in 2006, with a projected Toronto premiere in 2010.
While working in Monte Carlo as the companion for the wealthy Mrs. Van Hopper, our young unnamed heroine meets the much wealthier Maxim de Winter: a moody, inscrutable widower presumed still to be in deep mourning for his late wife, the beautiful Rebecca, tragically drowned in a boating accident. Thus no-one is more surprised than the shy, gauche little companion when Maxim not only seems attracted to her but impetuously proposes they wed there and then.
The first signs of trouble in Paradise appear when they arrive at his elegant old country estate, Manderley. The servants have grown too fond of its late mistress and receive their new one coolly. Mrs. Danvers, the current housekeeper and Rebecca's former nurse, is especially less than thrilled with the prospect of anyone taking Rebecca's place, and has made something of a fetish of keeping her darling's things exactly as she left them — stationery in the desk, clothes in the cupboards — all monogrammed with that bold, decisive initial R.
As the novel progresses the shadow of Rebecca hangs more and more heavily over the house, making it increasingly difficult for our heroine to face the challenges not only of running a great estate but within her marriage — especially when it's increasingly clear that the two are related. Gradually, with a not-so-subtle assist from Mrs. Danvers, she begins to despair of ever living up to the perfect, proud, beloved Rebecca...
...then they find the remains of a boat...
This and its adaptations feature examples of:
- Adaptational Attractiveness: The role of the creepy "skull's face" Mrs. Danvers was created for the musical by Susan Rigvava-Dumas. Yow.
- All Girls Want Bad Boys: The second Mrs. de Winter becomes even more passionately in love with Maxim once he admits that he killed Rebecca.
- But also subverted in the novel, which hints repeatedly that Maxim is actually rather weak-willed (as demonstrated by Rebecca's successful Suicide by Cop). Moreover, when the novel opens, Maxim's bad boy days are long gone. However, see Fridge Logic.
- Arguably justified because the second Mrs. de Winter's greatest fear was that Maxim still loved Rebecca. When he confesses to killing her, it proves that he doesn't and never did.
- Animal Motifs: Rebecca, the wild and untamed one, is likened to the horses she trained, whereas our young, submissive heroine is likened to the loyal de Winter dog, Jasper.
- In the novel, after the reveal, the second Mrs. de Winter associates Maxim with Jasper.
- Antagonist Title: Arguably.
- Author Avatar: The second Mrs. de Winter's original name being "Daphne" implies that she was supposed to be one, though there are articles suggesting that the real author insert is Rebecca (du Maurier, at around the time that she was writing Rebecca, was also writing passionate, if self-loathing-filled, love letters to a straight, married woman; a lot of descriptors she uses for herself in these letters are similar to the descriptions of Rebecca in the novel). Of course, it could be both of them.
- Big Fancy House: Manderley.
- Bitch in Sheep's Clothing
- Blackmail: Favell attempts to blackmail Maxim with his note from Rebecca, which suggests that Rebecca did not actually suicide, implicating Maxim himself.
- Bury Your Gays: Mrs. Danvers perishes in the film when she burns down Manderley.
- Avoided in the novel, in which Mrs. Danvers is clearly stated to have fled Manderley before it's burned down.
- Character Title
- Creepy Housekeeper: Mrs. Danvers
- Dances and Balls: Rebecca and Maxim regularly entertained at Manderley, and another costume ball is held in the second Mrs. de Winter's honour. It doesn't go well.
- Dark Secret: Rebecca's murder.
- Death by Adaptation: Mrs. Danvers.
- Death by Falling Over: Rebecca, in the film version and The Musical, she stumbled and hit her head.
- This would be because of the Hays Code. In the book, she goads Maxim into shooting her.
- Depraved Bisexual: in the novel Rebecca is hinted to have had male and female lovers while married to Maxim
- Driven to Suicide: Mrs. Danvers tries to do this to our heroine after the fiasco at the costume party. This is foiled when they find the boat where Rebecca's Suicide by Cop happened. She does herself in later on.
- Mrs. Danvers at the end of the film (but not the novel).
- Executive Meddling: Hitchcock was an unproven talent in the US (this was his first American film) so producer David O. Selznick granted him much less creative freedom than he had been granted in his previous British films. The film is noticeably darker than his previous efforts as a result, as Selznick insisted on keeping to the novel's Gothic atmosphere and avoiding many of the touches of humour Hitchcock wanted to include.
- Film Noir: It's sometimes considered an example of the genre, if only because of its visual style.
- Foregone Conclusion: The novel begins some time after everything has happened, with the de Winters living a grim, inconsequential existence overseas.
- Grande Dame: Edythe van Hopper, who passes over into Rich Bitch territory; Beatrice, who is on the more intelligent and sympathetic end of the scale.
- Handsome Lech: Favell.
- Haunted Heroine: Figuratively speaking. The second Mrs. De Winter is obsessed with Rebecca, to the point that she feels like Rebecca is haunting the house. Mrs. Danvers helps things along...
- Hey, It's That Guy: In the film, Maxim is Henry V, Richard III, and Heathcliffe; the Second Mrs. de Winter is Jane Eyre and Rowena; Mrs. Danvers is Emily Brent, Memnet, and the Vulcan priestess; Frank Crawley is Benvolio and Commodore Schmidlap; Favell is Bois-Gulbert, Shere Khan, and Mr. Freeze; Colonel Julyan is the Earl of Dorincourt, Colonel Zapt, and Mr. Laurence; Beatrice is Elva Kane and Mrs. Higgins; Giles is the Prince Regent and Dr. Watson; and the coroner is the Sheriff of Nottingham.
- "I Am" Song: "I'm An American Woman".
- "I Want" Song: "Zeit in einer Flasche".
- It's a Costume Party, I Swear: The fancy dress ball held in the second Mrs. de Winter's honour. It was in fact a costume party, but Mrs. Danvers suggested M. de W. II dress up as a certain painting in the house, something Rebecca had done in the past, in order to humiliate her.
- Kissing Cousins: Jack Favell and Rebecca, first cousins and lovers alike.
- The Lost Lenore: The novel is driven by the haunted Maxim's love for the dead and beautiful Rebecca, and the second Mrs. de Winter's fixation with her. Subverted, in that Maxim actually hated her.
- Memento MacGuffin: Manderley
- No Name Given: The Second Mrs. De Winter. She mentions that her name is unusual, and people rarely spell it correctly, but doesn't tell what it is.
- Nothing Is Scarier
- Obfuscating Stupidity: Ben, to an extent.
- The Perfect Crime: Subverted at the inquest, when the boat's builder explodes the theory that the boat went down accidentally.
- Posthumous Character: Rebecca.
- Pretty in Mink: Mrs. Danvers proudly showing the furs Maxim brought Rebecca.
- Prim and Proper Bun: Mrs. Danvers in the film.
- Psycho Lesbian: Mrs. Danvers, though in the film version, this was put only in subtext. In the musical, she dies wearing Rebecca's nightgown.
- Psycho Supporter: Mrs. Danvers.
- Rich Bitch: Mrs. Van Hopper and Rebecca, as it turns out.
- Shrinking Violet: The second Mrs. de Winter.
- Smug Snake: Jack Favell, especially as played by George Sanders, one of the smuggest snakes in movie history.
- Sympathetic Murder Backstory: Maxim murdered Rebecca. But she was a horrible person, and she manipulated him into doing it.
- Suicide by Cop: Rebecca manipulated Maxim into shooting her after learning she had cancer by pretending to be pregnant with another man's child. Because of the production code, this is amended in the film version into Rebecca dying in a convenient fall just as Maxim was ready and willing to pull the trigger.
- Take Our Word for It: Several characters mention how attractive and charming Rebecca was in life, but she never appears onscreen (or in the text of the novel).
- Tall, Dark and Handsome: Described to the first Mrs. de Winter:
"Tall, slim, dark, very handsome?" said Colonel Julyan quietly.
- Thanatos Gambit: See Suicide By Cop.
- Triumphant Reprise: "Jenseits der Nacht".
- The Unfair Sex: Massive subversion; Rebecca was a sociopathic bitch who cheated on Maxim with a series of lovers, and wasn't even loyal to them either. Our young heroine, who had earlier aspired to be just like her predecessor, is glad that she's dead.
- Unreliable Narrator: The second Mrs. de Winter describes herself as plain, a bit foolish, and makes out she's not very emotionally strong. Other characters regularly comment on her prettiness, and she is clearly both intelligent and emotionally strong underneath her shyness.
- Upperclass Twit: The second Mrs. de Winter finds herself surrounded by these.
- Upper Class Wit: Maxim gets decidedly snarky at the inquest. Not the cleverest tack to take when the police are suggesting you killed your wife...
- Villain with Good Publicity
- Villainous Breakdown: Mrs. Danvers has a mild one in all versions, but the musical takes the cake when she puts on Rebecca's nightgown and walks through Manderley in a daze, lighting the place on fire as she goes.
- Villainous Incest: Rebecca and Jack.
- Wag The Producer: Hitchcock had to resort to some tricky measures to get around producer David O. Selznick's creative demands. Among others, he edited "in-camera" - shooting only the scenes he wanted to include in the final cut so that Selznick couldn't recut the film if he didn't like it. This is why, for example, the film does not end with a giant "R" appearing out of the smoke from the burning Manderley, as Selznick originally envisioned.
- Wham! Line: Maxim's "I hated her!"
- What Could Have Been: Early drafts of the script named the heroine Daphne (as in Daphne du Maurier).
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Rebecca's Suicide by Cop.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: The second Mrs. de Winter keeps imagining herself as the heroine of a conventional romance novel, instead of a gothic romance.