Rebecca: the Daphne Du Maurier book behind the 2020 Netflix film adaptation - and if it’s a true story

Netflix’s new adaptation of classic gothic novel Rebecca premiered last week, bringing new life to the Daphne de Maurier story

By Iain leggat
Friday, 23rd October 2020, 3:19 pm

The film, starring Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, and Armie Hammer as the mysterious Maxim de Winter, follows the newly-married couple as Mrs. de Winter discovers her new home is haunted by the shadow of her husband's ex-wife, Rebecca.

Rebecca is based on the novel of the same name by De Maurier released in 1938. The book became an instant hit, with director Alfred Hithcock producing the story’s first transfer to screen in 1940.

But why did people fall in love with the classic tale?

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Lily James stars in the film alongside Armie Hammer

What is Rebecca the novel about?

Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier’s most successful novel, takes place in the fictional Manderley manor in Cornwall.

The story begins with the heroine, who remains nameless, and her memories of how she met her husband Maxim in Monte Carlo.

In the flashback, readers hear about Maxim and the heroine’s love affair that eventually results in Maxim proposing marriage and inviting her to live in his ancestral estate of Manderley.

Readers are introduced to Maxim’s first wife, who drowned in a sailboat accident near Manderley the previous year, and whose ghost haunts the newlyweds’ home.

Her death leaves a strange and lasting impact on the household.

The sinister housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, wounds the narrator and begins to plant a seed of doubt in her marriage with Maxim.

The heroine continues to battle with her obsession with Rebecca and insecurities with her own marriage, leading to a shocking conclusion.

Is Rebecca based on a true story?

The novel isn’t a true story, but many have claimed that the portrayals of womanhood in the story reflect many parts of the author's upbringing and inner life.

Drawing from personal experiences, du Maurier uses these to paint a vivid picture of the emotions felt by the women in the novel’s situation.

The author had an obsession with her husband Tommy Browning’s former fiancée Jan Ricardo after she discovered letters written to him before she married Browning.

Du Maurier became increasingly convinced that her new husband still loved Jan and became obsessively jealous, fixating on the former relationship and finding and reading old letters from Jan to Tommy.

Who was author Daphne du Maurier?

Born in London in 1907, du Maurier is considered one of the great romantic novelists.

Aside from Rebecca, she is famous for writing the novels Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel, and Mary Anne.

She was also the writer of the short story, The Birds, which was famously adapted to screen by Alfred Hitchcock.

Is Manderley Estate a real place?

Unfortunately Manderely is not a real place, with the sprawling gothic mansion being a fictional creation by the author.

It has been speculated that the author du Maurier may have been inspired by an abandoned mansion she visited as a young woman.

Du Maurier obsessed over the mansion, located near Fowey, and eventually persuaded the owners to lease the house to her. The descriptions of Mandeerly in the novel closely replicate the Menabilly mansion in real life.

The author restored the mansion from 1943 before returning it to its wealthy owners in 1969.

Where was Rebecca filmed?

Whilst filming Rebecca, director Ben Wheatley shot at eight different houses across the UK to try and build the perfect depiction of Manderley.

The properties usedc include: Cranborne Manor (Wiltshire), Hatfield House (Hertfordshire), Mapperton House (Dorset), Loseley House (Surrey), Petworth House (West Sussex), Hartland Quay (Devon), Blegberry Farm (Devon), and Osterley House (Isleworth).