Literary Qualities

Du Maurier excels at first-person narration. Rebecca is written from the point of view of Maxim’s second wife, whose name is never revealed. This deliberate omission serves to emphasize her colorless personality and, by contrast, to accentuate the powerful personality of her predecessor, Rebecca.

Du Maurier has written that she had meant to begin Rebecca with the narrator meeting Maxim, then later decided to move the beginning of the action to an opening epilogue. This decision is, in large part, responsible for the success of the novel. In Rebecca-as well as in My Cousin Rachel and other of her works-the action begins with a major character’s elusive memories of the way life used to be before a terrible event. The novel then describes the events that irrevocably changed the character’s life. Du Maurier allows the novel to end quickly by using this narrative device, thus avoiding a long, anticlimactic denouement.

Rebecca follows the conventions of the Gothic novel and is largely responsible for the genre’s resurgence in the twentieth century. Typified by Horace Walpole’s novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764), the Gothic novel is often set in an eerie mansion or castle. Usually, a young heroine’s life is threatened by secrets contained in the mansion until the man she loves rescues her. Rebecca follows this formula except that Maxim, the hero, does not rescue anyone from the evil Manderley. To the contrary, Maxim was responsible for the death of his first wife and is unaware of the danger his second wife faces.

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