Great Beginnings

Charles L.P. Silet of The Strand Magazine calls the famous first sentence of Rebecca “one of the great opening lines in English fiction. In one stroke, du Maurier establishes the voice, the locale, and the dream-like atmosphere of the story.”

Rebecca, the suspense novel that made Daphne du Maurier one of the most popular authors of her day, is about a shy paid companion who, while in the French Riviera with her vacationing employer, meets wealthy Maxim de Winter. She and Max fall in love, marry and return to his large country estate in Cornwall to begin their life together. But Max is haunted by the death of his first wife, Rebecca, in a boating accident the year before. The second Mrs. de Winter (whose given name is never revealed) soon discovers that Rebecca still has a strange hold on everyone at the estate.

Since its debut in 1938, the novel Rebecca has had a hold on the public. It has been adapted for both the small and large screens several times, with the Alfred Hitchcock version starring Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier winning the 1940 Academy Award for Best Picture.

There are three novels inspired by the original and approved by the du Maurier estate:  Mrs. de Winter, by Susan Hill; The Other Rebecca, by Maureen Freely; and Rebecca’s Tale, by Sally Beauman.

Du Maurier herself adapted Rebecca as a stage play in 1939, and a new musical based on the novel premiered in Vienna in 2006, where it played to sold-out houses for two years. Discussions are under way regarding a possible Toronto run of the musical prior to its openings in New York and London in 2010 or 2011.

And it all started with that great beginning sentence. Did it come back to your mind as you read this, or did you know it all along?

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.

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