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A Lit Major At The Movies

Rebecca (2020) and the Case of Hitchcock’s Ghost

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is a tricky book. Tricky because it’s a Gothic romance, and in the spirit of this truly problematic genre, it contains some very icky characters. Specifically, its male characters. It’s the story of an unnamed heroine who’s pulled out of an unexceptional existence when she marries a rich widower named Max de Winter and goes to live on his massive English estate, Manderley. She becomes fascinated with the powerful memory of the hero’s first wife, Rebecca, who seems almost alive, a kind of ghost haunting the massive country house, except not literally of course – which is a good thing, all in all, because it cuts out all that messy business with the clanking chains and mysterious rains of blood, which are almost impossible to get out of the carpets.

A few months ago, Netflix released a new film version of this classic of English fiction. I usually try to ignore Netflix’s persistent and bald-faced attempts to shove their own productions down viewers’ throats, but when it comes to period dramas, all spirit of resistance tends to drain out of me rather swiftly. So almost as soon as I saw that Rebecca had been released, we were settling down on a Friday night to watch it.

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A Lit Major At The Movies

A Lit Major at the Movies: Rebecca (1940)

Rebecca 1940Spoilers ahead!

Who doesn’t love a bit of Hitchcock now and again? Although the director is probably best-known for iconic films such as Psycho and The Birds, Hitchcock actually made his debut in Hollywood with what has been patronisingly dubbed a ‘woman’s film’. Having read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca a few months ago, I decided to return to the film version that I’d absolutely loved when I’d first seen it (pre-reading the book, much to my shame).

Rebecca is a controversial book in many ways, and it’s perhaps inevitable that the film should be so too. As with du Maurier’s novel, the heroine of the story is a young, nameless woman working as a companion to a vulgar older lady, who meets and marries a mysterious widower and goes to live on his estate in the south of England. The film captures the book’s wonderful opening lines in an iconic way: as the film begins, we hear the heroine (played by Joan Fontaine) say: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”. She takes us on a dream-tour of Manderley’s front drive.