Marking the centenary of Dame Daphne du Maurier’s birth, this instalment of The Book Group is devoted to her classic thriller Rebecca, which still elicits great loyalty among readers 70 years after it was first published. Some of the sniffier 1930s critics dismissed du Maurier’s second novel, sidelining its author as a mere ‘romantic novelist’ — to her eternal chagrin. But truly satisfying page-turners are few and far between, and the novel was quickly a bestseller.
Rebecca opens in Monte Carlo, where a timid young woman, training as a paid companion to a brash American dowager, is swept off her feet by the enigmatic Maxim de Winter. De Winter marries her, taking her back to his ancestral home, the fabled Cornish estate Manderley. But will she escape from the shadow of the first Mrs de Winter, who died in a mysterious sailing accident down in the bay?
We are pleased to present both major British television adaptations, each with their own approach to the novel: the BBC’s 1979 classic in four parts, starring Joanna David, Jeremy Brett and Anna Massey; and the sumptuous ITV version from 1997, with Emilia Fox, Charles Dance and Diana Rigg taking the lead roles. A selection of documentaries shed light on the novel and its enchanting, fiercely intelligent author. Let’s Pretend: The Make Believe World of Daphne du Maurier (1977), in which Dame Daphne discusses her work with Cliff Michelmore, is a great place to start.