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Even if you’ve never read this melodramatic tale, you’ve probably heard the iconic first line: ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ It’s a wistful longing for a time and place that are gone forever.
These words are spoken by the unnamed female narrator who dreamily drifts through her days on the English country estate of Manderley — a house that does not feel like home.
When we first meet her, we learn her life has taken a very nasty turn, the specifics of which are unknown to us. Then she flashes back in her memory to bring us up to speed. She was swept off her feet in Monte Carlo by a wealthy Englishman — one George Fortescue Maximilian ‘Maxim’ de Winter — and after the wedding and honeymoon, she found herself installed as the mistress of Manderley.
She’s quickly intimidated by her new residence: its size, its staff, its decor of opulent family heirlooms. Isolated on the estate, with only the ominous housekeeper Mrs. Danvers for company, the new Mrs. de Winter soon falls prey to her own insecurities and imagination.
Does her husband really love her? How can she compete with his dead — and in death, perfect — first wife?
This is a weird and wonderful story that features a murder, a fire, a costume party, two sunken ships, and a series of betrayals, including Mrs. Danvers trying to incite our heroine to jump out a window.
Fun fact: The Germans used a particular edition of this book as a key to a code during World War II, and that inspired Ken Follet’s thriller The Key to Rebecca.
The road to Manderley lay ahead. There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea. — Daphne DuMaurier
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
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