‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…’
You can’t beat a haunted house story. I love nothing more than gothic mansions with crumbling towers, winding staircases and foreboding driveways. Shirley Jackson, Susan Hill, M.R. James… I love all of them dearly. In many ways, I should like to live in a haunted house. Having said that, I was recently offered a free rocking chair but I had to turn it down as I was worried that I would stumble downstairs for a glass of water one autumnal evening only to find the chair rocking away to itself – a thought too hideous to bare. The point being, Rebecca, and by extension Manderley, the haunted house in question, is right up my street…
An unnamed narrator meets Maxim de Winter, a wealthy and sophisticated man, whilst she is working in Monte Carlo. Little does she know, the man is haunted by his dead wife Rebecca and the picturesque but imposing mansion that they shared together.
Published in 1938 by Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca is as fresh now as the day it was written. It’s still a thriller and a page-turner, and this is a testament to the simplicity of the story. Manderley is a haunted house that isn’t really haunted, not in the supernatural sense, but in the metaphorical sense, it may be the most haunted house in all of literature. Maxim’s first wife Rebecca haunts every corner, every corridor and every room. She exists in the knowing glances of the spiteful head housekeeper Mrs Manvers, or in the whispers of the local public who are allowed to visit parts of Manderley once a week. Our narrator can’t escape Rebecca and eventually becomes obsessed with her.
The truly great thing about Rebecca is that the whole novel builds towards the unforgettable conclusion, an overwhelming sense of dread is nurtured throughout, and yet somehow, when the conclusion finally arrives, it still manages to pack a punch. I read the final chapter with my mouth agape and sweat running in beads down my back. It’s been a while since a work of literature has had that effect on me.
Manderley is probably the greatest haunted house of them all precisely because it isn’t the house that is haunted but the people. Enter at your own risk.