"In 1937, Daphne du Maurier signed a three-book deal with Victor Gollancz" and accepted an advance of £1,000. A 2008 article in The Daily Telegraph indicates she had been toying with the theme of jealousy for the five years since her marriage in 1932. She started "sluggishly" and wrote a desperate apology to Gollancz: 'The first 15,000 words I tore up in disgust and this literary miscarriage has cast me down rather.'" Her husband, Tommy "Boy" Browning, was Lieutenant Colonel of the Grenadier Guards and they were posted to Alexandria, Egypt with the Second Battalion, leaving Britain on 30 July 1937. Gollancz expected her manuscript on their return to Britain in December but she wrote that she was "ashamed to tell you that progress is slow on the new novel....There is little likelihood of my bringing back a finished manuscript in December." On returning to Britain in December 1937, du Maurier decided to spend Christmas away from her family to write the book and she successfully delivered it to her publisher less than four months later. Du Maurier described the plot as "a sinister tale about a woman who marries a widower....Psychological and rather macabre."
Derivation and inspiration
Some commentators have noted parallels with Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre. Another of du Maurier's works, Jamaica Inn, is also linked to one of the Brontë sisters' works, Emily's Wuthering Heights. Du Maurier commented publicly in her lifetime that the book was based on her own memories of Menabilly and Cornwall, as well as her relationship with her father. While du Maurier "categorised Rebecca as a study in jealousy... she admitted its origins in her own life to few." Her husband had been "engaged before – to glamorous, dark-haired Jan Ricardo. The suspicion that Tommy remained attracted to Ricardo haunted Daphne." In The Rebecca Notebook of 1981, du Maurier "'remembered' Rebecca's gestation … "Seeds began to drop. A beautiful home... a first wife... jealousy, a wreck, perhaps at sea, near to the house... But something terrible would have to happen, I did not know what..." She wrote in her notes prior to writing: 'I want to built up the character of the first [wife] in the mind of the second... until wife 2 is haunted day and night... a tragedy is looming very close and CRASH! BANG! something happens.'" Du Maurier and her husband, "Tommy Browning, like Rebecca and Maximilian de Winter, were not faithful to one another." Subsequent to the novel's publication, "Jan Ricardo, tragically, died during the Second World War [she] threw herself under a train."
Childhood visits to Milton Hall, Cambridgeshire (then in Northamptonshire) home of the Wentworth-Fitzwilliam family, may have influenced the descriptions of Manderley.
The famous opening line of the book "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." is an iambic hexameter. The last line of the book "And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea" is also in metrical form; almost but not quite an anapestic tetrameter.
Shortly after Rebecca was published in Brazil, critic Álvaro Lins pointed out many resemblances between du Maurier's book and the work of Brazilian writer Carolina Nabuco. Nabuco's A Sucessora (The Successor) has a main plot similar to Rebecca, for example a young woman marrying a widower and the strange presence of the first wife – plot features also shared with the far older Jane Eyre. Nina Auerbach alleged in her book, Daphne du Maurier, Haunted Heiress, that du Maurier read the Brazilian book when the first drafts were sent to be published in England and based her famous best-seller on it. According to Nabuco's autobiography, Eight Decades, she (Nabuco) refused to sign a contract brought to her by a United Artists' representative in which she agreed that the similarities between her book and the movie were mere coincidence. Du Maurier denied copying Nabuco's book, as did her publisher, claiming that the plot used in Rebecca was quite common. A further, ironic complication in Nabuco's allegations is the similarity between her novel and the novel Encarnação, written by José de Alencar, Brazil's most celebrated novelist of the nineteenth century, and published posthumously in 1873.
In 1944 in the United States, Daphne du Maurier, her US publishers, Doubleday, and various parties connected with the 1940 film version of the novel, were sued by Edwina L. MacDonald for plagiarism. MacDonald alleged that du Maurier had copied her novel Blind Windows. Du Maurier successfully rebuffed the allegations.