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When first published, Rebecca had a print run of 20,000 and was a popular success. However, it did not receive critical acclaim. The Times said that "the material is of the humblest...nothing in this is beyond the novelette...". Few critics saw in the novel what the author wanted them to see: the exploration of the relationship between a man who was powerful and a woman who was not.
In the U.S., Du Maurier won the National Book Award for favourite novel of 1938, voted by members of the American Booksellers Association. In 2003, the novel was listed at number 14 on the UK survey The Big Read.
The novel has inspired three additional books approved by the du Maurier estate:
- Mrs de Winter (1993), by Susan Hill, is a sequel originally written in the 1980s. ISBN 978-0-09-928478-9
- The Other Rebecca (1996), by Maureen Freely, is a modern-day version. ISBN 978-0-89733-477-8
- Rebecca's Tale (2001), by Sally Beauman (ISBN 978-0-06-621108-4) is a narrative of four characters affected by Rebecca. It is often mistakenly referred to as a prequel.
Rebecca as a WWII code key
One edition of the book was used by the Germans in World War II as the key to a book code. Sentences would be made using single words in the book, referred to by page number, line and position in the line. One copy was kept at Rommel's headquarters, and the other was carried by German Abwehr agents infiltrated into Cairo after crossing Egypt by car, guided by Count László Almásy. This code was never used, however, because the radio section of the HQ was captured in a skirmish and hence the Germans suspected that the code was compromised. This use of the book is referred to in Ken Follett's novel The Key to Rebecca - where a (fictional) spy does use it to pass critical information to Rommel.
This use of the novel was also referred to in Michael Ondaatje's novel The English Patient.
Impact on popular culture
The novel, and the character of Mrs. Danvers in particular, have entered many aspects of popular culture.
The character of Mrs. Danvers is alluded to numerous times throughout Stephen King's Bag of Bones. In the book, Mrs. Danvers serves as something of a boogeyman for the main character Mike Noonan. King also uses the character name for the chilly, obedient servant in "Father's Day," a tale in his 1982 film Creepshow.
In Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, in the bookworld, they have accidentally made thousands of Mrs. Danvers clones, which they use as troops against The Mispeling Vyrus and other threats.
In The Maxx issue #31, a teenage Julie Winters watches a black-and-white version of the movie.
In Danielle Steel's novel Vanished, it is mentioned that the main character is reading Rebecca. This was most likely deliberate on Steele's part, considering that the novel has many of the same elements as Rebecca.
Childhood visits to Milton Hall, Cambridgeshire (then in Northamptonshire) home of the Wentworth-Fitzwilliam family, may have influenced the descriptions of Manderley.
The book was the inspiration for Paige Harbison's 2012 young adult novel, New Girl.
In E. L. James' Fifty Shades Trilogy, Anastasia comforts herself by reading her tried and true Rebecca.
The 1983 science fiction comedy film The Man with Two Brains gives a brief nod to aspects of Rebecca. After falling for Dolores Benedict, Dr. Hfuhruhurr (Steve Martin) intends to marry her and seeks a sign from the portrait of his deceased wife, Rebecca. The supernatural reaction of the portrait doesn't convince him and so he places her in a cupboard.
The novel is mentioned in, Flower Girl (2009).
The 1970 Parallel Time storyline of the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows was heavily inspired by Rebecca. Also the second Dark Shadows motion picture, Night of Dark Shadows took inspiration from the novel.
In the television series The Sopranos, Meadow compares her mother Carmela to Danvers for her perceived controlling behavior.
The fifth episode of the second series of That Mitchell and Webb Look contains an extended sketch parodying the 1940 film, in which Rebecca is unable to live up to Maxim's and Mrs. Danvers's expectations for the Second Mrs. DeWynter - described as "TBA".
The plots of certain Latin-American soap operas have also been inspired by this story, such as Manuela (Argentina), Infierno en el paraíso (Mexico), the Venezuelan telenovela Julia and its remake El Fantasma de Elena on Telemundo.
On an episode of The Carol Burnett Show, the cast did a parody of the film titled "Rebecky", with Carol Burnett as the heroine, Daphne; Harvey Korman as Max "de Wintry" and in the guise of Mother Marcus as Rebecky de Wintry; and Vicki Lawrence as Mrs. Danvers. The story was again referenced in an episode of the series "Mama's Family" (a spinoff of the Burnett show) titled "I Do, I Don't." In it, Bubba, Iola, and Mama each have nightmares about married life. Mama's dream is a parody of the "Rebecca" scenario.
In 1986, an episode of The Comic Strip called "Consuela" parodied Rebecca. It was written by French and Saunders, and starred Dawn French as the maid and Jennifer Saunders as the new wife of Adrian Edmondson.
Meg & Dia's Meg Frampton penned a song entitled "Rebecca", inspired by the novel.
Sondre Lerche's song, "She's Fantastic" makes a reference to Rebecca. In it he says, "In that old movie 'bout Rebecca's spell I feel like Max never felt, minus the drama and the fraud..."
Kansas alumnus Steve Walsh's solo recording Glossolalia includes a song entitled "Rebecca", with lyrics seemingly composed from Maxim de Winter's point of view: "I suppose I was the lucky one, returning like a wayward son to Manderley, I'd never be the same..."
The Pet Shop Boys' song "King of Rome" includes the "Rebecca"-inspired line: "I'm here and there/or anywhere/away from Manderley...".
- Plot summary
- Literary structure
- Dramatic adaptations
- Plagiarism allegations