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Rebecca - A Study In History

By Jake Guastella 

With an intriguing back story and a popularity that's spanned the decades, the history of Rebecca is an amazing one. Indeed, there are a number of facts from the book's past that are almost as surprising and mysterious as the novel itself!

Before Daphne du Maurier's 'study in jealousy' bursts onto our stage, here's what you may not know about the genesis and legacy of the 1930s gothic classic which is still casting readers in its spell today.

R is for Rebecca

Maurier is known to have discovered old letters from her husband's ex-wife, Jan Ricardo. These letters were signed with a large and flamboyant 'R', which the author credits as the inspiration for the naming of her title character. It is widely speculated that the narrator's envy of Rebecca stems from Maurier's own jealous feelings towards 'R'.

Anonymous narrator

In almost four hundred pages, the first name of Mrs de Winter is never revealed, a fact which has proven a constant source of fascination for readers. According to Maurier’s son Kits Browning: ‘She couldn’t think what to call her and so she didn’t call her anything. And then it became a challenge: could she actually write the whole thing without it?’

Oscar Triumph

Alfred Hitchcock won his only ever Best Picture Oscar for the 1940 film adaptation of Rebecca. The part of Maxim de Winter was memorably played by Laurence Olivier, who asked if his partner Vivien Leigh could play his onscreen wife. This request was turned down, and the role went instead to actress Joan Fontaine. In the movie’s script, the nameless narrator is referred to as ‘I’. But on set, the cast would call the character ‘Daphne’.

Secret Key

During World War II, the Germans are known to have buried messages in an edition of the novel. Secret sentences would be made using words that could be found via a code with page numbers, lines and positions in lines. This was later alluded to in Michael Ondaatje’s Booker-winning The English Patient.

Paperback success

The book’s publisher Virago estimates that 4,000 Rebecca paperbacks are still sold every month. Amazingly, since it was first released in 1938, the novel has never gone out of print.

      Production shots of Kneehigh Theatre's Rebecca

Whether you’re a fan of the novel or new to the story, join us for Kneehigh Theatre’s spellbinding new adaptation of a haunting masterpiece from 16-21 March.

And if you’re coming to see the show...

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