“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
One of the themes that have come up repeatedly while writing these posts for Spooktober (“The Spooksiest Time Of The Year!tm”) is that great horror is not always about supernatural monstrosities invading our every day lives.
Nowhere is this more clear than in Daphne du Maurier’s classic gothic thriller, Rebecca.
It’s a tale as old as time: girl meets boy, girl marries boy, girl moves into boys expansive stately home in the country, girl finds herself haunted by the ongoing presence of boy’s impossibly glamorous ex-wife, girl is threatened by boy’s obsessive old housekeeper, boy’s house burns down. How often have we heard that tale?
It’s a novel about a haunting that doesn’t include a single (literal) ghost. Rebecca herself is a presence and character despite her posthumous status: Because so much of the action is going on in Mrs de Winter’s head, blurring the line between reality and imagination. She is a character in a constant state of anxiety, forever comparing herself to her predecessor and making assumptions about what other characters think about her. She is, in a sense, gaslighting herself, just as Mrs Danvers subtly undermines her self-confidence and keeps alive the memory of the former mistress. Du Maurier’s genius lies in her ability to build up this sense of unease into fear as the story progresses. Anyone looking to write horror or build tension would do well to read, study and absorb the lessons of Rebecca.