Saturday 1 May 2021

Book Review: Rebecca by Patricia White (Non-Fiction/Film Studies)

Title: Rebecca
Author: Patricia White
Publisher: British Film Institute
Publication Date: 6 May 2021
eBook - PDF
Genre: Non-Fiction/Film Studies
Source: ARC via NetGalley

The 1940 film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's gothic romance Rebecca begins by echoing the novel's famous opening line, 'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.' Patricia White takes the theme of return as her starting point for an exploration of the film's enduring power. Drawing on archival research, she shows how the production and reception history of Rebecca, the first fruit of the collaboration between Hollywood movie producer David O. Selznick and British director Alfred Hitchcock, is marked by the traces of women's contributions.

White provides a rich analysis of the film, addressing the gap between perception and reality that is constantly in play in the gothic romance, and highlighting the queer erotics circulating around 'I' (the heroine), Mrs Danvers, and the dead but ever-present Rebecca. Her discussion of the film's afterlives emphasizes the lasting aesthetic impact of this dark masterpiece of memory and desire, while her attention to its remakes and sequels speaks to the ongoing relevance of its vision of gender and power.


I have been a big fan of Rebecca ever since I first saw the 1940 film and read the book in my teens. There is just something so captivating about the story. This exploration of the film by Patricia White was interesting in a number of ways. I particularly enjoyed the first chapter, which looked into the history of the production of the movie and from which I learnt many new things about the casting and adaptation process. Also interesting was the discussion of the movie as a queer text, alongside its other themes. White briefly mentioned other screen versions and the stage play adaptation, but I was disappointed she made no reference, even in passing, to the awesome musical version, which began in Austria but has since played around the world. I had thought the fact that the musical chose to follow the film rather the book in some key points would have been an interesting comparison. But maybe that's just because I love the musical so much. Getting back to this book, I would conclude by saying I believe it is a work that will be of interest to those studying film and also to fans of Rebecca in any of the story's incarnations. I am giving it four stars.

I received this book as a free eBook ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

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