Screening of Hitchcock's Rebecca and panel discussion with Rupert Tower
On December 2nd at the Everyman Cinema in
Hampstead, a very special event was hosted to celebrate the 80th
anniversary of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1940 adaptation of the film was shown, after which
the audience was treated to a fascinating panel discussion on the psychological
aspects of the story, featuring Daphne du Maurier’s grandson and Jungian
analyst Rupert Tower. The discussion was chaired by the Jungian analyst
Christopher Perry and Rupert was joined by Dr Coline Covington. The Hampstead
location was especially appropriate for the event as Daphne du Maurier grew up
at Cannon Hall, Hampstead, with her parents and indeed Daphne’s father, the
actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier, opened the Everyman Cinema itself, 85
years ago, on 26th December 1933. Gerald and his wife Muriel,
Daphne’s grandfather George du Maurier, and many other members of the family
are also buried in the nearby churchyard at St-John-of-Hampstead.
The panel discussion after the film ranged widely across the
psychological aspects of both the original novel and the film. Rupert began by
discussing his grandmother’s description of the novel as a ‘study in jealousy’
and the autobiographical inspiration of that theme, initiated by Daphne’s
discovery of letters written to her husband Tommy by a former fiancé, Jan
Ricardo. In the novel itself, Maxim is portrayed as jealous of Rebecca’s
extra-marital relationships and her control over Manderley, and disturbed by
her independence, and he attempts to infantilise the second Mrs de Winter by
treating her in a childlike manner. The panel discussed the undercurrents in both
novel and film of Mrs de Winter’s own impulses, such as when she finally stands
up to the housekeeper Mrs Danvers and declares, ‘I am Mrs de Winter now’.
Dr Covington analysed the fairy-tale elements of the story
and the portrayal of Mrs de Winter as a ‘Cinderella’ figure who has been
rescued by her ‘prince’, Maxim, who in fact turns out- having murdered his
first wife- to be a ‘Bluebeard’ figure instead. She also discussed the absence
of mothers in the film and the way in which both Mrs Danvers and Mrs Van Hopper
become ‘persecuting mothers’ who taunt the narrator with her inadequacy as a
woman when she attempts to fill Rebecca’s shoes as Maxim’s wife and mistress of
Critics frequently discuss Du Maurier’s use of doubling in
the story of Rebecca, dividing the
two parts of her identity between the powerful, independent, and sexually
confident Rebecca and the shy, socially-awkward, and nameless narrator. Rupert
Tower discussed his grandmother’s own later attempts to analyse the novel’s
symbolism, quoting a 1957 letter in which Du Maurier suggested that in
retrospect Rebecca’s cottage on the beach might represent her writing hut (the
symbol of her independence as a writer) and ‘Rebecca’s lovers could be my
books’ (her imaginative life away from her husband and family). Rupert noted
that his grandmother had become interested in Jungian psychology when writing
her novel The Scapegoat (1957), in
particular Jung’s ideas of the darker or ‘shadow’ side of the personality.
Discussion of the novel in its 80th anniversary
year has frequently turned to its relevance to the #metoo movement and the
treatment of Rebecca by Maxim (whose name, Rupert reminded the audience, means
both a rule of conduct and is the name of a gun). The symbolism of the name Manderley (and Menabilly) was discussed as representing the patriarchal order
which Rebecca disrupts and subverts, despite her promise to outwardly conform
to Maxim’s ideal of the perfect wife and hostess.
In the Q&A, Jack Favell was discussed as a trickster
figure and Rupert commented on the potentially incestuous relationship between
Rebecca and Jack who are cousins. The role of Mrs Danvers was also explored, in
particular with reference to Hitchcock’s decision to change the ending of film
so that Mrs Danvers is explicitly responsible for the burning down of
Manderley, an act that deprives Maxim and Mrs de Winter of their happy ending
but also leads to Danvers’ own demise. Dr Covington talked of Mrs Danvers’
jealousy taking two forms, firstly, jealousy of Mrs de Winter taking her
mistress’s place and secondly a kind of envy of Rebecca herself and her perfect
femininity. In the novel, the colour red is associated with Rebecca and it was
suggested that the flames that engulf Manderley could be interpreted either as
her revenge on Maxim and his new wife or, conversely, the final purging of her
spirit from the narrative.
This was a fascinating and special event for Du Maurier fans
and it was clear from the discussion that the psychological aspects of both
novel and film are especially rich when examined from a Jungian perspective.
It is hoped that there will be further screenings and panel
discussions of Du Maurier film adaptations in 2019, both at Fowey Festival in
May and in London. We will keep you updated on plans via the website.
To find out more about Hitchcock’s adaptation of the novel,
click here to read Dr Laura Varnam’s essay on our website.