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Daphne du Maurier

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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 Manderley.

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.

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