HEROINE: I remember when I was twenty-one and hanging out in Monte Carlo eating dinner with Mrs Van Hopper, when a dude walked in the joint...
MRS VAN HOPPER: That’s Max de Winter. Darling, I hear he has an absolutely huge... estate, if you know what I mean.
HEROINE: I assume you mean he has a really big gorgeous house called Manderley and amazingly large grounds.
MRS VAN HOPPER: Exactly!
HEROINE: Oh hi Mr de Winter! I’m young enough to be your daughter, and should maybe mention that I am an orphan, totally vulnerable and alone in the world!
MAX: I like you. Let me tell you about my vast... tracts of land.
MAX: You want to come live in Manderley?
HEROINE: Is this a proposal of marriage, sir?
MAX: ... Don’t all proposals centre on a discussion of property?
HEROINE: So Max de Winter and I are getting married.
MRS VAN HOPPER: What on earth have you been getting up to with Max de Winter, that you’re getting married after like a week?
HEROINE: Oh, you know. Riding around in his car. Listening to him talk for a long time, in really loving detail, about his house.
MRS VAN HOPPER: ... Saucy minx.
MAX: Darling, do you like Manderley?
HEROINE: I love it! Though I also find it a bit intimidating, because it is so, so big.
MAX: You’re young and inexperienced! Of course you’re a bit overwhelmed! That’s natural. Also, heh heh, it is bigger than other dudes’ houses.
HEROINE: Also something a bit sinister and mysterious about it. Maybe the fact the driveway is lined with walls of blood-red flowers or the fact the housekeeper looks like a vampire!
MAX: Don’t be ridiculous, sweetie. Just brace yourself.
MRS DANVERS: I do not drink... wine. And I do not like anybody to be called Mrs de Winter except Rebecca, Max’s dead wife.
HEROINE: ... I’m sure we’ll get on like a house on fire.
MRS DANVERS: Rebecca was totally in charge of Manderley. She set up all the furniture. She threw the best parties. Nobody is ever going to be Manderley’s mistress but Rebecca.
HEROINE: I’m sure she was super hot, but maybe Manderley can come to love again. Do you think that vase of lilac would look better over there?
MRS DANVERS: Rebecca likes it where it is.
HEROINE: Yeah, but Rebecca’s... dead, so maybe we could move the ornaments about a bit...
MRS DANVERS: I will cut you.
HEROINE: Ten-four. Vase looks great as-is!
HEROINE: Dumpling, can we maybe talk a bit about Rebecca?
MAX: Why would we talk about her? What do you know? I’M INNOCENT, I TELL YOU! STOP IT WITH YOUR MAD INTERROGATION!
HEROINE: ... Whoa. Something’s suddenly become super obvious.
HEROINE: .... I guess he’s still totally in love with Rebecca.
HEROINE: You wanna go for a walk on the beach and look at the cute cottage there, honey?
MAX: Never visit that scene of HIDEOUS CRIME ever again!
HEROINE: I don’t understand, baby.
MAX: Uh. I mean, don’t go there. It has, like, dry rot.
MAX: Sweetie, meet Frank, my agent, and my sister Beatrice.
BEATRICE: You look nothing like Rebecca! Awesome, I was afraid you’d be a husband-stealing tramp.
FRANK: Totally nothing like Rebecca! What a relief.
HEROINE: ... I wonder if I can find out what colour lipstick Rebecca bought, and buy it in bulk.
MRS DANVERS: How about you dress in a Rebecca costume for your fancy dress ball, and sweep down the stairs of Manderley like you own the place.
HEROINE: I do own the pl-
MRS DANVERS: Like you own the place and you’re totally hot.
HEROINE: Challenge accepted.
MAX: Oh God, it is the ghost of Rebecca come back to haunt me for my awful crime! Back, fiend! Back from the hell whence you came! I shall swoon!
HEROINE: ... Max, man. He just truly hates practical jokes.
MRS DANVERS: Oh hi do you want to see Rebecca’s bedroom? I enjoy coming in, and touching all her things, and lying on her bed and smelling her dressing gown!
HEROINE: That sounds super fun, but I think I left the iron on.
MRS DANVERS: PS Max was craaaaaaaaazy in love with Rebecca.
HEROINE: Yeah, it sure seems like.... Max was crazy in love with her. Yep. Totally Max.
MRS DANVERS: Why don’t you leave Manderley to her? Why don’t you go?
HEROINE: Uh, heh heh, Mrs Danvers, I’d be delighted to go, but I think you have mistaken this window for a door...
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Uh, Max, we found a body in a scuttled boat at the bottom of the bay? Look, I don’t want to upset the ladies, but it sure does look like you urdered-may your ife-way.
HEROINE: Uh, Mr Justice, I know I met Max in Monte Carlo, but I don’t speak French.
MAX: Okay, I’m just going to spit it out. I totally killed Rebecca.
HEROINE: Don’t understand what you mean by that...
MAX: Shot her, scrubbed out the bloodstain, dumped the body.
HEROINE: Max, you mysterious man of mystery, quit talking in code! By ‘killed’ do you mean ‘really, really super loved, definitely more than you love me?’
MAX: No. I was totally not into her.
HEROINE: So in conclusion, you murdered your previous wife, you are a killer, you married a super young helpless chick, and basically this is a Bluebeard and his castle situation.
MAX: Now you’ve got it.
HEROINE: Baby! This is great news! Why didn’t you tell me sooner?
MAX: ... Because I really did not think you would take it this well?
MAX: You see, Rebecca was a drug addict. And a sex addict. And she invited, like, really reprehensible friends to Manderley. One of them peed in the courtyard fountain.
HEROINE: ... You did the right thing, Max.
MAX: Also she told me she was up the duff with someone else’s kid, and I was not going to let Manderley go out of the family.
HEROINE: That fiend! Of course you had to kill her. I completely understand. It was for Manderley!
MAX: Wanna know something, babe? You complete me.
HEROINE: The news that my husband is a stone-cold killer has been really empowering for me! Mrs Danvers, I don’t want cold meat for lunch, I want it hot!
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Looks like Rebecca committed suicide, yo.
MAX: Whoo I’m getting away with murder! I mean literally getting away with literal murder! Yes! ... Why do you say that?
JUSTICE OF THE PEACE: Oh, when Rebecca said she was pregnant with someone else’s kid, what she meant was ‘had the cancer.’ That Rebecca, am I right?
MAX: .... I truly hate practical jokes.
HEROINE: Why’d you stop the car, Max?
MAX: Manderley is smokin’.
HEROINE: So everything’s as usual, then?
MAX: No, I mean, smoking as in... actually on fire.
MRS DANVERS: Lunch hot enough for you? Mwhahahahahaha!
HEROINE: .... In retrospect, sandwiches would have been fine.
HEROINE: So Max got away with murder, and we were totally in love, but none of it mattered, because without Manderley our lives were meaningless and we were dead inside!
READERS: This was not exactly the romance we signed up for...
Gothic books are often referred to as ‘girl meets house.’ House is intimidatingly tall, dark and sinister but madly attractive. Girl is scared of house! Maybe trapped in house! I mean, girls could and did feel really trapped in their own homes, way back when, whether it was in the kitchen or in the attic with the yellow wallpaper. But girls were also supposed to be at their most powerful in the house... if they could remove the lurking threat, they could be happy there, and secure both in the financial sense and in the not-getting-murdered-to-death sense. A house, a dude, the whole package.
Girls aren’t trapped in houses the same way anymore. But kids are: your parents want to move you to a sinister manor, your new address is No 1, Weird Stuff Going Down Here Lane.
But the manor in Gothic novels is beautiful as well as terrifying: fascinating, full of secrets and shadows as it is. The house is a character in a Gothic novel, and I went around a lot of English manors trying to get Aurimere in Unspoken just right: part of the reason I set the book in the Cotswolds is because there they build with stone like gold.
Part of the reason I picked Rebecca to talk about the Girl Meets House, I mean Gothic genre, dear readers, in this case art was imitating life. The author of Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier, was nineteen when she fell in love.
DAPHNE’S DIARY: (ACTUAL QUOTE) I remembered a line from a forgotten book, where a lover looks for the first time upon his chosen one—“I for this, and this for me.”
After loving from afar for years, Daphne du Maurier was at last able to be with her true love. She rented it for twenty-five years.
The kids grow up so fast, don’t they, honey?
ACTUAL OWNER OF MENABILLY: I was thinking I might like to live in my house.
DAPHNE: This is an outrage! You are breaking my heart!
ACTUAL OWNER: Lady, this is a house. Maybe be more chill.
Daphne du Maurier was not a lady who was going to be more chill. She took action! She just rented the house the next moor over.
I imagine the next years went a lot like this...
CHILDREN OF MENABILLY: Dad, there’s a weird lady outside...
OWNER OF MENABILLY: Pay no attention, kids, that’s just Mrs du Maurier.
CHILDREN OF MENABILLY: ... But Dad, she’s like... licking the windows.
OWNER OF MENABILLY: Nobody’s neighbours are perfect. Reginald! Please draw the curtains.