And the winner is…
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
First published in 1938, Rebecca was Daphne du Maurier’s most successful book and in just under 80 years it has never gone out of print! Although considered a romance at the time, today it’s more widely classed as gothic literature or a psychological thriller.
In her own words, Daphne du Maurier described Rebecca as ‘a sinister tale about a woman who marries a widower… psychological and rather macabre’. It’s widely thought that the story was based on du Maurier’s own experiences of jealousy towards her husband’s deceased first fiancé, and that it was a theme she had been toying with for several years before writing. In her notes leading up to the novel, she wrote, ‘I want to build up the character of the first [wife] in the mind of the second… until wife 2 is haunted day and night…a tragedy is looming very close and CRASH! BANG! something happens’.
The story of Rebecca is masterfully written, casting a long shadow of the beautiful and devoted first wife across the increasingly more insecure second wife. Even the book itself is named after the first, while our heroine never reveals her name to the reader. Although Rebecca’s ghost never makes an appearance within the book, her sinister and devoted housekeeper – Mrs Danvers – ensures that Rebecca’s presence at Maderley is not forgotten.
Catching the atmosphere of 1938, Rebecca drew on the feeling of impending catastrophe of the pre-war years and was a bestseller right away. In fact, Daphne du Maurier’s publisher ordered a first print run of 20,000 copies and within a month Rebecca had sold twice that number. In the U.S. she was voted the favourite novel of 1938 by members of the American Booksellers Association.
Rebecca’s opening line – ‘Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again’ – is one of the most famous first lines in literature, and one that many writers are inspired by today. Likewise, Daphne du Maurier’s atmospheric descriptions of the landscape and architecture of Manderley has turned the fictional estate into an icon of Gothic literature. But it was Daphne du Maurier’s ability to shock and haunt her readers that has made Rebecca truly unforgettable.
Frankie Adams, WHSmith Books Director commented: “I am delighted that Rebecca has been chosen by the nation as the favourite book of the last 225 years. This is a classic read and a great title to celebrate our 225th anniversary. I hope that our customers will continue to enjoy this title for many years to come – and for those who may have not yet turned the pages until this point- hopefully they will be more inclined to do so now!”
British authors led the way in the voting with 4/5 of your top five based in Britain, the exception being American writer Harper Lee. Interestingly, the top four are all female authors and the most recently published book to make the top five was To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960.
Find our why some our followers chose Rebecca as their favourite book of the past 225 years below:
“@WHSmith Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Dramatic, thrilling, romantic, intriguing. Of a time and timeless. #WHS225Books” – Holly Langley @ladybirdholz, Twitter
“Today I’ll go for Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, because I think it’s a great book obviously, it’s a classic, a psychological thriller, it’s beautifully written, and it’s something that I go back to again and again. So today, it’s Rebecca.” – SJ Watson, WHSmith Video
“#WHS225Books Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier has been my favourite book since my teenage years. My views on the characters and the intrigue have changed as I have grown older and it’s still a fascinating read with dark undercurrents and mystery.” – Chris White, Facebook
“My favourite book from the last 225 years is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Which is one of the first psychological thrillers that I read, and the first book that got me really interested in that sort of genre. I think it stands the test of time, it’s brilliantly written, it’s really evocative, and I could read it countless times and not get bored.” – Clare Mackintosh, WHSmith Video
“My book of the past 225 years would be Rebecca, which gets mentioned 3 times in this brilliant video #WHS225Books […] And if my word on Rebecca isn’t enough @claremackint0sh @SJ_Watson & @AmandaBrookeAB are all in agreement. So there” – Simon Savidge @SavidgeReads, Twitter