The ‘Rebecca’ book series is articles based on the excerpts from my non-fictional book ‘Rebecca — Mystery Explained’ focused on the literary detective investigation of the coded mystery presented in the book-charade ‘Rebecca’ by Dame Daphne du Maurier.
The article-excerpts share some of the discoveries that I have made while researching and working with the text f the book ‘Rebecca’. The present article ‘What’s in the Name?’ dedicated to the meanings and significance of the name ‘Rebecca’ — the title that Daphne du Maurier had chosen for her novel-charade.
The title Rebecca’ comes from the name of one of the story characters and also one of the narrators — Rebecca de Winter or Rebecca Manders de Winter — the daughter of Maximilian de Winter and his first wife, Rosalinda Van Manders — the owner of Manderley estate.
Contrary to the common belief, there is not one but four unreliable narrators — three women and a man of approximately the same age and stage of their lives whose stories relate to two decades — 1910s and 1920s. One of the three female narrators is Rebecca, the other two is the second wife of Maximilian de Winter, Celia, and Jeanne, the wife of his adopted son, Max de Winter, who is also a narrator, the most unreliable one out of all four.
Although Rebecca as a narrator and one of the main characters plays an important role in the plot, it is not the only reason of why Daphne du Maurier had chosen her name for the title of the book. There is another one. It is related to the meanings of the name itself. Originating from the Hebrew language, it means ‘captivating’, ‘to bind tightly’, ‘knotted cord’, and ‘earth’. Each of the four meanings has its significance and application in the plot and relevance and link to the four narrators, and altogether to Rebecca herself.
The first meaning of the name ‘Rebecca’ — ‘captivating’ — refers to the story’s tightly knotted mystery that captivates, intrigues, and lingers long after the book has been read. It also identifies one of the narrators who seems to be ‘spell bound’ and charmed by the magic and the alluring beauty of the ‘wonderland’ of Manderley estate. In the book, she is referred to by Maximilian de Winter as ‘Alice-in-Wonderland’. The narrator is his second wife, whose name is an anagram of ALICE — CELIA. It is important to note that except Rebecca, the names of the narrators are not given on the plate so to speak, they have to be figured out using hints and coded messages. There is a very specific reason for that of which in future articles.
The second meaning — ‘to bind tightly’ — relates to bonds that each of the main characters of the book, including the narrators, has with one another, forming sort of ‘pairs’, resembling a thread bound onto the twin bobbins. In particular, the meaning characterises a narrator who is referred to as ‘Joan of Arc’ — Jeanne — and who has a ‘bond’ with another narrator — the adopted son of Maximilian de Winter — Max de Winter: ’You know,’ he said, ‘we’ve got a bond in common, you and I. We are both alone in the world.’
The third meaning of the name ‘Rebecca’ — ‘knotted cord’ — has two connotations. The first is to do with a primitive surveyor’s tool for measuring distance and land. It is a length of cord with knots at regular intervals, which was prone to stretching: ’I had not thought the way so long. Surely the miles had multiplied, even as the trees had done, and this path led but to a labyrinth, some choked wilderness, and not to the house at all.’ The knotted cord was later replaced by surveyor’s chains, which were more accurate: ‘It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate.’
The second connotation of the ‘knotted cord’ refers to a knot in the baby’s umbilical cord. Babies with long cords and those who are small foetuses are at greater risk developing true knots. Also carrying identical twins makes a woman more prone to having a pregnancy with a cord knot. If the knot occurs during labour, the baby will have an abnormal heart rate: ‘I stood, my heart thumping in my breast, the strange prick of tears behind my eyes.’
Having two connotations, the ‘knotted cord’ meaning applies to two narrators — Rebecca de Winter — the daughter of Maximilian de Winter, and his adopted son — Max de Winter.
The fourth meaning — ‘earth’ or ‘soil’– represents several things. Firstly, the earthy and grounded nature of Rebecca de Winter, secondly, the love of her ‘land’ which in this case is Manderley estate and its nature, and lastly, the home land as in the country she was born in. All of these notions relate to Rebecca and distinguish her from other narrators.
As a female name, ‘Rebecca’ describes a person who is open about her feelings, is intelligent, straightforward, full of life, driven, fun loving, and adventurous. Such a person prefers few but well-chosen and reliable friends, and can appear suspicious of others. But most important — Rebecca never lies, for she is a representative of truth.
The positive connotation of the name ‘Rebecca’ has the opposing sides — the ones of deceitfulness, secrecy, lying, intentional or unintentional omitting and distortion of truth.
In addition, the name ‘Rebecca’ bears a reference to the Hebrew Bible story of Rebecca and Isaac and their twin sons — Jacob and Esau. The story involves such themes as power struggles for influence and deception linked to it. The pattern of the fighting ‘twins’ is applied to some of the ‘pairs’ in the book. If not literally, then laterally.
Rebecca is also mentioned in the Bishops Bible — the English translation of the bible produced under the authority of the established church of England in 1568. There is an indirect reference to this in the book ‘Rebecca’ in the scene where bishop’s wife talks about Rebecca de Winter:’ You never met her then?’ she asked, and when I shook my head she hesitated a moment, a little uncertain of her ground. ‘We never knew her well personally, you know: the bishop was only inducted here four years ago, but of course she received us when we went to the ball and the garden party. We dined there, too, one winter. Yes, she was a very lovely creature. So full of life.’
If to look at the four meanings of the name ‘Rebecca’ combined and as a whole then the underlying theme of the book becomes clear and apparent — it is a captivating and tightly bound mystery about power struggle, betrayal, and deceit connected to Manderley heirs and the inheritance of the land — Manderley estate.
In her book ‘Rebecca’, Daphne du Maurier invites the reader to uncover the truth and solve the mystery. But to do so, one, while reading the story, needs to engage into playing games with Daphne du Maurier, for the book is a fun, adventure filled, and intelligent charade. This means that to get to the bottom of things and solve the mystery the reader needs to use their intellectual abilities, and question everything that is presented to them, challenging the impressions that float on the surface. And Rebecca herself is the guiding compass in this challenging but intriguing and captivating journey.