Gothic Fiction and Mrs Danvers Essay

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Rebecca Film analysis Bridget Tuke

Gothic literature is a genre of literature that combines elements of both horror and romance. Gothic literature was almost singlehandedly invented by Horace Walpole after the release of his novel, The Castle of Otranto in 1764. Based on the novel of the same name written in 1938, Rebecca opened in April 1940 to rave reviews. Rebecca follows the story of a naïve young woman after she marries a wealthy widower, Maxim de Winter. After she moves into his huge estate she finds the memory of his first wife, Rebecca, maintaining a grip on both her husband and the servants. Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rebecca is a fantastic example of a gothic film, as it utilises many elements traditionally associated with the genre. These elements include a setting in a castle or mansion, women in distress and high or even overwrought emotion.
Mrs Danvers is the housekeeper of Manderley, and has been at the house since “the first Mrs de Winter was a bride.” We quickly learn that Mrs Danvers had a very close relationship with Rebecca, and immediately dislikes the new Mrs de Winter, as she feels she is unworthy of taking her place. Mrs Danvers is always seen wearing a black, floor length dress and has a very pale face with large, unblinking eyes. Like the typical gothic housekeeper she is, Mrs Danvers is frequently seen walking through shadowy corridors and in the mysterious west wing, where Rebecca used to live. When Mrs Danvers is shown onscreen, her whole face is hardly ever lit as opposed to other characters like Mrs de Winter, who are always seen in full light. This gives Mrs Danvers a mysterious look that other characters do not have. When Mrs Danvers catches Mrs de Winter in Rebecca’s old room, she is only too happy so show off all of Rebecca’s things. This is the only time Mrs Danvers is ever seen showing any emotion, almost likes she only becomes animated when talking about Rebecca. This is a turning point in the movie as this is the first time Mrs de Winter realises the extent of Rebecca’s influence over everyone she came into contact with. Mrs Danvers is the most human reminder of Rebecca’s presence in her relationship with Maxim. Encounters with Mrs Danvers often leave the narrator crying or extremely upset or scared, making use of the gothic convention women in distress.
The setting of Manderley is also very important to the overall gothic vibe of Rebecca as it is closely resembles the traditional gothic castle that is seemingly ‘haunted’ with the memories of its past owners. Manderley is depicted not only as a beautiful house with woods and private beach, but as a house filled with memories of Rebecca and her life together with Maxim. Nothing has been touched since her death, and because her death is a mysterious topic for most of the movie, this adds to the uncomfortable atmosphere. Even her letters are still in the writing desk. Rebecca has such a presence in Manderley that it turns into a kind of haunted house for its new inhabitant, Mrs de Winter. Whenever something bad happens in the house, Rebecca’s presence can be felt. Just after Mrs de Winter discovers the letters in the writing desk she smashes an ornament that was sitting on top of the desk. When she is bullied by Mrs Danvers she dries her tears with one of Rebecca’s monogrammed pillowcases. The movie’s most chilling scenes are set in Rebecca’s