Du Maurier’s reaction is undocumented but the tragedy is too closely echoed in the novel to have plausibly been unknown to her. Few records of Jan’s death survive at all. She hovers, ghost-like, on the margins of history, as unknowable as the great literary absence she inspired. Perhaps Rebecca is partly the story of how women fall out of history.
Over the years, many readers have detected a homoerotic current beneath the novel’s obvious love triangle. The narrator fantasises about the first Mrs de Winter, often with particular attention to her body:
“Rebecca, always Rebecca. Wherever I walked in Manderley, wherever I sat, even in my thoughts and in my dreams, I met Rebecca. I knew her figure now, the long, slim legs, the small and narrow feet. Her shoulders, broader than mine, the capable, clever hands… I knew the scent she wore, I could guess her laughter and her smile. If I heard it, even among a thousand others, I should recognize her voice. Rebecca, always Rebecca. I should never be rid of Rebecca.”
But does she want to be? Despite her best efforts to throw us off with that final sentence, the precise, lingering detail with which the narrator sketches out her tormentor suggests very different feelings. Max, by contrast, is given no physical description. Timid as our narrator is, it’s easy to forget that it is she who has narrative control.