The Rebecca Notebook
Written while Daphne du Maurier toyed with ideas for a novel she believed no one would like upon it’s completion, The Rebecca Notebook provides a rare insight into the working mind of a literary genius.
The notebook was published not long before du Maurier’s death for the wider audience, and offers a chance to recognise just how many of her original ideas she kept for the novel that made her internationally famous, and what she changed. Maxim de Winter was originally called Henry, while Ben was a woodsman and the boathouse a summerhouse instead - just a few of the smaller details that were changed over the course of writing.
The notebook, along with a number of other artefacts belonging to du Maurier were offered to Exeter University, where they usually reside. But a literary exhibition in London’s British University has seen it become viewable to the public for the first time.
The notebook was not only an aid for du Maurier while she wrote, but was also an essential piece of evidence that won her case when she was sued in New York for allegedly copying someone else’s novel and merely changing the characters.
On Saturday, August 18th, I was lucky enough to be able to go along to the library with my partner to view the exhibition. The entire display was both fantastic and fascinating - with books dating from 11th century up to hand written notes from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone… there was even an old copy of Jamaica Inn on display, but the highlight was - of course - The Rebecca Notebook.
The book itself is far smaller than I ever imagined it would have been - pocket sized is definitely the term. The pages are browned and the writing - all of it hand writing - is fading. In a number of interviews, du Maurier has been known to express her hatred for her own hand-writing, which she described as immature, and it’s certainly not the neatest! But when you’re an international best-seller, it’s a small price to pay!
The book was inside a case, under the section of Waterlands, so it couldn’t be touched, but it was exciting nevertheless to see such an important piece of work in du Maurier’s life, that ultimately shot her to fame as an author. The extract that was viewable displayed the briefest of notes next to chapter numbers - very rough, very basic, and yet, it was the foundation of a classic novel that has stood the test of time.
If you are in London at all then it is very much worth the trip to Kings Cross to see the exhibition in the British Library, for both du Maurier’s contributions, and every other fascinating piece of work in there. The exhibition is £9 for an adult, but not overpriced - we spent a good two hours looking at everything, and still didn’t see everything.
The exhibition runs into September - details can be found on the website for the British Library.