A Hauntological Reading of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”

Keywords: Rebecca, du Maurier, haunting, specter, phantom, hauntology


This essay focuses on the way the main characters in Daphne du Maurier’s novel Rebecca (1938) cope with the haunting influence of the past and attempts to read their struggle through the theoretical approach developed by Jacques Derrida in his Specters of Marx (1993). This approach, termed “hauntology” by Derrida himself, revolves around the notion of the “specter” haunting the present and emphasizes the need to find new ways of responding to it, especially because of the existing ontological failure to do so. The essay complements this reading with the earlier comparable theory of the “phantom” and “transgenerational haunting” developed by psychoanalysts Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok. A “hauntological” reading of Rebecca through these tools yields results that are significantly different from traditional approaches. Suggesting that the main characters in Rebecca are complete failures in dealing with the specter in a Derridean sense, the essay argues that the novel expects from the discerning reader a more insightful approach and a better potential to understand the specter. It is suggested further that a proper acknowledgement of the specter in Rebecca reaches beyond this particular novel, having subtle but significant implications concerning not only literary analysis but also social and cultural prejudices.

Author Biography

Nil Korkut-Nayki, Department of Foreign Language Education, Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey

Nil Korkut-Nayki, PhD, is Associate Professor of English Literature in the Department of Foreign Language Education at Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey. Her research interests are 20th century British fiction, modernism, postmodernism, literary parody, and literary and narrative theory. She is the author of Kinds of Parody from the Medieval to the Postmodern (Peter Lang, 2009). She has also authored research articles in her interest areas published in national and international books and journals.


Abraham, N. (1987). Notes on the phantom: A complement to Freud’s metapsychology (N. Rand, Trans.). Critical Inquiry, 13(2), 287-292. https://doi.org/10.1086/448390

Atkinson, M. (2013). Channeling the specter and translating phantoms: Hauntology and the spooked text. In M. Atkinson & M. Richardson (Eds.), Traumatic affect (pp. 247-270). Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Beauman, S. (2007). Rebecca. In H. Taylor (Ed.), The Daphne du Maurier companion (pp. 47-60). London: Virago.

Clewell, T. (2009). Mourning, modernism, postmodernism. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230274259

Davis, C. (2005). État présent: Hauntology, spectres and phantoms. French Studies, 59(3), 373-379. https://doi.org/10.1093/fs/kni143

Derrida, J. (2006). Specters of Marx: The state of the debt, the work of mourning and the new international. (P. Kamuf, Trans.). New York, NY: Routledge.

du Maurier, D. (2012). Rebecca. London: Virago.

Horner, A., & Zlosnik, S. (1998). Daphne du Maurier: Writing, identity and the gothic imagination. Basingstoke: Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230378773

Horner, A., & Zlosnik, S. (2000). Daphne du Maurier and gothic signatures: Rebecca as vamp(ire). In A. Horner & A. Keane (Eds.), Body matters: Feminism, textuality, corporeality (pp. 209-222). Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Jameson, F. (2008). Marx’s purloined letter. In M. Sprinker (Ed.), Ghostly demarcations: A symposium on Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx. (pp. 26-67). London: Verso.

Light, A. (2001). Forever England: Femininity, literature and conservatism between the wars. Abingdon: Routledge.

Lloyd Smith, A. (1992). The phantoms of Drood and Rebecca: The uncanny reencountered through Abraham and Torok’s “cryptonymy”. Poetics Today, 13(2), 285-308. https://doi.org/10.2307/1772534

Mitchell, M.E. (2009). ‘Beautiful creatures’: The ethics of female beauty in Daphne du Maurier’s fiction. Women: a cultural review. 20(1), 25-41. https://doi.org/10.1080/09574040802684798

Petersen, T. (2009). Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca: The shadow and the substance. Journal of the Australasian Universities Language and Literature Association, (112), 53-66. https://doi.org/10.1179/000127909804775650

Shakespeare, W. (2003). Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. In P. Edwards (Ed.), Hamlet, Prince of Denmark: Updated edition. (pp. 87-255). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Taylor, H. (2007). Rebecca’s afterlife: Sequels and other echoes. In H. Taylor (Ed.), The Daphne du Maurier companion (pp. 75-91). London: Virago.

Truffaut, F., & Scott, H. G. (1985). Hitchcock (Revised edition). New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Wisker, G. (2003). Dangerous borders: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca: Shaking the foundations of the romance of privilege, partying and place. Journal of Gender Studies, 12(2), 83-97. https://doi.org/10.1080/0958923032000088292

Wolfreys, J. (2002). Victorian hauntings: Spectrality, gothic, the uncanny and literature. Basingstoke: Palgrave. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4039-1358-6

How to Cite
Korkut-Nayki, N. (2021). A Hauntological Reading of Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”. English Studies at NBU, 7(1), 21-36. https://doi.org/10.33919/esnbu.21.1.2