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'Very roughly, the book will be about the influence of a first wife on a second,” wrote Daphne du Maurier in her notes. “It goes on and it goes on,” says Kits Browning, du Maurier’s son, leaning back in his sofa at Ferryside, the house in Fowey, in Cornwall, that has been in the du Maurier family since the Twenties. With his matinee-idol wave of hair and yacht-club bonhomie, at 72, Browning retains a jovial manner. The novel was to be du Maurier’s masterpiece and a classic of 20th-century fiction that continues to enthral today. And it still sells more than any of her other books.” An impressive 4,000 a month, by the reckoning of its publishers Virago, and it has never been out of print.It was to this house that Daphne du Maurier returned in 1937 from Egypt, where her husband, Major Tommy “Boy” Browning, commanding officer of the Second Battalion, Grenadier Guards, was stationed in Alexandria.It was in Egypt that she had sketched out the story of Rebecca; in Ferryside, she got down to serious writing, surrounded by the squalls and sails that feature in the doom-laden narrative.

“I always identified Mum with the second, rather timid one,” says Browning. Instead, Joan Fontaine excelled as the naïve innocent caught in Mrs Danvers’s sights.

Their marriage was stable, despite infidelities on both sides, and they went on to have three children: Tessa, Flavia and Christian (known as “Kits”).

It was quite clear that Kits was her favourite, and she doted on him.

In August 1938, Rebecca caught the zeitgeist, drawing on the glamour of country society and the feeling of impending catastrophe that permeated the pre-war years.

Put coarsely, it is a novel about a dead woman and a house. “Mum used to get fed up talking about it,” says Browning.

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