Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…
Rebecca had sat on my shelves for about 3 years before I got round to actually reading it. Every time I looked at it, I thought “I would love to read that at some point but not right now”, and reached for something else instead. However, in August, I FINALLY pulled myself together and picked it up, and I am so glad that I did! I’d always thought that it would be hard work to read, being a classic, after all, but I was SO wrong.
Working as a paid companion to a rich yet bitter old lady, the protagonist of Rebecca soon learns that her place is anywhere she is told to be. Timid and shy by nature, she settles into a life of mediocrity and service until, on a trip to Monte Carlo, she meets and falls in love with Maxim de Winter, a dashing widower shrouded in mystery. His quick proposal takes her by surprise and she is soon travelling down to de Winter’s estate in the depths of Cornwall, where, our young bride comes to learn, Rebecca, his late wife, once lived with him. We follow her as she starts to come to grips with her new role as Maxim’s wife and as Rebecca’s successor and all that this will entail.
This novel, perhaps unfairly, was once categorised as a sort of classic chicklit. However, I would like to state for the record that I completely disagree with that assessment of it; it is moody, suspenseful and has all the characteristics of an old thriller as well as a romance, making it a real contender for the genre of gothic romance. Simultaneously a page-turner, I found myself flying through this book, devouring the eloquence with which du Maurier writes, while desperate to see what would come of our young protagonist and Maxim de Winter.
Interestingly, we do not know what the protagonist is called, with only the illusion to her name being an unusual choice on the part of her parents. This only works to increase the intrigue of the story, making Rebecca an even more dominating presence in the house, despite no longer being alive. Throughout the entire story, we get the impression that there is more to know about Rebecca and how she came to pass away, and although desperate to find out, the new Mrs de Winter is too scared to ask outright, keeping the readers on tenterhooks right until the end.
“But I never dared to ask Mrs Danvers what she did about it. She would have looked at me in scorn, smiling that freezing, superior smile of hers, and I can imagine her saying: ‘There were never any complaints when Mrs de Winter was alive.’ Mrs Danvers. I wonder what she is doing now. She and Favell. I think it was the expression on her face that gave me my first feeling of unrest. Instinctively I thought, ‘She is comparing me to Rebecca’; and sharp as a sword the shadow came between us…”
Something that really appealed to me, was the idea that Rebecca was somewhat inspired by du Maurier’s own life; caught in her role of army wife, often entertaining and being desperately homesick for her native Cornwall. It is perhaps for this reason that Manderley itself plays a big part in the narrative of the story, being oppressive and dominant with closed off corridors and acres of unchartered land. Du Maurier was so desperate to get back to her own home, that Manderley represents this pulling power throughout the novel; Mrs de Winter can’t help but feel drawn to its mysteries.
Similarly, the two women are thought to represent two sides to her personality; her life before marriage, carefree and promiscuous versus her life after marriage, of careful composure and duty. Throughout, we see that these two characters compete, for the love of not only Maxim, but of the household, the town, and the house itself, which is perhaps representative of the battle within du Maurier’s own life of settling down. It is hard to tell with whom her alliances lie, but either way, through these two juxtaposing women, she demonstrates her flawless ability as a writer to not only create an immersive novel but her ability to use that as a means for social criticism – with Rebecca also representing the potential for women to live as freely as their fellow men, while Mrs de Winter representing how they currently lived.
I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone who has yet to read some classic literature, for it felt as modern as something written in 2018; a true timeless classic, which I will definitely be picking up again in future.
Star rating: *****