Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Genre: Gothic, Classics, Romance
Published: January 30th 2003 by Virago Press Ltd
With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house’s current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim’s first wife the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.
Rebecca is a novel that haunts you long after you’ve set it aside. It wriggles its way into your brain and has you recounting every event to try and define the very moment that such extraordinary events took a turning because it blindsided me. I found myself unable to pinpoint within the novel a point of elusion to such events and it was utterly fantastic. To be so shocked by the novel really shows Maurier to have a craft. We recount the naive footsteps of the new Mrs de Winters as she recalls her youth and innocence at becoming Maxim’s second husband and the events that conspire to amount against her and test her very strength.
The way in which Maurier delivers the novel means we very much see the world through Mrs de Winters eyes and her utter ignorance at the world is enlightening because we learn with her as she begins to stand on her own feet and discover the world. She’s so childlike and desperate to learn and please and it’s rather endearing at first because there is this drive in her to succeed and she just continues to stumble. She appears to be rather a weak and sappy character and whilst some protagonists fail to make any development, Maurier completely diverts her character into somebody who has been forced rather brutally to grow up in only a few moments. From the feeling of drowning and not being able to survive she is once again thrown into a colossally damned situation and manages to recover herself that makes her character truly courageous and strong by the end of things.
“I suppose sooner or later in the life of everyone comes a moment of trial. We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end.”
Rebecca is definitely a novel that touches on appearances to be deceiving because not only does it appear to fit into so many genres from mystery, to romance to the Gothic, it is most certainly a hybrid of genres, the plot and the characters change beyond belief throughout the novel and Maurier teases us with little glimpses of a truth and a dark side, to slowly unveil the truth of Rebecca. After all, the novel at first sight appears to be about a woman Rebecca who is indeed present, but only in the ethereal sense because she haunts the characters lives and manipulates their emotions even whilst dead. This makes the novel so distinctly Gothic in the effect that ricochets across all their lives from a dead woman. It’s so unnerving to think the presence of a dead woman could unsettle a house so much and this makes Maurier’s Rebecca so infinitely gripping that you are kept on tenterhooks as you turn each page waiting for the new bombshell to fall and to twist the story again.
There are some critics who dismiss Maurier’s Rebecca as merely a “Gothic Romance” but honestly the romance is focused on very little as a romance. There is a focus on the relationship and the dynamic of this relationship and to how events impact upon their lives. The tensions between the Winters and the strain that Rebecca the dead women, haunting the house who continues to drive the couple further and further apart without even trying and it makes for an engaging and thrilling read. Rebecca touches every aspect of their lives and I found it so utterly intriguing to watch the romance that seemed so perfect if not rather awkward at the beginning begin to crumble because of doubts and misgivings that unravel by the end of the plot and change a whole spin on my previous perspective.
“Either you go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me.”
“Do you mean you want a secretary or something?”
“No, I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.”
Maxim is a man that baffled me from the very moment the novel began until the very end. I had a very turbulent relationship with his character because his mood swings were rather violent. He could appear loveable and doting and the next he was a brooding angry mess. His character was so wrapped up and secretive that I could never truly fathom him, but I think this was partly the nature of the narrative that makes Rebecca so utterly engaging because we see the world through Mrs de Winter’s eyes and she never truly understood Maxim. There always appeared to be a rift between them and whilst I never disliked his character and he appeared strong and dashing and everything a love interest should be, I found I could never truly like his character either. It is not that I felt indifferent to him, I just can’t place whether I could place him directly in one camp of emotions because he was so diverse and changing. He never settled because he was in this constant state of agitation and this reflects into Maurier’s protagonist, Mrs de Winters and that keeps the pace of the novel forever pushing forward when it seems as though we are about to drag.
The most fascinating element of the tale is Rebecca and how she was reflected her in her hut, the decor of Manderley, the ball every element of Manderley could be seen by Mrs de Winters as reflecting Rebecca. She was constantly present and this is what made Maurier’s recount of a dead woman so effective.
Then there was the cold, hard and rather sad Mrs Danvers. Its safe to say I abhorred the woman, but equally I felt deep sympathy for her sad attachment to Rebecca who seemed to be her very reason for life. She made a fantastic villain and it is very often that we see somebody so dark and seedy becoming a villain or terrifying and monstrous like Frankenstein’s monster in the Gothic. However Mrs Danvers appears to be a women driven mindless by devotion to Rebecca which drives every action of hers and leaves pour Mrs de Winters terrified. Ultimately though, I found that Mrs Danvers is a woman I could not like under any circumstance because however she appeared to be motivated by love, her actions filled the book with hate and rage that made her an unsightly character.
I simply adored the setting of Manderley it was so encompassing and suffocating in its stature and reputation. The idea of the old house that was so poignant and Gothic. I could so clearly image this dark, almost brooding house in my imagination with the vivid red flowers that cloaked the side of the house. It only adds to Maurier imbedding symbolism everywhere in Rebecca and the little connections and misgivings and feelings that you got when reading it, all added up to making it a wonderful experience.
Classics have not been a genre I’ve ventured far into, but with Rebecca I found a new door and a new avenue in which I genuinely found a magical experience in that wasn’t clustered with archaic language that took hours to unravel, but the complexity of the plot made up for the simplicity of the writing style (in comparison to something as Austen) and that made it all the more enlightening that I found nothing to be the same in Rebecca. For me, Rebecca can never just be a “Gothic Romance” because it is so much more and undeniably one of those tales that shall sit with you long after reading. It is a novel I am desperate to get on my shelves and whilst the ending isn’t entirely fulfilling in its rather tragic way that leaves one pondering what can really come, particularly from whence we came in a place not known, it is one that I would love to read again and a novel that I recommend without a doubt to each and every one of you!
“We’re not meant for happiness, you and I.”