As you read the reviews on Bookshop Talk, you'll notice that every review is positive. No, we're not a bunch of literary
pushovers who love everything we pick up; we just see no point in telling you about a book if we didn't like it.

September 5, 2013

REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier, 1938


"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." So the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter remembered the chilling events that led her down the turning drive past ther beeches, white and naked, to the isolated gray stone manse on the windswept Cornish coast. With a husband she barely knew, the young bride arrived at this immense estate, only to be inexorably drawn into the life of the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful Rebecca, dead but never forgotten... her suite of rooms never touched, her clothes ready to be worn, her servant -- the sinister Mrs. Danvers -- still loyal. And as an eerie presentiment of evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca... for the secrets of Manderley. (Amazon)

Reviewed by Julie, Children's lit enthusiast and pop culture geek

When the young, unnamed narrator of Rebecca meets Maxim de Winter, theirs is a whirlwind romance.  When the second Mrs. de Winter returns to her new home on the Cornish coast, however, she realizes that the house still mourns for Maxim's first wife, Rebecca.  As the second Mrs. de Winter fights for her rightful place as head of household, she
worries that she may never extricate herself from Rebecca's shadow. 

Although I grew up on a steady diet of libraries and Wishbone, I'd never heard of REBECCA until my freshman year of high school.  When my teacher announced that we were to begin reading it, many students, especially the boys, balked at thought of reading what they thought was some romance novel.  Even the novel's cover was covered in roses
and fanciful script, missing only a portrait of Fabio to make the stereotype complete.  Less than 100 pages in, however, we were all hooked on the mystery surrounding Rebecca and her strange hold over Maxim's household.

The Gothic romance begins famously, introducing the reader to the mystery-shrouded setting of Manderley, the de Winter home:

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.  It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me [. . .] There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace.  Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, not the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand."

The bittersweet language frames Manderley, almost its own character, and sustains this intense beauty and mystery throughout the novel. The heavy description flows easily, placing the reader in the narrator's, the second Mrs. de Winter's, shoes as she remembers Manderley.  The novel seamlessly integrates this retrospective voice with the narrator's origin story, which depicts a naive, timid woman
who is in no way prepared to be Maxim's wife.  Although her lack of confidence frustrated many of my classmates, her insecurity is understandable, especially when examined in the context of beautiful, vivacious Rebecca.

The main villain of the story is Mrs. Danvers, a sinister housekeeper who always adored the previous Mrs. de Winter.  Her presence is quiet, but grim, as she, along with Rebecca's cousin, Jack, seeks to sabotage and undermine the narrator at every turn.  Readers will love to hate these characters, but they are essential in keeping readers on their
toes.  After all, who, exactly, holds the essential information to unlock Manderley's past?

Years later, I still love the novel, although the surprise ending has worn off, and truly believe that Daphne du Maurier has written an underrated classic.  Each page brims full of eerie foreboding in the vein of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. In fact, du Maurier's novel (and her short story, "The Birds") even inspired the master of suspense himself, Alfred Hitchcock, to adapt her works for the silver screen.  But, a caveat to any film buffs out there: read Rebecca first to savor the bite that the movie version lacks.

Market: Adult fiction, gothic romance, classic
Violence: At least 2 crimes occur, but not graphically
Language: Mild, only a couple of instances as I recall
Sensuality: A couple of allusions to affairs
Adult Themes: Marriage, death, social class, identity/confidence 

3 comments:

A. M. Atkinson said...

I read REBECCA, for the first time in my early twenties. I then compared every other darker, romantic novel to REBECCA. I must admit, I read many in this genre, in my twenties and thirties. I truly feel this was the book that many authors have tried to duplicate in their own manner. I consider it a classic. REBECCA set a standard. A must read.

JoAnne Dittmer Photography said...

One of my all time favorite books. I read it in high school and have read it several times since. Must read!

Aimee said...

I have never read Rebecca! It sounds great! I'm putting it on my list. Thank you!