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This is the second Daphne Du Maurier novel I review, the first one being My Cousin Rachel (with spoilers). This review has no spoilers though I do give general overviews regarding characters and plot.
Depending on how well my thoughts flow I usually just write whatever comes to mind in my reviews. Since my thoughts are all over the place I’d rather divide this review by sections: Genre/Plot, characters, my thoughts.
- Genre and Plot
For those unfamiliar with Rebecca, you should know this is not a love story. It is more of a psychological suspense novel.
“We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end. We have conquered ours, or so we believe.”
This last quote is a good foreshadowing of things to come and each is tormented by their own “devils.” The plot follows an unnamed narrator looking back on her life, recounting the events surrounding her meeting with her current husband and the months after they marry. The penniless and introverted narrator marries Maxim de Winter, who in this story is the rich older guy saving you from a job you don’t want and gives you the life you never dreamed of. However, our narrator is de Winter’s second wife, his first wife having drowned in a boating mishap. So the big question posed here is, can our couple be happy even with the past lurking around every corner haunting them both? Over the course of the book, the new couple’s marriage is tested by interesting events and revelations.
Our narrator has heard much of Rebecca from everyone; she is accomplished, beautiful, and everyone seemed to love her, including her new husband. Our very insecure and introverted narrator seems to feel like she’s an inferior replacement to Rebecca. Although she loves her husband, she feels she cannot live up to Rebecca’s legacy and make her husband happy as she presumably did. The narrator sometimes tries to fit into her new role as mistress of Manderley but other times avoids it entirely, especially when it comes to duties assigned to Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca’s longtime maid (who practically raised Rebecca, apparently). Our narrator avoids the ghoulish looking Mrs. Danvers convinced that she harbors resentment towards her.
de Winter has been very depressed and has tried escaping from his estate of Manderley to get away from the anguished thoughts surrounding Rebecca’s demise, which is when he meets his new wife. De Winter is rather brusque at times and rather unromantic but is consoled by the happiness and distraction his new wife brings to his suffering. His treatment of his wife nowadays can be seen as bordering on the abusive at times with his mood swings and sometimes I feel like he makes the narrator submit to him just when, maybe unbeknownst to him, at times when she very rarely expresses independent thinking and stands up for herself in these situations. But in the context of the 1930’s this was apparently the norm; also marrying someone while making sure the other person’s duties are stipulated such as serving you tea *eye rolls*.
3. My thoughts
I felt somewhat identified with the narrator and was able to understand her in some ways. A lot of her introspectiveness is related to memory and time; how she often savors certain wonderful or bittersweet moments, how she takes everything in because the moment will soon be gone and time will make the memory fade. I find that sometimes I do this too!
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like a scent. And it never faded and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it the bottle could be uncorked and it would be like living the moment all over again.”
Her shyness, the way she avoided changing too much of the household routine, her avoidance of Mrs. Danvers and not wanting to socialize were things about her which I understood. Throughout the book, the choice she makes to be with Maxim despite his failings did not make sense to me initially until I realized this was a woman with low self-esteem who cannot let go of the only man that’s ever cared for and loved her.
Lucy Hughes-Hallett, who writes the introduction in the Everyman’s Library edition, lets us know that our narrator is not a heroine like in other novels. She is meek and submissive; very rarely is there a bold word or action from her. The narration made by the protagonist’s future self in some parts in which she refers that she has changed much in this respect I found fitting; this is a person who has gained experience and wisdom throughout the years and is reflecting on her past naive and perhaps weak self.
“Rebecca, always Rebecca. I should never be rid of Rebecca.”
The boat which Rebecca took out to sea before drowning was called Je Reviens and in the context of this quote is quite fitting. In a way, Rebecca does come back to haunt her but not in the typical ghostly way.
The main character is so meek and submissive, the “ghost” or rather the memory of Rebecca that lingers in Manderley is her constant enemy. It is the thing that reminds her of her inadequacies, her failings and that maybe, she is just a substitute for Rebecca and a poor one at that. What astounded me was how when the protagonist would suggest something be done a certain way and the house staff would point out Rebecca did it a certain different way, she would give in so that things would continue to be that way because after all, perhaps Rebecca’s way was best in everyone’s eyes.
What resonates with me throughout this book is the power of memory and its hold on the protagonist. Even when it comes to things she never witnesses…
“…,I thought: ‘Rebecca did this. She took the lilac, as I am doing, and put the sprigs one by one in the white vase. I’m not the first to do it. This is Rebecca’s vase, Rebecca’s lilac.'”
Another peculiar thing that I thought annoyed me at first was how many times throughout imaginary situations take place in the narrators head and she is very detailed in this as though it were happening. I thought at first it was pointless, it’s something that’s not actually happening. However, having read the introduction I can’t help agree with Lucy Hughes-Hallett; sometimes real life is just as much what could’ve been (the things we imagine in our head) just as much as what does happen. People often do this and our narrator is no exception and this tool also helps us glimpse her state of mind, what she dreads or what she hopes might come to pass.
Du Maurier expertly describes Manderley in such a way you feel like you can imagine it better. Various little details bring it to life and also give the story an ambiance of mystery when it’s needed. There are also a few moments of humor the narrator gives us while looking back at a particular moment; particularly moments regarding Mrs. Van Hopper, her employer, during her time as Van Hopper’s “friend of the bosom.”
What are your thoughts on Rebecca? Did you enjoy it or not? What parts stood out for you?
I give this a 5 out of 5 mortars