Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"Rebecca" by Daphne Du Maurier

"There is a story behind every book." A middle school English teacher of mine used to utter those words incessantly, much to the chagrin of her pupils who answered with the usual amount of eye-rolling and guttural groans in the back of the room. Should it be some divine epiphany to realize that there's a story behind a book? Isn't that the point of a book in the first place? In whatever literal or figurative context one chooses to examine the phrase, it is rather useful. In this case it is particularly true of my reading experience. There is seldom a time when I don't remember what exactly led me to read a book. The events prior to a novel's purchase are just as important as the object itself in my eyes, serving as a prologue to the adventure of reading. It is my personal opinion that everyone should read the prologue.

With that being said, I came to Rebecca after going through a particular Hitchcock movie phase. From what you've seen from your fellow blogger, I'm pretty sure that it isn't hard for you to believe that once I latch onto an obsession, I delve into it with a vigorous depth and intensity. After seeing the genius of Alfred Hitchcock's Notorious, I sought more. The search brought me to Rebecca. I approached the film having no idea that it was adapted from a novel, but after finding out that such a thrilling and utterly capturing movie had taken its roots from a piece of literature it wasn't hard for me to go out to trusty old Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy.

What I found was familiarity; the first-person narrative of a young and unsophisticated girl who crosses paths with the tortured older man. I witnessed the gravest flash of deja vu as the aforementioned child attaches to this damaged soul who possesses the complicated (and arguably rather creepy) mixture of both paternal and passionate love for her. He sees in her all the contrasts to the life and people he knew before and places the burden of his purification and escape from sin on her thin little shoulders. But fate spins both characters a screwball and all secrets are now exposed, revealing him to be the true villain and stripping all naivety and innocence from her. If you've any experience with my blog and don't recognize the obvious similitude between this plot and that of another novel, imagine me taking your shoulders in my hands and giving you a violent shake.

Yes, Rebecca shares a plethora of similarities with my beloved Jane Eyre. The unnamed main character wanders dizzily around the globe, uncertain of her place in it. She wishes for an escape from her repressed life of habit and duty. It just so happens that it is while she is submitting to this life that she falls into the path of the man who will change it. The forty-two year-old rich widower, Maxim De Winter, is the answer to any woman's prayers. Never described as handsome, but directly characterized as shadowy and "medieval", this bad-boy should be able to find a spot in the reader's heart right next to his likenesses; Rochester, Heathcliff, etc. Like the latter literary counterparts, Maxim succeeds in luring our main character with his enigmatical conversation, Jaded glances, and moments of irrepressible gloom. However, unlike the Brontes who assert the obstacles with unreserved blatancy, Du Maurier takes a different approach. All courses seemingly run smooth. Maxim De Winter sweeps our timid little protagonist off of her feet, proposes to her after two weeks, and seems to take no notice of her obvious lack of poise and social connection. There is no ruined wedding or insurmountable conflict to hinder them. At least, not at first...

The new "Mrs. De Winter" feels awkward and diffident in world molded for her superiors. She doesn't understand what Maxim expects from her, but is all too conscious of what his neighbors and friends (and housekeeper) demand. The girl who grieved over lack of identity is now stricken by it. She feels nothing more than the "second wife", the "other woman", and the legacy of the woman before her haunts both her and her husband. The author emphasizes this haunting so much as to name the entire novel after this first wife while choosing not to even identify the name of the second. Rebecca is just as much of a main character as Mrs. De Winter and Maxim. Though not present in body, her actions are carried out through the minds of each character. Even though we have all the plot elements of a mysterious gothic love story, it is not the relationship between Maxim and "unnamed protagonist" that commands attention, but the woman who has been dead for years.

I've made quite a mess of this review with my rambling thoughts, but the essential point here is: READ IT! If you have a taste for the mysterious gothic classics, there's absolutely no reason why you wouldn't like it. 


  1. This book sounds really interesting! I can't believe I haven't heard of it before. I will definitely be picking this one up.

  2. Unfortunately, it's highly UNDERrated. I was surprised that I hadn't heard of it as well, but once I got my eyes on it I couldn't take them off. The narrator here is very relatable; rather like Jane Eyre. Hope you enjoy it. :)

  3. This is on my reading list and I have the adaptation with Charles Dance (?) on DVD, but have yet to seen it. Have heard lots about it, though, and it's my sister-in-law's favourite novel. :)

  4. I loved the adaption you speak of. I think there were three different adaptions. Of course, Hitchcock's was great. But the one with Dance was lovely. Hope you enjoy it.