Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
“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 the beeched, 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 the evil tightened around her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter began her search for the real fate of Rebecca… for the secrets of Manderley. (via Goodreads)
When I started reading Rebecca, Eric looked at the cover (the same edition as above) and stated, “That doesn’t look like the sort of book you read.” Despite its sort of romancy cover, I assured him that it was a classic of gothic fiction. Anytime I mentioned the book on Twitter or Reddit, it was greeted with positive responses; more replies than I’ve ever gotten about anything else. I went into Rebecca with no preconceived notions aside from it being one of those classics that I hadn’t gotten to. It came up as a part of the (now defunct) Gothic Challenge and Read-a-longs* and I jumped at the excuse to bump it up my to-be-read list.
Yet, this novel is not at all what I expected.
The narrator is very much what I’d consider a YA character. She is, of course, young. She’s still attempting to figure out where she belongs; asking those questions about who she is supposed to be, who might love her. This isn’t a terrible thing, but she is prone to flights of fancy. Constant flights of fancy. By the end of the book, it feels like every single scene had played out at least once in her head before the actual event. And I found that tedious. She’s also somewhat petty. I get annoyed with stories that are somewhat dependent on a character taking things the wrong way.
I’m also a little disturbed by the fact that our narrator actually seems to have an interest before marriage–sketching–which is inexplicably put aside for no good reason once she reaches Manderley. She’s fairly aimless until she’s called on to stand by her man at the end of the book. Is that horribly romantic? I…guess. I can understand that she’s thrown by her change in position and spends much of her time unsure of how to act, made worse by the circumstances, but she’s really sort of a non-person until the end. This is less a criticism of the book and more of a confession of confusion about why it’s so beloved.
I did like the gothic aspects of the book, although past the halfway point when nothing much had happened, I did go online and “spoiled” the twist for myself. (I’m generally unfazed by spoilers. For me, it’s the journey.) The secrets were nicely kept, with little hints here and there about what’s going on. There are issues of class and heredity throughout. Mrs. Danvers, a servant, proves to be the most powerful character. Manderley, in good gothic tradition, is a character itself. In fact, for me, it’s the best aspect of the book. If I wanted a fictional place to walk, Manderley would be it.
Publishing info, my copy: Avon Books, 1971, mass market paperback
Acquired: Paperback Swap, I believe.
* Books Under the Bed, the blog that was hosting the challenge, has been deleted. But I guess I’ll keep on reading from the list since I’ve become interested in the genre.