“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”
This first line is enough to evoke a thousand different sensations among those who have read this immortal classic. With these words begins a journey few will forget.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was published in 1938. Its instant success is said to have surprised even its author.
An unnamed young woman comes to live with her new husband Maxim de Winter on his beautiful estate, Manderley. She is ill at ease from the very beginning as the shadow of her predecessor, Maxim’s first wife; Rebecca looms large at every corner. The beautiful and charismatic Rebecca, who drowned a little more than a year ago, still seems very much alive while the second Mrs. de Winter continues to struggle to establish her presence. Who was Rebecca? How did she die? The mists of suspicion and fear begin to grow thicker as the new bride tries to deal with things beyond her understanding.
The narrator of the book is the second wife of Maxim de Winter. She is a shadowy little figure; she is shy and ill at ease. At her new home, Manderley, she is tormented by the memories of her predecessor, Rebecca. Not sure whether her husband actually loves her and most of all scared that he and everyone else is comparing her to Rebecca, she even contemplates suicide at one point. Keeping her unnamed works really well as she plays the second fiddle to the vivacious Rebecca. Even though Rebecca is in fact dead and she alive, it feels totally the opposite. Rebecca is the living one and she the mere shadow.
Maxim de Winter is, forgive me for saying this, a little stuffy. He is brooding and silent, not prone to sharing his thoughts with anyone. And of course, this causes more than half of the pain the unnamed narrator, his second wife, goes through. He turns his back on everyone, sometimes literally like in the scene when Jack Favell confronts him while Frank and the narrator watch on.
Mrs. Danvers is a slave to the memories of her dead mistress. Her creepy devotion to Rebecca makes her mentally unstable. Why maxim fails to see this I don’t know.
The eponymous Rebecca is essentially the main character of the book. When the novel begins she has already been dead for over a year. But seen through the eyes of others she becomes disturbingly alive. As the book progresses her murky life and repulsive character comes to light. She, outwardly so perfect was, was rotten through and through. But whether she is dead or alive fighting her is impossible. As Maxim says, Rebecca always wins. She is like a force of nature, taking everything, giving nothing and destroying everything on her path.
One thing that has always rankled my mind, the ending. I hate the fact that she won. Of course, Maxim is not a perfect person and I guess he deserves some punishment for his deed but hasn’t he been punished enough? He has been afraid that everyone will find out about what he did, that his new bride doesn’t love him, that Rebecca will win once again. Why does Rebecca win in the end? Why do people like Mrs. Danvers and Jack Favell win?
Daphne du Maurier’s writing is easy to read. Her imagination and writing prowess makes the book what it is.
For me, Rebecca is about Rebecca. Long after the book ends her laughing, beautiful, cruel face stays vividly alive. She wins, as always, even in death.
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