Book reviews

rebecca

The Classics Club dared members to get their Goth on during October, to read a book from our list which we had classified as a thriller, mystery, or goth. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was my choice.

It has been a very long time since I first read Rebecca and I know now that I didn’t appreciate it then as I should have. I expect I was too young for the book back then, much like the book’s heroine. In some ways, Rebecca is a coming of age story, just as much as it is a gothic romance, or a mystery.

How young and inexperienced I must have seemed, and how I felt it, too.

The story is narrated by a nameless heroine who is a young and socially inexperienced orphan, shy, awkward and put-upon by her employer, Mrs Van Hopper, a loud, brash American for whom she works as a companion.

While in Monte Carlo, Mrs Van Hopper forces an acquaintance with a fellow guest, Max de Winter, whose name she knows from the newspapers as being the wealthy owner of Manderley, a mansion in Cornwall, and whose glamourous wife died recently in a tragic accident. When Mrs Van Hopper becomes ill, Maxim and the young woman escape her company, driving all over Monte Carlo and the surrounding area for a couple of weeks. When Mrs Van Hopper recovers she decides suddenly to return to the United States, and the 42-year old Maxim asks the young woman to marry him.

After their marriage and a brief honeymoon they return to Manderley where the young woman almost immediately begins comparing herself with her predecessor, the beautiful, capable and popular first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca. Manderley’s housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, particularly resents the young woman for intruding on the memory of Rebecca, whom she adored. Even the dog was Rebecca’s first.

At Manderley Maxim becomes less available and amusing and the young woman begins to obsess over what she perceives as her own shortcomings, in her distinctively tentative, anxious voice. She believes Maxim regrets their marriage and doubts that their marriage will ever be a success, particularly after his anger when she unknowingly wore a replica of a costume to Manderley’s annual costume ball that Rebecca previously wore.

Rebecca reminded me a little of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, in that both heroines were involved with much older men and had the ghost of a former wife to deal with. Both also had to deal with being socially inferior, and less experienced and important than the men of their choice, although the narrator of Rebecca seemed to me to be overly self-obsessed, always worrying about what other people might be thinking or saying about her. In all fairness, this trait is typical of a girl or woman of her age, but at times I wanted to tell her that other people spend far less time thinking about her than she thinks they do.

I also snickered when Maxim asked the heroine when he asked her to marry him, “Does forty-two seem very old to you?” I wanted to tell him yes, Maxim, you idiot, of course you’re too old and experienced for the young and timorous heroine. And don’t go thinking I’m being a dog in the manger about you, because you’re actually a bit too young for me…

Part of the charm of the story is the heroine being un-named. Wondering what on earth her “beautiful and unusual” name could possibly be set the tone of the story for me. Everything was a mystery. Everything represents something else. The showy red rhododendrons are Rebecca, the aroma of azaleas are Rebecca, even Manderley itself is a secretive, mysterious character.

Daphne du Maurier’s evocative descriptions of Manderley’s house and gardens and the beaches leave me wanting to visit Cornwall more than ever. One day…

I loved Rebecca and am intending a re-read soon.

Well, it is over now, finished and done with. I (read) no more tormented and both of us are free. *

Rebecca was book three for my Classics Club challenge to read 50 classics before my challenge end date of 26 August 2023.

https://theclassicsclubblog.wordpress.com/

Apologies to Daphne du Maurier, whose actual quote is as follows:

*Well, it is over now, finished and done with. I ride no more tormented and both of us are free.

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Comments on: "Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier" (12)

  1. I enjoyed it more too on a re-read than when I read it as a young’un. I loved all the nature descriptions and how she used them to create atmosphere. But I did feel she should have slapped Maxim, especially after the way he reacted to her party frock…

  2. I don’t think she was the slapping type…

  3. When I reread this book a year or two ago, I was especially struck by how much of the book is comprised of things that don’t actually happen – the narrator is constantly imagining out the worst possible scenario, or creating a scene that never actually happened – I love the way that adds to the dreamy, tentative, uneasy feeling that permeates the book. Now I want to reread it yet again!

  4. Worrying about all sorts of things that might never happen was so typical of the narrator’s age, also worrying about what other people thought and comparing herself to Rebecca. These traits irritated me, but without them there was no story. Such a great book, I hope you do reread it. I’d love to read your review.

  5. I loved the film, and now that I think of it, I am not sure whether I have actually read the book or not! Hmm. Probably more complex than the film, so I am considering reading it…again!

  6. Please read it! Even if you have already, it is well worth a reread. I’m looking forward to seeing the film soon too 🙂

  7. I loved the original film – Joan Fontaine was it? – and think I’ve read the novel but it would have been in my teens. Like you, it has always been paired in my mind with Jane Eyre. I’d love to do the Classics Challenge but I know I’d never achieve it. My Classics reading this year is woeful.

  8. I haven’t watched the film yet but am looking forward to it 🙂
    It is a commitment to read 50 classics over five years for The Classics Club. I’m working on one per month which is a good balance for me. I can see progress while mixing classics amongst lighter reads.

  9. That’s a great goal to have – I’d love to do that but I don’t think I manage to read enough books a month to make one a classic. Sometimes I wonder if I should pull out of reading publisher review copies, to make room for more things like this.

  10. There are two sides to this… I could say, choose to read what you like best (which might not be the publisher review copies) , or choose to do the best you can for the books that are coming your way for the benefit of the author, (and authors coming up behind them), the publishers and other readers. Somebody should invent more time…

  11. You’ve nailed it in one Rose – particularly the last statement. Someone should – why don’t you give it a go. I suggest you start by channelling Dr Who.

  12. I’ll make my fortune 🙂

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