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.
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.