Reviewing Daphne du Maurier's 'Rebecca'
Rebecca tells the story of an unnamed young woman who spontaneously marries a wealthy widower, before discovering that he and his household are haunted by the memory of his late wife - Rebecca.
Written in 1938, this Gothic novel is a masterpiece of literature and I loved every second of it. du Maurier's style is phenomenal, and having never read any of her work before, I was captivated by both the story line and the writing style.
The novel is set, for the most part, at the ominous Manderley, an aged manor that boasts historic architecture and is surrounded by woods and the sea, transporting the reader back to a time of aristocratic costume balls and grand dinners. This fictional house is isolated from the larger society, and is run by a staff of servants. I fell in love with the setting, as du Maurier's vivid descriptions seemed to place me in the heart of Manderley's grounds so I felt as though I was part of the household too.
I feel the following quote, taken from the novel, truly captures what the novel was inspired by:
"A husband is never so very different from a father after all. There is a certain type of knowledge I would prefer you not to have. It's better kept under lock and key. So that's that. And now eat up your peaches, and don't ask me any more questions, or I shall put you in the corner." (Rebecca, p.226-227)
These words, spoken by the great Maxim de Winter, struck me as an evocation of the desperation behind du Maurier's writing in response to the inferior position of women. de Winter tells his wife to stop her curiosity and queries, refusing to hear what she has to say. I will remind you here that Rebecca was written in 1938, after the Suffrage Movement won women's right to vote and sexism was beginning to slowly decline. The novel demands its presence in the contemporary world, as the position of women continues to be compromised by prehistoric sexist customs. And yet, I was mesmerised by we du Maurier manages to provoke the reader to feel sympathy for de Winter, a rather sinister character (for many reasons that I will not spoil).
The duality of the second Mrs de Winter is captivating, as we realise that she is rather alike Rebecca. du Maurier fashions the two characters as being stark opposites - Rebecca with her free spirit and confident persona, the unnamed narrator as quiet, innocent and naive. Yet, as Sally Beauman's afterword suggests, the two are both products of fierce misogyny.
I also loved how du Maurier's novel is conscious of other theories of thought of the time, such as Sigmund Freud's dreams - we see how the unnamed narrator's unconscious fears appear in her dreams throughout the novel, rising to a climax in the last few pages of the novel that truly shock and mesmerise the reader.
I cannot put into words the sheer joy I felt when reading this novel, as it reminded me of why I study Literature. I loved the Victorian-esque feel of du Maurier's work, coupled with the 20th century background and how links can be drawn between the novel and du Maurier's own life.
Despite the appeal and quaint desirability of Manderley, one is often reminded of its unattainability and how nothing can live forever. That is, except in memory...