Friday, October 31, 2014

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

A few months ago, a few of us decided to read Rebecca together.  Katrina has just posted her thoughts on the book, and there may be a few more posts.  Keep your eyes open.

I think this was only the second time I've read Rebecca.  I know I read it as a teenager and that's the only time I see any mention of it in my records.  I've seen the movie several times.

The unnamed narrator is companion to the social climber Mrs. Van Hopper when she meets the older Max de Winter in Monte Carlo.  She and de Winter enjoy each other's company and de Winter asks her to marry him to keep her from leaving with Mrs. Van Hopper.  de Winter makes the very young girl feel grown up and she makes him happy.  His wife, Rebecca, is dead, drowned in a sailing accident a year before.

I felt uneasy about the relationship when de Winter casually proposed during breakfast.  It seemed almost brutal.  He then tells her that there will be no church wedding because, she must remember, he's already had a church wedding.  Well, fine, but how about her?  She is a young girl with dreams and fantasies of romance.  He tells her she can call him Maxim, as his family does, although Rebecca called him the more intimate Max.  He also drives too close to a cliff edge in Monte Carlo and frightens her.  These should have been red flags, but she's young and naive.

Things start to unravel when they return to Manderley.  The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, is just this side of openly hostile to her, undermining her shaky confidence.  The girl starts to become obsessed with the dead Rebecca, the woman with whom she cannot compete, the woman who will never grow old, whose legacy as a beautiful enchantress will endure.  She's convinced that de Winter still loves Rebecca.  She starts acting like a child, accidentally breaking a china cupid (one of Rebecca's wedding gifts) with a painting book (one of her wedding gifts) and then hiding the broken pieces in drawer.  She's easily intimidated by de Winter and Mrs. Danvers and everyone else.

As it turns out, Rebecca is not what some people thought and de Winter is not still in love with her.  It's a completely different situation that becomes apparent toward the end of the book.  When the truth is revealed, it brings the narrator and de Winter together.

I liked this book much better than Jamaica Inn.  Katrina has mentioned that the writing is more polished and I agree.  The characters seem more fully developed and the suspense grows and grows.

Manderley was a real house in Cornwall called Menabilly.  du Maurier rented the house and lived there for more than twenty years.  According to the introduction in the edition I read, du Maurier was 30 when she wrote Rebecca.  Her husband was in the military and they were stationed in Egypt, which du Maurier hated, homesick for Cornwall and disliking the social duties of a military wife.  Jamaica Inn had almost been a bestseller, but she thought Rebecca was gloomy and that the ending was too grim.  Her publishers promoted it as a Gothic novel and it's never been out of print.


  1. I agree with you about the proposal being completely unromantic, but the narrator is keen to get away from the ghastly Mrs Van Hopper, just as some young women used to leap at any proposal to get away from their parents and get a place of their own, in the days when you only got to leave home if you married. It had never occurred to me that Maxim was being selfish when he said he didn't want a big wedding, I suppose because I never wanted a church wedding myself, it just seemed normal to me. I must admit I always rather fancied Maxim, must be that older man thing!

    1. I don't remember how I felt about Max when I read this when I was younger. As an older woman whose had her share of romance and disappointment, I red-flagged him as not romantic and not endearing. I do understand that young women of that time might have felt compelled to accept any proposal just to get away from their families. On the surface, being married to Max might have seemed a dream come true, but even at the beginning, I had reservations about him. My feelings about him had improved by the end of the book.

      Jack and I had a small wedding, too, but many women / girls want all the flash and bang of a big one. It's my recollection that the narrator mentions that she had envisioned a church wedding, so I thought it was selfish of him to remind her that HE didn't need one since he'd already had one. He's still not one of my favorite fictional men!

  2. I liked Rebecca much better than Jamaica Inn too. I thought the latter so very predictable. I find Maxim to be a very disturbing character though whose actions sometimes borderline on domestic violence/abuse. That we are supposed to find him dashing and desirable makes me squirm

    1. You and I had the same reaction to Max. I didn't find him at all romantic or attractive. I thought he was cold and selfish, although I did like him a bit better after I found out what had really happened between him and Rebecca. As Katrina mentioned, I thought the writing in Rebecca was much more polished than in Jamaica Inn.