Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
Updated: Feb 14, 2022
'Oh. My Gosh. No f*ing way.'
I needed some time to digest this one after finishing it in June. Every twist and turn demanded extra space in my head; I actually think my brain was working in overdrive for a couple of weeks.
That sounds like a huge overreaction to a book - but that's exactly what it was. I had to gush to my partner for ten minutes after finishing the last pages because there was so much to unpack: the subtle messaging and themes were next level.
Rebecca follows the life of a young, middle-class narrator who remains unnamed throughout the book. While travelling abroad as a paid companion to a doddery lady, she meets Mr Maxim de Winter. Appropriately handsome, gentlemanly and mysteriously preoccupied with thoughts of the past, de Winter carries some dark secrets. Within weeks they're married, and de Winter takes her home to his beautiful coastal mansion in England - Manderley.
She immediately discovers, however, that she doesn't belong: Maxim was previously married to the bold, extravagantly elegant 'Rebecca', who drowned tragically and left the house to echo with her loss. The narrator struggles to orient herself within their social circles and to validate her presence within her marriage, all while dealing with the residual, unearthly memory of Rebecca.
I actually gasped aloud at a couple of points in this story: it's as if every line is there to serve a purpose, layered with meaning designed to make you feel something. Rebecca reminded me of why I love dipping my toes into classics (though, of course, what constitutes a 'classic' is pretty difficult to define!). Themes, dialogue, descriptions and plots tangle together as even the most subtle social interaction on the page provides the reader with a tonne of information. Some of the things I felt while reading were inexplicable most of the time: a simple exchange between two characters in a garden could leave me feeling unaccountably uneasy. I even had to take a break from reading occasionally so that I could make a cuppa and settle my heart rate!
It was interesting to read the afterword section of my Virago Modern Classics edition (written by Sally Beauman). Her notes explain how Rebecca was originally read and sold as a love story, despite the eerie setting and Jane-Eyre-like gothic elements. A romantic reading of Rebecca doesn't seem to work in 2021, as the book comments on the concept of marriage quite negatively. If you look closely, morality and love is connected to the loss of identity and the induction of suffocating gender roles and power imbalances. The narrator, who is never given a title other than Mrs de Winter, is slowly erased as she takes on the expectations of a wife and binds herself to her husband.
I have to admit - I wasn't a fan.
I'm usually a sucker for movies that are set in the early 20th century (I love a lot of Lily James's movies, such as Darkest Hour or The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society), but for me, but this one fell short.
The reason for my negativity has nothing to do with the actual cinematic elements of the film (the acting was great and the cinematography/costume/set design were all beautiful). It was more to do with the fact that some of the most important messages of the book were lost; the intricacies of marriage, societal pressure, the timidity of the narrator and brave boldness of Rebecca were undervalued through the smallest adaptions in the script. These may have made sense in a movie adaption (many of them allowed for the erasure of some minor characters) but introduced some stark deviations from the book that (in my opinion) didn't work.
I would definitely recommend reading the book first and giving it some time before watching the movie!
This book is creepy and disconcerting. And it absolutely swept me along and entangled me in its story. If you love a gothic vibe with a bit of mystery chucked in, then this one's for you - but definitely find a quiet place to read so that you can be completely absorbed!
As always, thanks a bunch for reading with me.