Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier (1938)

Unconsciously I shivered, as though someone had opened the door behind me, and let a draught into the room. I was sitting in Rebecca’s chair, I was leaning against Rebecca’s cushion, and the dog had come to me and laid his head upon my knee because that had been his custom, and he remembered, in the past, she had given sugar to him there.

 

RebeccaWhen I put Rebecca on my Classics Club list, I didn’t know anything about it. I put it on my list with the same intention I put many classics on it: I want to read well-known or important classics, and knew this was one of them.

When I started book blogging, I discovered how many readers include Rebecca on their top 10 favorites list. That in itself was intriguing, yet there were so many other classics I knew about that I wanted to read first.

Now I am initiated. Now I understand.

(Caveat: For those not initiated, you will see often in this post ‘the second Mrs. de Winter,’ this is because her name is never mentioned).

There is so much tension built into this book, which begins in the first pages where an unnamed narrator is recounting a dream. It is a beautiful descriptive dream of a house, its grounds and its secrets and an ominous statement that it is no more.

The house was a sepulchre, our fear and suffering lay buried in the ruins. There would be no resurrection.

When the young second Mrs. de Winter comes to Manderley, her background has not prepared her to take up the responsibilities of caring for a show place like Manderley. Her shyness and reticence in the presence of the household staff and housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, does not instill confidence and she is constantly questioning herself and her marriage to Maxim. In her mind she concocts rich fantasies about what the staff really thinks of her, although reality is never as bad as her thoughts. But there is another facet of this experience she has no control over. She is living with the ghost of the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca and her secrets, that permeate every aspect of the second Mrs. de Winter’s life.

No one will talk about Rebecca, which only adds to the second Mrs. de Winter’s rich fantasy life. Though many characters are introduced including Beatrice, Maxim’s sister and kind-hearted Frank Crawley, Maxim’s business associate, who genuinely like and accept her their refusal to talk about Rebecca and her death hangs over Mrs. de Winter’s ability to feel comfortable in the house.

That is until Mrs. Danvers, who it turns out was not just the housekeeper, but Rebecca’s confidante confronts Mrs. de Winter when she catches her in Rebecca’s suite and is only too happy to talk. Danvers is the classic dead mistress-obsessed housekeeper who refuses to let go of the past. She cleans and dusts this suite every day. She lays out Rebecca’s clothes as if she is only gone for the day. du Maurier writes this scene so well. It is easy to share de Winter’s panic as Danvers speaks.

It’s not only this room it’s in many rooms in the house…I feel her everywhere. You do too, don’t you?”…Sometimes, when I walk along the corridor here, I fancy I hear her just behind me. That quick light footstep. I could not mistake it anywhere. And in the minstrels’ gallery above the hall. I’ve seen her leaning there, in the evenings in the old days, looking down at the hall below and calling to the dogs. I can fancy her there now from time to time. It’s almost as though I catch the sound of her dress sweeping the stairs as she comes down to dinner.” She pauses. She went on looking at me, watching my eyes. “Do you think she can see us, talking to one another now? Do you think the dead come back and watch the living?”

I swallowed. I dug my nails into my hands.

Sometimes I wonder,” she whispered. “Sometimes I wonder if she comes back here to Manderley and watches you and Mr. de Winter together.”

When a ship capsizes in the bay and Rebecca’s small boat is discovered with her dead body still inside Maxim has no choice but to reveal the truth about how she died. It is a shocking revelation, but in my opinion, less shocking than the reasons he did it. As she listens to the truth about their marriage, as she hears the details about who Rebecca really was and as the investigation and inquest unfold, she is transformed. She is determined to support her husband, will hear all he is accused of, will stay by his side. In this regard she grows up and is changed overnight. Even Maxim acknowledges her transformation, dismayed that it is his fault.

But you. I can’t forget what it has done to you. I was looking at you, thinking of nothing else all through lunch. It’s gone forever, that funny, young, lost look that I loved. It won’t come back again. I killed that too, when I told you about Rebecca. It’s gone, in twenty-four hours. You are so much older…

And then he says her name. He doesn’t, of course, but in my head it would have made so much sense for him to say it here.

Du Maurier’s writing style is quite amazing in this book. How many passages are worth quoting her way with words? How detailed she gives to the narrative whether in describing a person, Manderley and its grounds, or an event, but the narrative never feels bogged down in the details.

Yet, it is the details that infuse, propel and wrap up the story. I spent the last quarter of the book on a roller coaster as one revelation proves Maxim’s guilt while another one covers it up, while still another could go either way. I have never been very good at guessing outcomes in books, so I was not prepared for the very end. While it explains the dream of the first few pages and why the narrator is estranged from her home, I was still shocked. With eyes as big as saucers I closed the book…“What???”

I have heard people say and I have said it too about books that really touched me; I wish I could forget I read this book so I can read it again for the first time.

*********

My Edition
Title: Rebecca
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Publisher: Avon
Device: Paperback
Year: 1938
Pages: 380
Full plot summary

Challenges: Roofbeam Reader TBR, Classics Club

Advertisements

35 thoughts on “Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier (1938)

  1. Joel Getter

    I read ‘Rebecca’ years ago and really need to read it again. Along with Shirley Jackson’s ‘We Have Always Lived in the Castle’ this is one of the most chilling books by a female writer I have ever read. Recently, I finished a collection of du Maurier’s short fiction called ‘The Doll’ which had some powerful stories in it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Caleb

    I really liked the novel Rebecca myself. Kept me riveted when I read it. I don’t know if you read it yet, but author Susan Hill wrote a sequel called “Mrs de Winter”. You might find that one interesting too.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I wish I could forget this book so I could read it for the first time, too – this book and so many others of my favourites. I loved this book. It was my first du Maurier, then I read a short story collection, and then I bought three more of her books. I’m hooked! Read The Birds & Other Stories next – there are some great stories in that collection.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A wonderful review! I have this book on my bookshelf. I meant to read it for a previous event but I never got to it. So many books, so little time. It sounds like one to move to the front of my TBR list. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m so pleased to read your thoughts on this book as it has been one of my favourites since I was a teenager. Du Maurier is one of the best descriptive writers I’ve come across – she chooses just the right words to create a wonderful atmosphere and strong sense of place. I’ve been working through the rest of her novels over the last few years and have enjoyed almost all of them, so you have a lot to look forward to if you decide to read more. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Rebecca’s a real favourite of mine, despite occasionally being annoyed at the fact that we never learn the name of our narrator. (I agree the part you quoted above would have been a nice point for Maxim to say it.) I read that Daphne du Maurier couldn’t decide on one, and wrote around it, and so it became unnecessary to later fill it in. But that doesn’t spoil the book at all for me, and I know it’s one I’ll go back to again and again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for giving that bit of information about du Maurier’s thoughts on the narrator’s name. I agree it doesn’t spoil the book, it just makes it a little awkward when you try to talk about it!

      I had the thought that up until that moment, she was so outwardly a quiet mouse of a thing, then when the murder accusations when down and she boldly stood up for her husband, her growing up into herself at that moment would have been perfect to say her name. But alas, it was du Maurier’s call not mine 🙂

      Like

  7. This is on my Classics Spin list, but the plot is so well known you didn’t really give away any spoilers! Another fine review which makes me eager to see this title come up soon.

    Like

    1. Oo I can’t wait til you read this. I am sure you would do a lot with it.

      In my opinion, the statute of limitations on “spoilers” is different for classics. If this book had just come out, I would talk about it differently. But classics have already been written and talked about for decades and\and or centuries. Knowing “what’s going to happen” shouldn’t deter one from reading a book.

      Frankly, I don’t think naming the murderer is the big spoiler; it’s what came after that is the thrilling part, at least for me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes, I wasn’t being too serious about spoilers, as I suspect you knew! With classics it’s about the ‘how’ more than the ‘what’, isn’t it, and that’s probably the biggest thrill for readers of this genre (if ‘genre’ is what we can call it, which I doubt). Anyway, something to savour for when it comes!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Your last paragraph really resonates with me. I read all of Du Maurier when I was very young, as her books were all over the place here is Cornwall, and I know I loved most of them, but Rebecca is so well known, I’ve read so many books influenced by it, and so it feels much too familiar.

    Liked by 2 people

Let me know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s