Have you ever plunged into a book with blind faith? This week I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier with absolutely no context. Originally published in 1938 I had seen no reviews, did not read the synopsis, all I had to base my judgement off of was the cover. Rebecca also boasts the rare distinction of having never gone out of print in its almost 80 year publication. I had recently received a copy of du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel and felt that it was time to get to know the author, so I committed.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
And it was so worth it. Having just come off of reading Jane Eyre I couldn’t help drawing similarities between the two books. A young woman marries a wealthy widowed bachelor with a haunted past, like Rebecca is the place where Jane Eyre left off. The writing was so crisp like a starched sheet, and it was perfect rainy day book with the dog beside me and a warm cup of chamomile at hand. I had a hard time placing the book into any particular genre: there was romance and mystery, and a little thrill of horror as well. The characters were credible and the plot was surprising. Rebecca is of the Gothic fiction lineage and it contained all the juicy motifs: a dark and mysterious manor, a feel of the supernatural, a sprinkling of romance and a tingling of horror.
Discussing the book recently with Marina from Finding Time to Write, I found it notable that the narrator is never named. Throughout the book she is simply referred to as Mrs. de Winter. It does not matter who this woman actually is: her like or dislikes have no sway, her history and habits of no importance. By marrying Maxim she must leave her own individuality to the side. This woman is just the stand in for the first Mrs. de Winter—Rebecca, she is not her own person but rather a role.
The narrative is well written, and a fine example of what literature can be. Should be. Full of unexpected insights, I am shocked why I have never heard of Rebecca before. The book world is ablaze and thriving with new books being published all the time: but there is something to be said about the novels that are still there year after year.