If you didn’t catch my Currently Reading post, then you don’t know the interesting circumstances surrounding my beginning to read this book.
So there we were, boy trying to make me watch sprint car videos on YouTube – when I struck a deal with him: I will watch your videos, if you pick a book for me to read. I was really hoping he’d peruse them for awhile, pulling certain volumes out and reading about them, or at least look at the covers, but no, he looked from a few feet away for about 38 seconds and settled on Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier.
I usually tell him to pick what movie we’ll watch, and then I’ll refuse to watch what he picked and we’ll watch what I want after all, so I had to read this book – especially because I instigated the whole thing. And luckily, I did.
I was struck by the writing right away. The beginning dream sequence is really exquisite. I didn’t read anything about this novel before I started reading, so I didn’t know what to expect at all. I didn’t know that the first line of this novel is considered one of the greatest in classic literature, and actually, even now I’m not sure it is – I only saw that in one place, but I have to agree:
‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’
Its pretty mesmerizing in itself. Where is Manderley? What kind of dream was it? How many times has she dreamt it? Does it occur every night? Is it a special place to her, is that why she’s dreaming of it? It’s a sentence that makes you beg for more – a fine example of du Maurier’s skillful and suspenseful writing throughout the novel.
I’m not sure why I’m so often surprised at how good classic literature is. Mesmerized is a good word, so I’ll use it again – it’s how I felt when reading this book. I don’t usually read books that are so…suspenseful. It’s hard to say what created the suspense here, after all, there’s not terribly much action – it’s set in high class England around the 30s (I assume), which is a period where high class English women didn’t really do a whole lot besides plan parties and keep their husband company when that was convenient. It was the beginning dream sequence, the description of the absolute abandonment of this place she apparently cherished…what could have happened to make them leave so completely and so abruptly? Was it terribly traumatic? What could it have been? I spent the duration of the novel waiting for any clues as to what it could have been – a small spark that festered…or something sudden and catastrophic? It created quite a bit of suspense that carried most of the way through the novel on its own.
Prepare yourself, Spoilers follow throughout the end of this post::
Our narrator, a ‘young’ girl, nearly a child still who marries Maxim de Winter – she is nameless and ageless. She is an introvert, like me, and harbors deep insecurities about her marriage because she is her husband’s second wife, and she knows very well that he was very happy with his first one before her sudden death the previous year. She is haunted by the thought of this woman, someone much older than her with the confidence and training of someone in the upper class. Her thoughts fill up with imaginations of what Rebecca, the first wife, would have done in every situation; what she smelled like, how she moved across a room, how she would have given orders to the servants, how she would have acted with Maxim…the thoughts often tormented her, and yet, her curiosity and insecurity drove them on. I believe it made her unhappy in her marriage, in which she would have been much more care-free, and Maxim would have been much more likely to fall in love with her. It was really quite sad to ‘hear’ the narrator’s thoughts as she was looking forward to their wedding, how she continually thought Maxim was ‘forgetting’ to mention that he loved her, that they would be terribly happy. I would continually wonder why this girl just let the house maids and women around town control her. She is the new Mrs. de Winter! She is now on equal status to Rebecca. I wanted to shout at her to rearrange the house, to throw out the old coats, to tell her husband, ‘Yes, I broke the Cupid figurine! It was an accident but I didn’t like it anyway. I would rather have my art books on the morning-room desk!’ The girl seriously needs to grow a backbone. How she sat and let people talk around her when at tea, whether she way calling on them or the other way round. She seems so nearly pathetic.
At the turning point in the novel, and I won’t spoil it for you, in case you’re still reading and haven’t read the book yet…the narrator really impresses me. It’s not because what she had felt was justified, or that her reaction to her husband’s confession was ‘right’ or even admirable, but because I’m a woman, and I’ve been insecure in love. I suddenly understood her. In fact, our unnamed narrator and I seem to have quite a bit in common. My only complaint about the whole thing is the beginning, which is supposed to be the end. She still sounds unhappy, although all of her fears are supposed to have been abolished, in the end. I can’t understand it.
Maxim himself is quite a mystery. To me, he was unpredictable. For someone so miserable, why does he even want to marry someone new? It seems like everyone was quite upset about Rebecca with him, and wouldn’t have minded if he died a widower. It’s not like he needed someone to spend his money for him, right? But then it is said that the pervious year he was close to break-down, and now that he’s married he looks much healthier – perhaps he married her to simply take his mind off of the past quite more than he was able to by himself? It baffles me that the narrator is objective enough to realize that he treats her in the same manor as the dog, Jasper; something to consider almost absent-mindedly, who at times it is inconvenient to be around, and at best can only offer a sense of companionship, nothing like equality or could possibly have something to teach him. It made me sad to read.
Everything changed in that one paragraph, didn’t it? I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that had such a twist before (Except perhaps the last page of Handle With Care by Jodi Picoult). Maxim turned out to be both much more sinister, more passionate, and more respectable all with one little word. I can understand people comparing him to Edward Fairfax de Rochester, and yet, it doesn’t fit with me. Rochester was more compassionate – less impulsive – more manipulative. But both he and Maxim de Winter are driven by the same mistake: marrying the wrong woman, and it leads them both to do dangerous and disastrous things. I am kind of repulsed by Maxim though, as much as I want to like him. How he had to lie and deceive for those ten months, to everyone around him. He went the opposite route, because of circumstances of course, Rochester had gone to his wife’s land, and Rebecca had gone to de Winter’s; it’s not as if he could have just fled his ancestor’s property that he had loved…
I literally gasped at the end of chapter 19 – the revelation frankly shocked me, and yet, as the narrator was, I was relieved.
Ah, the feeling you have after reading a good book. I haven’t compulsively read anything like that since Jane Eyre, and technically that was an audiobook. Good choice, my love.