After Chris's rather scathing review on My Cousin Rachel I feel as if I should now review Rebecca in order to somehow restore the Du Murier balance on this blog.
If I had to sum up Rebecca in one word it would be 'surprised'. I thought I knew what this novel was going to be about and I thought I knew the basic themes to this novel before reading it, It turned out I didn't. I found myself constantly surprised when reading it.
I have seen the Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca and I vaguely remember it being about a woman who meets an older man in Monte Carlo while working as a paid 'companion' for an insufferable old woman. This man turns out to be Mr de Winter and after a very short romance they marry before going back to his house in Cornwall, England. The young girl is expected to act and be the mistress to this house named Manderley and its many servants. There is however a third person in the marriage, Rebecca, who was Mr de Winter's first wife who drowned in a nearby bay about a year previously. Rebecca seemed to have been loved by everyone none more than the stern housekeeper who seems intent on driving the new Mrs de Winter insane.
The above mentioned was in the book but there was also a lot more. I don't want to give away anymore of the plot in case you haven't read it but I was constantly surprised throughout and some of the twists and turns had me reading with my mouth open. This was a book filled with so much suspense and mystery that even with 20 pages to go I still didn't know how it was going to end.
One of the stars of the book is undoubtedly Manderley itself with his long corridors and its two wings, one facing the sea and the other the rose garden. The morning room filled with the most expensive things in the house, the warm fire in the library and afternoon tea served at half past four. The house and its rooms are used as a plot device a few times during the book and is used in giving us a sense of how lost and out of her depth the new Mrs de Winter feels in not just the house but in her new role as mistress.
I am also surprised that many people see this as a love story, I was therefore expecting one. I am not convinced that Mr de Winter ever really loved his second wife. For a lot of the book he is indifferent to her feelings and only tells her he loves her for the first time at a time when he desperately needs her on his side. If he did love her then it seems to be for her childlike manner in which she gives in to his wishes and lives only to please him. Her name is not given once during the book further adding to her invisibility as a character. For an upcoming fancy dress party to be held at the house Mr de Winter preferred choice of costume for his new wife is an Alice in wonderland dress which I think was significant in how at that time he viewed her. During a evening of revelations Mrs de Winter matures suddenly and Mr de Winter notices;
'It's gone forever. That funny, Young, lost look that I loved. It won't come back again.'
The new Mrs de Winter revels in all this, she seems to genuinely want nothing more than for her new husband to be happy and for her to live for that.
This is in complete contrast to Rebecca who while alive did how she pleased and seemed to live only for her pleasure alone – or did she? We will never know if she was put in a more unfavourable light by Mr de Winter for not conforming to his perfect idea of a doting wife as society expected her to be. Or maybe she really was so cruel and manipulative that Mr de Winter craved someone who was the complete polar opposite to his first wife.
There is quite a bit of melodrama in the book but there is also some symbolism. For example the wing occupied by Rebecca during her life is the wing which overlooks the rough, noisy and unpredictable sea. This is contrasted by the wing occupied by the new wife which overlooks the quiet rose garden.
I'm not sure this book would have been quite so gripping had I prior knowledge of the book but nonetheless the characters and the dark undertones are enough to make me wonder and want to discuss this for a long time to come. Aside from a couple of places when I think I had to suspend disbelieve slightly I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was surprised by it in a very good way.
On a slightly different note, for those of you who have read this book did you notice how much the people ate? It was breakfast of bacon and eggs, lunch which was a three course meal, tea at half past four consisting of sandwiches, cake and crumpets and then dinner which I assume would have been another three course meal. How were these people not as big as houses?
Posted by Jess
This also qualifies for the 1930's mini-challenge hosted at Things mean alot.