Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

The second Mrs. DeWinter is haunted by the first

Our story begins when the young penniless unnamed narrator is working on the Riviera as a companion to a dreadful American woman, and older somewhat notorious Max de Winter, owner of the iconic estate Manderley, takes an interest in her. He seems to need something. (I’m asking you to marry me, you silly fool!) After a European honeymoon, the newlyweds return to Manderley (a house as much a character as any person in the book). Our heroine is thoroughly intimidated by the pomp and luxury, the terrifying skull-like housekeeper Mrs. Danvers, and soon by the vivid memory of Max’s first wife, the beautiful competent vivacious Rebecca. She overexcites herself imagining Rebecca, (in fact, by creating a vision of Rebecca, she is working almost as a novelist herself).   The initial part of the book is a study in paranoia.

This one moves like a house afire. The opening half is cleverly done, with over the top Gothic touches, Jane Eyrish in the extreme. What’s memorable is the narrator.  The second Mrs. de Winter experiences things as if in a fever.  She’s a completely spineless drip in the first half, then after the “revelation,” she gets more backbone. I enjoyed the crazy first part more than the second, in which a leaden sort of “Colonel Mustard in the billiard room” structure takes over. I had read Rebecca a long time ago, and had forgotten the twist – and what a twist it was, however, it’s a deeply politically incorrect twist that doesn’t work in the modern day world of sexual freedom and feminism. After the revelation, I was totally on Rebecca’s side against the obliterating patriarchy and the judicial system set up to favor rich men. Also, the book is a little overlong for current tastes.

But du Maurier uses rhododendroms in a really cool way. The story is about how the memory of a fully developed woman frightens a yet to be developed girl.

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