What is astonishing is that at different stages of one’s life the same books retain the familiar feel and continue to unlock something new each read. I sometimes wonder what lies within these books that their memory lingers years after I read them. In fact, I have never really kept them aside, but carried them within me, and now given the slightest chance I read, re-read and write to share with you.
Today, I attempt to write about Rebacca by Daphne Du Maurier. An author knows her story best and Daphne Du Maurier claimed the tale wasn’t about love, but about jealousy.
The gothic genre of fiction is characterized by haunted castles, brooding heroes, trapped damsels in distress and foreboding shadows of death and dread. Rebecca could qualify as a quintessential gothic romance novel.
A young naive girl, after a whirlwind romance with a dignified rich handsome older man, returns to his home. She is the mistress of Manderly, the new Mrs De Winter. I say new, because there was an old Mrs De Winter. Maxim’s first wife, Rebecca. Our protagonist realizes early on that its easier to fight living rivals than deified memories of the dead. Rebecca may no longer be alive, but her presence is everywhere.
You would find this itself intriguing that the book is named after the wife that is dead and nowhere in the novel is the actual protagonist, the second wife and narrator of the story even named. She is no one. She finds herself inconsequential in front of the looming shadows of her nemesis.
“We’re not meant for happiness, you and I.”
Her husband who doted on her, when they met, only withdraws further into his shell on their return home. The intimidating housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, who is crazed in her love for Rebecca takes very opportunity to remind the new Mrs De Winter how she cannot hope to take the original beloved mistress’s place.
Underlying it all is Manderly. The house where the couple live. The author manages to breathe life into the sprawling mansion. The winding lanes, the rhododendrons, eerie hallways, the domestic staff, the west wing window that faces the sea.. Every nook and corner holds secrets and relics of Rebecca’s possession and habits. The pervasive oppressive air of the past only draws the protagonist further into gloom and uncertainty.
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again..”
How can she ever hope to replace Rebecca? The young bride imagines Rebecca to be an universally adored vision of grace and charm. Her feeling of disquiet only increases with time. There is one poignant scene when the phone rings in the morning room where Rebecca used to answer her mail (yes people wrote letters in olden days). The caller asks for Mrs De Winter. And the narrator, forgetting that she is the very same person only remembers Rebecca, her husband’s former wife as Mrs De Winter.
She is slowly losing herself. The past in winning. The story feels real because of fundamental conflicts faced by the heroine. Are we ever enough? Would anyone love us for who we are, when obviously there are hundreds of more perfect angels of beauty and elegance out there. The story tackles jealousy and insecurity. How it gnaws into you; the feeling of not ever measuring up to expectations. How lines between right and wrong always blur in love.
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.
Each passing minute convinces the nameless protagonist that she is simply an unwanted guest in Manderly. Her husband dwells on memories of his exquisite first wife and the people around would rather talk about the dead Mrs De Winter than talk to the alive new one.
The novel sucks you into the atmosphere of suspense. It is as if you are not merely reading the pages of the book. Instead you are taking a walk in the quiet summer evening, in the gardens of Manderly, where you peep in through the windows to hear voices rise, glass break, see candles flicker and fire erupt.
Does the nameless narrator find a happily ever after with the man who clearly is in the clutches of violent emotions he much rather hide?
To find out, you could even watch the delightful 1940 film by Alfred Hitchcock starring Joan Fontainne and Laurence Olivier. It is in black and white and quite long, but a beautiful rendition of the book with a few major changes of course.
Daphne Du Maurier has other lovely novels too.Her stories are rich with the flavor of the countryside, the allure of romance, endless possibilities and dark mysteries. If you enjoy period literature, but find Jane Austen a slow complicated read then this might be the author to pick. Two of my favourite Du Maurier novels are Frenchman’s Creek (keep your white lace handkerchief out for this one) and Jamaica Inn.
Pic Credit Google