The final book in our gothic story review is the classic Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. One of the best selling novels of all time it is held as an epitome of the modern gothic story telling genre. High schools across the country have it as one of their Summer Reading titles.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…
So begins the tale related to us by the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter. Married to a man she hardly knows she is swept back to his family home off the windswept Cornish coast. All parts of the home are open to the new bride save for the west wing and when she explores these rooms she finds out why. They contain the rooms of the first Mrs. de Winter, the stunning Rebecca who is dead but not forgotten. Her rooms never touched since her death, all maintained by her servant the mysterious Mrs. Danvers. With a strong feeling of dread, the young woman begins to wonder and searches for the real fate of Rebecca and the secrets contained in Manderley.
Rebecca is a well written novel and I can see why it is loved by so many. I can also see why it’s required reading for many schools as it’s prolific use of prose to convey scenes and emotion are truly second to none. Long descriptive paragraphs transport the reader to the rocky shores of Manderley. Well thought out words and phrases convey a sense of dread in some scenes with a sense of elation in others.
With that being said, for every thing that I enjoyed about this book, there was something that irritated me. First of all, our protagonist is never given a proper name. Throughout the book she’s either referred to as ‘dear’, ‘darling, ‘Mrs. de Winter’, etc. This isn’t a big thing as the book is told from her point of view, but for me I found it a bit aggravating. For my own sake, in my head I called her ‘Elizabeth’. Secondly, I found Maxim de Winter to be very much of an asshole. A true product of his time (1938), at times he coddles his wife treating her like an infant and other times he is cold and almost unfeeling.
Their relationship isn’t much better, in my opinion. Mrs. de Winter’s happiness throughout the book hinges on others – her employer Mrs. Van Hopper in the beginning then later Maxim de Winter and even Mrs. Danvers. When any of them become angry or upset she blames herself thinking it is something she must have done or said. She plays the part of martyr. Even later on in the book when the truth about Rebecca is revealed and our narrator is said to be ‘reborn’, I still found her very wishy-washy.
Now bear in mind, dear Reader, I am a modern woman looking back at a woman in a book that is over 80 years old. Women and men of that time were very different, which is something I know this book reflects. So take my thoughts for a grain (or a whole pile) of salt.
Despite my disagreements with the characters, on the whole, Rebecca is a good book. It evokes the gothic senses with its dark brooding homes and equally dark and brooding characters. The mystery of what truly happened remains until the final pages, keeping the reader guessing to the truth up to the end.
Did I enjoy reading Rebecca? Yes, I did. Would I read it again? Probably not.