Death Becomes Her; ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier [1938]

rddmAfter a not so noticeable hiatus, I have returned. My life plans unfolded recently so, I opted to take a break from writing for a week and try and catch up with everyone I have missed over the past two months. Welcome to the end of finance-Alice and to the beginning of writer-Alice.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was surprisingly addictive, for about two thirds of it anyway. It got to a point where I thought it might replace Parade’s End at the top of my reading hierarchy, but once I reached he climatic event my interest dropped. However, Rebecca is a must read, it is one fantastic novel.

With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew. For in every corner of every room were phantoms of a time dead but not forgotten a past devotedly preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers: a suite immaculate and untouched, clothing laid out and ready to be worn, but not by any of the great house’s current occupants. With an eerie presentiment of evil tightening her heart, the second Mrs. de Winter walked in the shadow of her mysterious predecessor, determined to uncover the darkest secrets and shattering truths about Maxim’s first wife the late and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca.Synopsis from GoodReads

Beware, there be spoilers ahead.

Our unnamed protagonist meets the mysterious Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo; he is escaping his first wife’s death and she is a companion to an elderly snob. He forms an attachment to her, but never allows his stoic mask slip as she falls in love with him. The protagonists anxiety, the intensity of her love for Maxim and the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy felt in comparison to Maxim’s first wife Rebecca is consuming. It was as if I were the protagonist, feeling her anxieties. Any insecure woman in a relationship with a man incapable of letting anyone in will find the emotions she expressed applicable, even beyond the time and setting of the novel. Maxim constantly implies, but never confirms his love for her; thus she is left to assume that everything she does lacks Rebecca’s flair.

The subject of identity is an interesting one; the protagonist is never named, where as in contrast the first Mrs de Winter is constantly referenced by hers. Rebecca is more than a person, she lives in the house, the furniture, the air and the people in and around Manderley; she devours after death as she did when alive. No one can function in Manderley without somehow being linked to, or part of, Rebecca; there is no respite from her presence and without the confidence to make her mark our protagonist allows Rebecca to consume her. She loses weight and colour from her skin, Rebecca is parasitic to her health. However, the impact Rebecca has is never actually due to her, the characters internalise rather than communicate, making everything worse than Rebecca intends. In not caring about her actions Rebecca wields greater control than those who worry about theirs.

This constant anxiety allowed for a strong empathetic link between myself and the protagonist, and once her stress was alleviated my attention wavered. When we discover who killed Rebecca the tension clears, the current Mr and Mrs de Winter finally admit to how they really feel; she her anxiety and he his guilt. The subsequent possibility of Maxim being punished is nothing compared to the previous anxiety, knowing Rebecca is not the saint she was portraying was the end of the novel for me.

It is not that the rest of the novel was bad, it was wondrously engaging; however, it just did not captivate me as it had before. Maxim de Winter loses his mysticism and allure, he becomes a pathetic and infuriating character. This revelation is necessary as it enables us to view the characters as flawed individuals and find aggravation in said flaws. Where their flaws before the revelation served to make them more interesting, once seen in context they facilitate us to asses them rationally. As the revelation of Rebecca’s true personality allowed the characters to see her rationally, their reaction to this news permits us to react in the same manner in regards to them; in destroying the perfection objectivity is restored.

Go forth and read, there will be no disappointment.

For further reading, check out Charli’s post on identity in Rebecca; a marvellously insightful piece.

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Charlie
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This is an excellent review, Alice, and, given my recent post, I love what you’ve said about identity. Lots I’d never thought of before. I like how you’ve accounted for your lack of interest later on, the reasoning. The book being so wrapped up in the character’s way of being that when everything changes, well, everything changes. I wasn’t keen on the same part, I thought the detective work moved too much away from what had made it so compelling. But still it is a very very good book. Re offline happenings, it sounds as though things are better?

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[…] has written a superb review of the book which looks at this issue, […]

elena
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I’ve always been intrigued by this book but never picked it up. I’m glad that it was engaging, even if it did lose some of its appeal towards the end. I really liked what you said about Rebecca being more than a person. Wonderful review!

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[…] Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier “Our unnamed protagonist meets the mysterious Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo; he is escaping his first wife’s death and she is a companion to an elderly snob. He forms an attachment to her, but never allows his stoic mask slip as she falls in love with him. The protagonists anxiety, the intensity of her love for Maxim and the overwhelming feeling of inadequacy felt in comparison to Maxim’s first wife Rebecca is consuming. It was as if I were the protagonist, feeling her anxieties. Any insecure woman in a relationship with a man… Read more »

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[…] Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – Finished reading 19.02.13 […]

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[…] Rebecca by  Daphne du Maurier I fell so far into this book I felt the anxiety of the protagonist, du Maurier’s writing being that powerful. “I was to marry the man I loved. I was to be Mrs de Winter. It was foolish to go on having that pain in the pit of my stomach when I was so happy. Nerves of Course.” […]