Friday, May 13, 2022

Rebecca: Daphne du Maurier #DDMreadingweek

I read Rebecca in April for my Classics Club list and for the Back to the Classics Challenge and it was a great read. I wasn't sure how to classify this book as to genre. It could be called a mystery, or romance, or romantic suspense, or gothic mystery. Although I think many people consider this a romance, especially if they haven't read the book, at Goodreads the top genres it is categorized in by members are: Classics, Fiction, Mystery, and Gothic, with Romance a distant fifth. It is all of those things at times, and maybe that is why some readers don't care for it.

The heroine is very young (21), inexperienced, and naïve. She is alone in the world. As the novel begins she is in Monte Carlo working as a paid companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an overbearing American woman. When Mrs. Van Hopper becomes very ill and cannot leave the hotel room for more than a week, Maxim de Winter invites Rebecca to go with him driving around the countryside, and after several days of this she gradually falls in love with him. She knows that he is a widower and that his wife died a year ago, but only because Mrs. Van Hopper had told her that. 

Mrs. Van Hopper decides to return to the US, and Maxim proposes to our heroine. Quite quickly, she become Mrs. Maxim de Winter and after a protracted honeymoon in Italy, they go to Maxim's home, Manderley. From the moment she arrives, she feels like she is in competition with the memory of Maxim's first wife, Rebecca.

We never learn the narrator's name. If she is referred to in the book she is called Mrs. de Winter or the current Mrs. de Winter. The first Mrs. de Winter is usually referred to as Rebecca. 


There are some wonderful descriptive paragraphs, especially in the first chapter or two. The first line is very famous: 

I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

And later in the first chapter:

There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand. The terrace sloped to the lawns, and the lawns stretched to the sea, and turning I could see the sheet of silver placid under the moon, like a lake undisturbed by wind or storm. No waves would come to ruffle this dream water, and no bulk of cloud, wind-driven from the west, obscure the clarity of this pale sky. 

In Chapter 5, when the narrator is telling of the days in Monte Carlo:

I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word.

My thoughts

  • In addition to the main characters already noted, there are many interesting secondary characters. Some of them are: Mrs. Danvers, who adored Rebecca and intimidates the new Mrs. de Winter; Frank Crawley, the estate manager at Manderley, a kind and honorable man; and Beatrice Lacy, Maxim's sister, and her husband Giles. Also some of the servants at Manderley: Frith, the butler; Robert, a younger servant; and Clarice, the new Mrs. de Winter's maid.
  • I liked the structure of the book. At the beginning, the narrator is looking back on events earlier in her life, when she met Maxim de Winter, and their life at Manderley. At that point she is approaching middle age, and she and Maxim are traveling and staying in inexpensive hotels. We know that they have a life together and the story is about how they arrived at that point. 
  • I did not like it that we never learn the narrator's name, but it wasn't really a problem.
  • I wavered as to how much I liked the novel as I was reading it. I felt like I was reading the book for a second time, but it may just be that I remembered the story from watching the film adaptation (with Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine). Regardless, having some familiarity with parts of the story did affect my reading. I liked the writing throughout. I was tense while reading the middle section, filled with dread because I knew what was in store for Rebecca. Luckily, I had forgotten some aspects of the ending so that part was a surprise and I ended up loving the book. 

This edition includes excerpts from Daphne du Maurier's The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories: an author's note, an essay on the real house which the fictional Manderley was based on, and du Maurier's original epilogue to the book.

This review was written for the Daphne du Maurier Reading Week hosted at Heavenali's blog. Check out other posts related to du Maurier's books there.


Publisher:  Harper, 2006 (orig. pub. 1938)
Length:      386 pages
Format:      Trade paperback
Setting:      UK, Monaco
Genre:       Fiction, Classic
Source:      On my TBR pile, purchased in 2020.


Cath said...

I read this in my teens or early twenties and can hardly remember a thing about it, despite also having seen the film. I love your review so I think I will read it again at some stage but I want to read My Cousin Rachel before that. I also just bought a biography of DdM caled Manderley Forever by Tatiana de Rosnay, which I've seen recced a couple of times. Great review, Tracy!

pattinase (abbott) said...

I don't know why people insist on classifying it. My book group did too. It's just a great book regardless of classification. I guess the problem arises with librarians and book sellers who want to know where to place it. Place it with classics.

CLM said...

I wonder if reading this book as a teen when one can so vividly share every infatuated moment with the heroine makes a difference as to how much one loves the book?

I remember my mother describing the book to me many years ago but she revealed not so much the plot but the heroine's namelessness. Maxim says, "You have an unusual name," and she says, "My father was an unusual person," so I think we are meant to think he chose her name. But how clever to contrast her namelessness to the name Rebecca that is on everyone's lips but her husband's.

In the late 90s, someone in my book group in NYC said she had never read a gothic, so we decided to read this, although for most it was a reread. I remember this woman did not appreciate the book at all and we were annoyed. She kept saying, "Why doesn't wife 2 ask him if he is still in love with his wife?" and we explained that there would be no book, if so! You need to watch the movie again and notice the differences.

Mary R. said...

I really liked this novel (I read it a few years ago). I've read a couple of other Du Maurier novels --started them actually--and have not found them to be nearly as good as Rebecca.

TracyK said...

Cath, having read the additional information provided at the end of the book, I would be very interested in a biography of du Maurier. I will look into that too. In one of the pieces included she says she does not understand why people thought it was her best book.

Yesterday I purchased Jamaica Inn which I will read soonish, and also a book of her short stories.

neeru said...

Loved your review Tracy of a great favourite.

TracyK said...

Patti, I was looking for books by Lawrence Durrell and Daphne du Maurier yesterday at the bookstore and I was surprised that du Maurier's books were in Fiction, not under the classics section. I remember your comment earlier that members of your book club considered it a romance. I don't agree with that classification at all. So I usually stick with General Fiction if not Science Fiction, Fantasy or Mystery. It is a difficult topic.

TracyK said...

Constance, I also wondered how much difference it makes at what age you read this book. Although I think knowing that the narrator is telling the story as she approaches middle age also gives it more meaning.

The name thing mostly bothered me while trying to write a review, it wasn't a problem while reading. And du Maurier does explain her reason for that too (in the additional notes at the end).

One reviewer commented that they would have liked Maxim to be more understanding, etc. but they also noted that would take away the story. Such a complex story. I loved it.

TracyK said...

Mary, I plan to try more of du Maurier's books. I took a chance and bought Jamaica Inn without checking it out more, and I think I will like the short stories, but I will investigate her other books more before I try them.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Neeru. Sometimes I put off writing reviews of classic books and then later it is harder to form my thoughts on the book, but this one was fairly easy.

Lark said...

I read this book about six years ago, and I still remember it well. I like the way du Maurier writes. And I was rooting for Maxim and his new wife all the way through...though there were times I wanted to slap them for not talking to each other more. I tend to think of this one as a modern Gothic with a touch of romance. Great review!

TracyK said...

Thanks, Lark. The review was too long but I could have said more.

I agree with you on du Maurier's writing, which encourages me that I will like other books by her. And I was also put out with Maxim and his new wife for not communicating. They both had their reasons (or hangups) but still. For a long time I did not really understand what Gothic meant but I would definitely say it has the best elements of Gothic novels, and wasn't overly long.

Margot Kinberg said...

You make a very well-taken point, Tracy, that it's not easy to fit this one into a category. It is a mystery, but it's also a romance, a gothic novel, a..... Whatever else it is, I think it's very well written, and I've always respected the way du Maurier builds up atmosphere and tension in her writing.

TracyK said...

Margot, I don't really think of Rebecca as a mystery, but of course it is. With so many other elements that part doesn't seem as important. But then I don't see it as a romance, either, in the sense of most definitions I read of romance. I don't think I even mentioned this in my review, but it is also a coming of age story, and that maybe one of the parts I like the best.

Brooke Sill said...

This book is a YA Western. Rebecca lives on Sunnybrook Farm and the book is really a girl-and-horse story. She loves her horse, so I guess that could be “romance”. I read it when I was ten.

Katrina said...

I know that when I read Rebecca when I was about 13 or 14 I felt so close to the second Mrs de Winter and her lack of confidence. I've read people complaining that she is such a wimp, I think she was just a normal product of her times and circumstances. More modern women seem to despise Maxim, I just don't get that at all. Whatever category Rebecca comes under - it's a comfort read for me.

Rick Robinson said...

VERY nice review, Tracy! I vaguely remember a beautiful version broadcast on PBS decades ago, but very little about the plot. I have but have not read the book.

TracyK said...

Katrina, When I read a book I usually take the characters at face value. I just saw Maxim as naturally uncommunicative and preoccupied, although of course it was a bit more than that. And Rebecca's behavior was understandable to me because I was shy at that stage too. Except that she took Mrs. Danvers advice, which was weird. But in any case, I was glad that it gave me so much food for thought. I would definitely reread it but whether I will have the time for that, we will see.

TracyK said...

Thanks, Rick. I only know about the Hitchcock film, I did not know of any other versions. I will look into the one from PBS. There is a new one from 2020, but I don't know much about that one either. We will revisit the Hitchcock film soon I hope.

TracyK said...

Rick, I meant to tell you, I finished reading Justine by Lawrence Durrell and I did find a copy of Balthazar at the bookstore. So I have started reading that now. I suspect it will also take me a good while to read, some days I just can't find time to read at all, but I am enjoying the read so far.

Harvee said...

I like rereading Daphne DuMaurier books from time to time. She is a classic!

TracyK said...

Harvee, I recently bought Jamaica Inn and a book of stories by du Maurier. Another one I saw at the book store was The Scapegoat, which sounded very interesting, so I will try that one too. I am pretty sure I have not read any of her books except for Rebecca, so I need to remedy that.

Todd Mason said...

I have managed to not yet read REBECCA, which is odd since I'm a huge fan of her short fiction, and have been reading it at intervals throughout my literate life. Much prefer those I've read to the a/v versions (never more grossly so than with "The Birds"), so having seen and not yet REBECCA is odder still.

TracyK said...

Todd, if you ever do read Rebecca, I would like to know what you think of it.

My husband and I did not like the film of THE BIRDS, so for a long time we did not watch MARNIE. Then it turned out that we really like that film. I am planning to read some short stories by de Maurier soon, including "The Birds."

Rick Robinson said...

I love THE BIRDS, I’ve probably watched it six or seven times. Not sure how that connects to MARNE or REBECCA. (easily confused)

TracyK said...

Rick, I did sort of wander around there. The film THE BIRDS is based on a short story by du Maurier. When Glen and I watched the film, we did not care for it. Tippie Hedren also stars in another Hitchcock film, MARNIE, which we avoided for a while because we did not like THE BIRDS. So, tenuous connections.