Posted on | October 7, 2009 | 43 Comments
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me.
So opens Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, and it’s an opening line that piques the reader’s curiosity. Also, it seems to be a retrospective metaphor for the narrator’s, a young girl who remains nameless, life at Manderley.
The late Mrs. Rebecca de Winter, the lady of Manderley, the wife of Maxim de Winter, the attractive tall dark-haired woman, who was politically correct and loved by one and all for her social graces, and her “breeding”, inspired the title of this classic. But, she’s not the narrator. In fact, the narrator is the “other woman”, the new Mrs. de Winter, the new lady of Manderley, a young girl of low social standing, who is also socially awkward and shy.
Maxim de Winter meets the narrator in a hotel at Monte Carlo, while she’s a companion to a rich and pretentious woman. While the woman tries her level best to charm Maxim, he is quite taken by the young narrator, and when the old lady falls ill and hires a nurse, Maxim spends a lot of time with the “companion”, and they both find that they enjoy each other’s company, despite the massive age difference. He never talks of Rebecca, and she never asks. She’s heard the gossip about the lady of Manderley, a Manor house in Cornwall, drowning in a sailing accident, and Maxim’s immediate breakdown.
When her employer decides to cut short the holiday, she runs to Maxim, who proposes marriage: she can be a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, or she can marry him and be the lady of Manderley! She happily agrees to the latter, ignoring the fact that Maxim has never said anything about love. In fact, Mrs. Van Hopper, who the narrator has nothing but contempt for, offers the young girl a final piece of advice:
“Of course,” she said, “you know why he is marrying you, don’t you? You haven’t flattered yourself he’s in love with you?
But, the couple get married, honeymoon in Italy, and then head to the wonder that is Manderley.
Yes, there it was, the Manderley I had expected, the Manderley of my picture post-card long ago. A thing of grace and beauty, exquisite and faultless, lovelier even than I had ever dreamed, built in its hollow of smooth grassland, and mossy lawns, the terraces sloping to the gardens, and the gardens to the sea.
However, the happiness and wonder of the honeymoon ends right there, as the narrator meets the staff, who expect someone from a high social class – someone similar to Rebecca. The scornful Mrs. Danvers, who runs the household, treats the narrator with utter contempt, for, how can someone like her replace the Rebecca that Mrs. Danvers was devoted to? Her social awkwardness, her insecurities, and her mannerisms brings out the worst in Mrs. Danvers, who is excessively hostile, seemingly focusing on making the narrator’s life uneasy…
How much more uneasy can you make someone who is haunted by her husband’s dead wife’s ghost, that she can almost see Rebecca, hear the conversations Rebecca has with the staff, with Maxim? How can she escape the past, and try out a hand at being the Lady of Manderley, when everything that she wants to do has already been done – be it cutting the flowers, or placing them neatly in a vase, for decorative purposes; be it sitting at the desk in the morning room, or going for walks with the cocker spaniel, Jasper? And, how can she compare to the beauty that was Rebecca when Maxim’s own sister told her that she was nothing like Rebecca?! And, is Maxim still in love with his wife who hasn’t even been dead a year?
Just as the reader comes to grip with the story line, the plot twists, and the reader (or me, at least) can’t help but continuously flip the pages, and beg for more – to find out more about Rebecca; to find out more about Mrs. Danvers; and most importantly, to find out more about Maxim. The twists keeps the book interesting and gripping, and one can’t help be amazed by how things pan out.
I loved the book to bits. I really did. In fact, I was due an early night yesterday, but I was up ’til the wee hours of the morning finishing this classic. The prose is descriptive and beautiful, and the story incredible. Manderley sounds heavenly, and I’ve spent most of my day trying to imagine what Manderley would look like, based on du Maurier’s vivid descriptions. Wild flowers, gardens, the sea, the library, the “west wing”, the “east wing”, the works, really!
However, I did find that the narrator’s character one-dimensional, and I don’t think I really understood her. Maybe it’s the times (the book was written in the 1930s), but, I can’t help but wonder what can prompt a young girl to marry someone her father’s age? Is it just the thought that there’s someone out there who loves her, for she did delude herself into thinking Maxim had asked her to marry him because of love? And how can someone be so forgiving, and turn a blind eye to all their lover’s flaws?
Have you read Rebecca? Or, any other DDM? What did you think of it? Would you love to live in a place like Manderley? Or, is it just not for you?
PS: Thanks to Sandy from You’ve Gotta Read This for hosting the read-along. I’m running way ahead of schedule (it was meant to be 16 chapters by the 8th, and the rest of the book by the 15th), but I just couldn’t stop reading! Blame du Maurier and Rebecca, not me!