Saturday, June 20, 2009 By: Suzanne

Audio: Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier

I have to admit that I never read Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier before. I wasn't even sure of the plot. How this happened is beyond me. You would think a book as well known as this with it's hooks in pop culture would have found it's way to me before this, but alas, it had not. I recently finished listening to it and was IMPRESSED. Now I get it! I understand why this book is so popular!

If you're anything like me, and do not know what this book is about, let me explain a little. Our never-named heroine is the companion to Mrs. Hopper, an older lady whom our heroine despises, and on vacation in Monte Carlo when she meets Maxim DeWinter. Maxim is recently a widower and obviously still worked up over his wife's death. There is not really a whirl-wind romance, as there is very little romance in it, but shortly afterward Maxim proposes to our heroine. The new Mrs. Winter returns with him to Manderly, the family estate that had been run by the previous Mrs. DeWinter: Rebecca. Rebecca is like a ghost haunting Manderly. Her touch is everywhere. The servants continue to run things as Rebecca did, especially Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers appears to feel a special dislike for the new Mrs. DeWinter, since Mrs. Danvers was very close to Rebecca, and she seems to be doing things just to make the new bride uncomfortable. Mrs. DeWinter is very young and easily intimidated. Along with her name, we are also not aware of her exact age, it seems to around 18-22 or so, though I would guess the younger end of that spectrum. As she tries to adjust to her new surroundings, she is constantly inundated with reminders of Rebecca, and inferences that she may not be good enough to fill her shoes. The more our heroine hears of Rebecca, the more it seems the beautiful ghost is everywhere. The final straw may be when she sees the old bedroom, which Mrs. Dancers continues to keep ready as if in wait for Rebecca's return.

First of all I was a little confused by the proposal. The proposal is closer to a business proposition than a marriage proposal but I have to remind myself that marrying for romantic reasons was only common in recent history. It may have been more common when Rebecca was written but it was still also fairly common to marry for economic reasons. What was ocnfusing about it is that Maxim doesn't seem to have any reason at all for marrying this girl. He doesn't appear to love her and she comes from unknown economic background.

Then, I was just plain annoyed with the fact that the poor girl has no name. I understand the reasoning for it. She feels insignificant and inferior to Rebecca. But there are times when it's just awkward for her not to have a name. Like when Maxim comments that her name is remarkable and odd. If we're not going to know it, then this comment is simply a distraction from the story. It brings too much attention to the fact that DuMaurier is not going to name her. I remember reading last year a book (unfortunately I don't remember the name of it) in which the heroine is never named, but it's so well written that you don't even notice! Bringing attention to it, as DuMaurier does, takes you out of the story.

I was also very irritated with how easily intimated and cow-towed she was throughout most of the book. I know that I might be a little intimidated if I came into that situation but I would stick up for myself. Even when I was 18 I would have stuck up for myself. It's not until the end of the book that she begins to "grow up" a little and grow a backbone.

In spite of all this I really did like the book. I kept waiting for the next shoe to drop, because I KNEW it would. I was not all that surprised when Maxim told his wife his big secret. I just knew something like that had to happen. I kept waiting for Mrs. Danvers to get what was coming to her. And I kept wondering, after all this, what would make them leave Manderly. If they could survive that, why would they ever leave? We know from the beginning of the book that something has happened to make them leave, as the first line (and most quoted) of the book is "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again." The description of her dream is so eerie and beautiful. It sets up DuMaurier's prose perfectly but it also perfectly sets up the constant question in your mind of, "What's going to happen?" I think what finally happens, is the real surprise of the book. Maxim's secret is nothing compared with this. The shocker of it is wonderful.

I think it may be the writing style that I loved so much. Would I have liked this book as much without it? Don't know. I like a good ghost story and I love the old gothic stories. Even though this was written in 1938, I kept having to remind myself when they said "car" they really meant car and not horse drawn carriage. It's just written that way. I kept picturing an older time.

If you have not read Rebecca but enjoyed Jane Eyre then you will love this book. In fact, my comparison is not the first. I came across an interesting tidbit while looking up the history of the book. Apperently there was a Brazillian author, Carolina Nabuco, that claimed DuMaurier stole the idea for Rebecca from her book, The Successor. From Wikipedia: Nina Auerbach alleged, in her book Daphne du Maurier, Haunted Heiress, that du Maurier read the Brazilian book when the first drafts were sent to be published in England and based her famous bestseller on it. According to Nabuco's autobiography, she refused to sign a contract brought to her by a United Artists' worker in which she agreed that the similarities between her book and the movie were mere coincidence. Du Maurier denied copying Nabuco's book, as did her publisher, claiming that the plot used in Rebecca was quite common. However, this plot was fairly common, including Jane Eyre, which was older than both books. It's amazing to me that people are so sensitive that they would see something similar and shout foul. I wonder if Nabuco ever considered the fact that her plot was so similar to Jane Eyre? Also from Wiki: Nabuco's A sucessora (The Successor) has a main plot similar to Rebecca, including a young woman marrying a widower and the strange presence of the first wife — plot features also shared with the far older Jane Eyre.

So, all this to say that even with the few quirks, I really enjoyed this novel and wish I had found it much sooner.


Anonymous said...

I listened to this book a few years ago and while I liked it, I did not love it. I see the comparison to Jane Eyre, but, for me, Jane was just so much better than Rebecca. And I also was struck by her not being named. Almost always this writing device just annoys me.
I'm glad you liked it - now you'll have to see the movie.

Rebecca :) said...

I have never read this one either. Kind of like Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms (which all adults seemed to want to call me as I was growing up) I neglected it because it had my name. Silly, yes. But have I gotten around to it yet? Nope. Maybe one day.

Anonymous said...

If you liked this, you should read The Etruscan