Rebecca is not the easiest of novels to get into. Opening with a dream scene with heavy descriptive prose in this day and age can be a bit of a chore, but once you get into maybe chapter 3, after all that depressing looking back at Manderley, it’s really worth the effort.
Du Maurier sets the scene. Here is a couple who once lived in a beautiful grand house in Cornwall – we assume it’s Cornwall – the house – Manderlay is no more. They live a tedious mundane life in hotels where she – the heroine is never named – is completely subsumed by her husband. Choosing what she reads with care lest she upsets him.
How did they get there? It is with this impending sense of doom that we then get into the novel proper. Du Maurier completely gets suspense. It is oppressive in this book – you know where the heroine is heading.
The heroine – only known as Mrs de Winter is the second wife of Maxim. His first wife, Rebecca, has died tragically at sea. Her maid/housekeeper/friend Mrs Danvers lives to keep her memory alive.
Rebecca is the polar opposite of the new Mrs de Winter. She is outrageous, flamboyant, extroverted and independent. Our heroine is timid, conventional, submissive, and mousy.
Apparently the two Mrs de Winters are like the two sides of Daphne Du Maurier in real life. Interesting.
As I said, once you get past the first couple of chapters it really is a good read and from the Fancy Dress Ball – unputdownable. So much for my early night last night.
What is intriguing to me is how powerful the Mrs Danvers character is – despite her relatively minor role she is the one I remember from reading this book twenty years ago. And how much I was prepared to forgive Maxim.
Maybe I am more like the new Mrs de Winter than I would like to think?