Author: Daphne du Maurier
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publish Date: December 17th, 2013
Genres: Classic, Fiction
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.
Summer is finally underway, and another year of high school is behind me. Of course that equates to summer reading! My reading list for my British Literature course next year is rather lengthy, so I’ve decided to get a head start on my summer reading books this year. I chose to read Rebecca first, simply because it was the shortest of the required novels at 448 pages. In all honesty, I was expecting to finish the novel in a matter of days, but had not taken into account the description laden, gothic style. Therefore, I spent slightly more than a week immersed in the book.
Rebecca centers around Maxim de Winter and his late wife, appropriately by the name Rebecca. The de Winters were the ideal couple, internationally acclaimed and admired by family and friends alike. Their prestigious estate at Manderely was famous for its magnificent array of flowers and role as the center of social life in southern England. Upon Rebecca’s death during a freak sailing accident, Maxim flees Manderley, overwhelmed by a combination of grief and guilt.
While temporarily stopping in Monte Carlo, Maxim meets and falls in love with the female protagonist, who remains nameless for the entire novel. Maxim finally returns to Manderley with the heroine at his side, replacing Rebecca as his wife and a figure of authority within the household. The protagonist is inundated by constant, inescapable reminders of Rebecca. She is determined to uncover the true mystery surrounding Rebecca’s death, but is in no way prepared for the information she discovers.
Rebecca is considered a gothic novel, incorporating elaborate descriptions and placing particular emphasis on the weather. As the novel unfolds, readers recognize that the weather foreshadows the events to come. The descriptions of impending thunderstorms became a bit tiring by the ninth or tenth storm. However, I must applaud Daphne du Maurier for her original, creative approaches to portraying dark, gray clouds looming overhead. I did not enjoy the obvious imbalance between dialogue and description. Excessive description, in any book, causes my attention to quickly dwindle, as was the case throughout Rebecca.
The mysterious and suspenseful mood are also characteristic of gothic literature, playing a large role in Rebecca. Manderley establishes an air of mystery and uncertainty, creating an eerie atmosphere for the novel to take place. As the plot unfolds, readers can begin to piece together various clues and glean what information they can. However, as soon as readers believed they have grasped some small portion of the mystery, their theories are proven wrong in an upcoming scene. Du Maurier keeps readers on their toes, establishing an elaborate series of unforeseen twists and turns.
Also significantly contributing to the mood were the grim characters, especially that of Mrs. Danvers. Mrs. Danvers was responsible for orchestrating and managing the servants and necessary household tasks at Manderley. Minimal information is revealed about Mrs. Danvers, above and beyond her strong relationship with Rebecca, which is evident through her cold, haughty attitude toward the female protagonist. Her character’s frequent, and often unannounced, comings and goings send chills up readers’ spines, leaving them wearily looking over their shoulders.
While Rebecca had several redeeming qualities, I found the book overall to be a bit tedious. The majority of the extensive narrative seemed like filler, and I ended up skimming entire pages of elaborate descriptions. I typically don’t mind a slowly-unfolding mystery, but this book was missing the final, mind-numbing plot twist that I search for in mysteries such as this. Additionally, there was minimal characterization present – the protagonist, for example, is never even named. She remains a bit of a doormat throughout the entire book, simply observing and never intervening, reminding me of Judith O’Dea in Night of the Living Dead. The story wouldn’t have drastically changed had she sat wordlessly on a couch for the entire novel. All in all, I wasn’t able to connect with any of the characters and was secretly hoping that a few of them would just happen to be dragged out to sea (I can guarantee that there would have been no tears shed).
Taking into account the considerable hype surrounding this book, I was sorely disappointed. This was my first du Maurier, and I went into the book with very high expectations. I disliked the novel due to a combination of the ornate writing style and the frustrating characters. Even after seeing the Alfred Hitchcock movie adaptation, I wasn’t impressed. Granted, I fell asleep 20 minutes into the movie, but that shows how invested I was in the storyline. The mediocre beginning left me anticipating a dramatic climax, which never arrived, leaving me wanting something more. While I didn’t enjoy Rebecca as much as I would have liked, I’m glad that I decided to give it a chance.
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