Classics Challenge: Rebecca
Image from Little Brown
Although we knew that Daphne du Maurier was famous for writing haunting stories, many of which have been adapted into films including Alfred Hitchcock's adaptation of ‘The Birds’ and Nicolas Roeg's ‘Don't Look Now’, we hadn't read any of her novels before this challenge. We thought Rebecca, her bestselling novel first published in 1938, was the best place to start.
“Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind.”
For some reason I had thought that I was going to find Rebecca a difficult novel to read. How wrong I was! Once I had got into the story, I was totally hooked. It's one of the more modern novels in our challenge, one of which I'm surprised I never picked up in my teens, because I grew up only a few miles from ‘Jamaica Inn’ (the namesake of another of her novels) and was always aware of du Maurier. It's a shame really as teenage Nicola would have adored this book.
It's a little difficult to write a review of Rebecca, as I'd want for anyone who read it to know as little about the plot as possible. It's got reveals, twists and turns and great characters; all of which I'd love you to discover for yourself. I will say that I had the obvious misconception that this story would be narrated by Rebecca herself. It's not. In fact we never learn the name of the heroine of the book. She is a shy, self aware, incurable romantic and a complete over-analyser. So, obviously, I warmed to her immediately. She meets an older man and gets whisked away by not only him, but the idea of him and the idea of who she'll be with him. I think many of us dreamers will have met someone new and already lived an entire perfect lifetime with them in our heads before the relationship has really even started.
The characters in Rebecca are all very well-rounded considering you are introduced to so many of them. I loved the character and overwhelming presence of Rebecca, the malevolent Mrs Danvers and also how Manderley, the house which she comes to be the mistress of, is an important character all of its own. The plot and secrets of the characters unravel themselves beautifully. You may already know or guess the ending at some point in the book but I really don't think that takes away from the enjoyment of walking alongside the heroine as she begins to understand not only everyone around her, but also herself and who she is willing to become.
Turns out adult Nicola also adored this book and is already planning to find some special editions of it for her book collection. Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again...(4.5 / 5)
Ooh, this was a good one. My knowledge of Rebecca before this amounted to its super-famous first line and there being a character called Mrs Danvers in it (and I only knew this because it was the answer on a quiz show) but, to be honest, I'd never been tempted to read it. If you'd asked me beforehand my opinion of it would have been a resounding 'meh'. Who'd have guessed such a treasured title would turn out to be really good? It's almost like we're doing this challenge for a reason.
First of all, there's a lovely, languid style to the writing that I didn't expect and was pleasantly surprised by. Our narrator is also someone I found easy to connect with, a young dreamer who spends a lot of time in her mind (hello) caught up in what seems to be a fairytale narrative: downtrodden but kind-hearted young girl meets prince, gets married, and finds herself the lady of a magnificent castle with many nice flowers. So far, so familiar. But if du Maurier intends any Cinderella-type associations it's only to tease us; this is where the fairytale ends.
Ah, Rebecca. One of the most alive dead characters I've come across. She doesn't need to be in this story for it to be about her, the effect she had on the people she left behind is felt so strongly. You can't help but empathise with the new Mrs de Winter as her confidence drops and her mind fills with worries and assumptions built from the stories she hears of her husband's ex-wife. But in this case it can be justified because, whatever she does, she'll always be in Rebecca's formidable shadow. After all, we never even find out her first name.
At the end, Maxim insists repeatedly that Rebecca has won, and he's right. It's not by chance du Maurier named the book after her. Yes, Maxim and the new Mrs de Winter are together but their lives are tainted forever, haunted by the memories of what they've lost. Anyone reading this hoping for a nice, neat resolution is likely to be pretty disappointed. In du Maurier's world, fairytales don't have a happy ever after.(4 / 5)
Nicola read the Virago paperback, part of a set of three beautifully designed editions of Daphne du Maurier's novels, which you can buy here. Jo read possibly the most battered old hardback edition ever, found in a free book shop (yes, such wonders exist).
Missed our previous reviews? Catch up on our classics challenge so far.