A Gothic Classic
Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is, undoubtedly, one of the most beloved and renowned titles in the history of published text. Published in 1938, du Maurier’s literary tour-de-force swept the world. It also never went out-of-print since then. It even inspired a movie adaptation in 1940 directed by no less than Alfred Hitchcock. The movie would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture.
Over the course of history, Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca withstood the challenges of time. Du Maurier wrote an enthralling tale set in idyllic Manderley which captured the imagination of many a reader. However, as picturesque as the estate is, the narrative starts in Monte Carlo where the main character and primary narrator is introduced as the companion of an odious rich American woman on holiday. The anonymous narrator, through social circles became acquainted with George Fortescue Maximilian “Maxim” de Winter, a wealthy Englishman whose wife passed away a couple of months before sojourning in Monte Carlo.
The dashing Maxim de Winter swept the impressionable young woman off her feet, sparking a whirlwind romance that inevitably ended in marriage. After their honeymoon, de Winter moved her young bride to his beautiful and expansive estate, Manderley. There, the young Mrs. De Winter met the estate’s housekeeping crew headed by the domineering and ominous Mrs. Danvers. As the second Mrs. de Winter tours around the mansion, she learns that it houses an unsettling and sinister presence. haunting its halls. With a rift developing between Mr. and Mrs. de Winter, the truth starts to unravel, inevitably altering the course of Manderley’s fate.
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.” ~ Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
Du Maurier’s magnum opus is a gothic tale that is wrapped in several layers, giving the narrative different textures and complexions. Portrayed in the opening chapters of the narrative is the first of these layers. Du Maurier flawlessly captured the foolishness as one experience first love, as the proverbial red carpet rolls out towards an opulent and promising future. With acuity and sharpness, du Maurier drew the seemingly endless moments under the sun; and of the moments when the squalls appear to dampen one’s high spirits.
After a whirlwind romance, the narrative’s centrifugal point started to shift. What was once a straightforward love story turned into a titanic struggle between two women for one man’s love and approval. With a compelling premise, du Maurier was cognizant that what is needed is a captivating arena. Inspired by Menabilly, a historic estate on the south coast of Cornwall, du Maurier painted Manderley, the iconic setting of an equally sensational tale.
With Manderley coming alive with du Maurier’s crafty prose, the ghost of a woman also rose the dead. The cavernous halls of the estate echoes with the ghost and the story of its former mistress, the first Mrs. de Winter, the wily and enchanting Rebecca. The eponymous Rebecca made Manderley an inanimate but critical factor in the development of the story. Manderley is imbued with enigma, a mystery in itself that the readers must also unlock.
Just like Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, one of the facets that characterized this Gothic tale is the intricate description and construction of Manderley, a magnificent old house. Du Maurier’s rich descriptions were precise and vivid. Before the reader’s eyes, she gave life to the entire estate – its long halls, its flashy boudoirs, its cavernous rooms, and its finely manicured lawns. Manderley was painted to be more than just a setting nor was it drawn to be a mere spectator -in its own right, it is a distinct albeit inanimate character that dictated and oversaw majority of the story’s flow.
“This house sheltered us, we spoke, we loved within those walls. That was yesterday. To-day we pass on, we see it no more, and we are different, changed in some infinitesimal way. We can never be quite the same again.” ~ Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
The narrative also drew force from another mystery – the enigma surrounding Rebecca’s circumstances. It is this mystery, further magnified by Mrs. Danver’s palpable disapproval of the second Mrs. de Winter, that propelled the second half of the story. As Rebecca’s presence in Manderley became more pronounced, the perplexing puzzles also started creeping in. Part-romance, part-mystery but all the way through Gothic, Rebecca is an exquisite fusion of various but distinct elements.
As the narrative sails forward, a new clarity begins to crystallize. As it condenses, it slowly alters one’s perspective of the entire narrative. With Manderley as a metaphorical arena, the two Mrs. de Winters battle not just for Maxim de Winter’s love; this is just a murmur on the surface. As one digs deeper into the narrative, the realization that the two Mrs. de Winters were battling for deeper motivations become clear. They were both fighting for life, power and liberty, giving the story yet another layer – a psychological overtone. This formed the primordial mantle upon which the rest of the tale was built on.
With various elements to worn on, it could be quite challenging to spin one cohesive tale that can enamor the readers, not just for the present but also for years to come. Daphne du Maurier proved that it is something that is manageable, as proven by the success of Rebecca. Its various elements were reinforced by du Maurier’s inimitable writing. Her writing also gave the narrative a personality of its own. Through her writing gave refined characteristics to the various characters, including Manderley. She painted an eerie setting, an unnerving tale, and a sinister crew of characters with masterful strokes. She further enhanced this landscape with a chilling ambiance and bleak atmosphere.
Rebecca is the quintessence of gothic literature. With too many elements finely done, , it took some time before its flaws start to surface – the development of characters. The second Mrs. de Winter is an insecure character who is also subservient to her ideas of romance and love. She is overshadowed by the long-dead Rebecca. She lacked personality and drive, Rebecca’s antithesis. The most lamentable link, however, is Maxim de Winter. His presence is barely perceptible, a caricature. Moreover, the couple’s decisions and motivations were questionable at times. The narrative’s conclusion leaves more questions asked rather than answered.
“We can never go back again, that much is certain. The past is still close to us. The things we have tried to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic – now mercifully stilled, thank God – might in some manner unforeseen become a living companion as it had before.” ~ Daphne du Maurier, Rebecca
The cultural and literary impact of Rebecca can never be downplayed. There is a reason why it is referred to as a classic, withstanding the various tests of time. It is not perfect, as most literary works are, but it is one of the finest displays of literature in general, not just in gothic literature. Daphne du Maurier’s sensational writing further solidified Rebecca’s stranglehold as a shining literary work. Rebecca is a story that reverberates and reverberate for years to come. It is an excellent literary piece that transcends time, a classic that is well-deserving of all the encomium that it has accumulated over the years.
Du Maurier’s writing transports the readers, making them exclaim, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
Characters (30%) – 25%
Plot (30%) – 30%
Writing (25%) – 25%
Overall Impact (15%) – 15%
There are just novels that you just know you’re going to like even though you barely have any iota on what those novels are about. Such is the case with Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. The title was more than enough to pique my interest. Yes, the novel had some flaws – I even predicted how the story is going to flow about a quarter into the story – but du Maurier had me at the start. The interesting premise, the aloof characters, and the eerie atmosphere that du Maurier employed all worked together to provide an enchanting reading experience. It is, without a doubt, one of my best reads of 2019.
Author: Daphne Du Maurier
Publisher: The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
Publishing Date: 1994
Number of Pages: 367
Genre: Gothic Fiction, Mystery Fiction, Romance
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again . . .
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. (Source: Goodreads)
About the Author
(Photo by Wikipedia) Daphne du Maurier was born on May 13, 1907 in London England, the middle daughter of prominent actor-manager Sir Gerard du Maurier and actress Muriel Beaumont. Her family’s various connections were instrumental in establishing du Maurier’s literary career.
The du Maurier sisters were primarily educated by governesses. Extremely close, they were bound by a world of imagination, stories and fantasies. Some of du Maurier’s early works were published in William Comyns Beaumont’s Bystander magazine. Beaumont was du Maurier’s mother’s maternal uncle. In 1931, du Maurier’s literary career formally commenced with the publication of The Loving Spirit.
Du Maurier’s most successful work was Rebecca, published in 1938. It was adapted in several screenplays and also won the US National Book Award for favorite novel of 1938. Some of her other works include The King’s General (1946), The Scapegoat (957) and The House on the Strand (1969). Her works were also adapted for the screen, including Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel. Du Maurier also wrote plays.
In 1969, du Maurier was elevated to the Order of the British Empire as Dame Commander. In 1932, she married Major (later Lieutenant-General) Frederick “Boy” Browning and they had three children. She passed away on April 19, 1989 in her Cornwall home.