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[226] Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca

“I knew then that I was no longer afraid of Rebecca. I did not hate her anymore. Now that I knew her to have been evil and vicious and rotten I did not hate her any more. She could not hurt me. I could go to the morning-room and sit down at her desk and touch her pen and look at her writing on the pigeon-holes, and I should not mind. I could go to her room in the west wing, stand by the window even as I had done this morning, and I should not be afraid.” [289]

Other than the eerily surreal landscape of the isolated gray stone mansion whose atmosphere is charged with the memory of the late Rebecca du Winter, Rebecca is not so much a ghost story as a literary thriller. Daphne Du Maurier ushers readers into the nightmare of Mrs. du Winter, successor of Rebecca, who recalls the events that uncover the darkest secrets and truths about Rebecca’s death. The novel opens at a vacation resort in Monte Carlo, where the morose Maxim de Winter meets the young woman who will become his second wife. The couple’s happiness seems to exhaust after their honeymoon in Venice, as Maxim brings his young bride back to Manderley, where in every corner in every room are vestiges and testimonies of a time dead but not forgotten.

Fuels the mystery of Rebecca, whom everyone—from Maxim’s friends, social elites, to house servants—describe as beautiful, talented, is a past so devotedly and punctiliously preserved by the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. A motherly figure to her former mistress, Mrs. Danvers keeps Rebecca’s suite immaculate and untouched since she was drowned a year ago. She treats the new Mrs. du Winter like an intruder, with an undercurrent of resentment. As the new Mrs. du Winter strives to expunge the past that is redolent of Rebecca, Maxim is trapped in it that a barrier exists between them. Her meager knowledge of her husband and Maxim’s paranoia transpire into a tension that separates them. Whereas the tension roots in Maxim’s lack of tenderness for her, Maxim’s own suffering is that of his soul, the scruple. Through the servants’ devotion, Maxim’s suffering, and the new Mrs. du Winter’s fear, Rebecca is made alive.

The fact is that empty house got on his nerves to such an extent he nearly went off his head. He admitted as much before you came into the room. He just can’t go on living there alone . . . [61]

Little things, meaningless and stupid in themselves, but they were there for me to see, for me to hear, for me to feel. Dear God, I did not want to think about Rebecca. [140]

As the events that lead to the resolution takes its ominous course with much twist and turns, Du Maurier masters one surprise after another before letting on the truth. The surreal setting and the presentiment of Rebecca’s possible appearance at the beginning of the novel somehow gives the impression that the newly-wed couple would perish at the evil power of the dead. But Rebecca asserts more than just a suspense thriller. The novel explores the meaning of love and the extent of mutual understanding in a relationship. Beneath the mystery of the death are deeper faults that are all too human: pride, vanity, and self-absorption.

Her shadow between us all the time . . . I remembered her eyes as she looked at me before she died. I remembered that slow treacherous smile. She knew this would happen even then. She knew she would win in the end. [270]

386 pp. [Read/Skim/Toss]

47 Responses

  1. I’ve never read any literary thrillers before, your description of it reminds me of Jane Eyre for some reason (maybe the supernatural element?) Sounds fascinating though.

  2. Very interesting to read your thoughts. You might enjoy seeing the classic Hitchcock movie which hews quite close to the book and certainly catches the mood. Dame Judith Anderson plays Mrs. Danvers. Laurence Olivier plays De Winter. It’s shot in a moody, rich black and white very much in the Film Noir mode. There’s also quite an excellent BBC adaptation in which Mrs. D. is brilliantly played by the formidable Dame Diana Rigg.

  3. I’m so glad that you enjoyed this book, I get something new from it every time I read it! You should try and see the Hitchcock film, the actress who plays Mrs Danvers is perfect in the role, very scary!

  4. I’ve heard many a person say this is among their favorites of all time. I have it sitting on my shelf, elbowing about a dozen other books for the opportunity to be included in the RIP Reading Challenge. Which one to pick!!! I have such troubles!

  5. When my book club read this last year, we devoted one meeting to the discussion and watched the Hitchcock film the following month. It was a huge success! We’re trying to come up with another book/movie combination of this quality. Another great review, Matt!

  6. Eek! The spoilers in the first paragraph are very spoilery!

    I love this book – so much suspense!

  7. Excellent assessment. Your review brought the book right back to me, and it’s been decades since I last read it.

  8. I saw this movie before I read the book. I fell in love with the story and it’s one of the few instances where I love both the movie and the book equally. Have you read any of her other novels? I’ve also read Frenchman’s Creek and My Cousin Rachel. I really enjoyed them both, but My Cousin Rachel is closer to Rebecca in tone and subject matter.

  9. I LOVE this book. I was never much of a reader throughout elementary school, which worried my parents a great deal. In junior high, my mother took me to the library, pulled two of du Maurier’s books, Rebecca and Jamaica Inn, off the shelf and put them in my hands. “You will read these and you will like them,” she declared. I know, a little weird. But, I read them and couldn’t put them down. The suspense, the darkness, the atmosphere du Maurier created in her stories was wonderful. And hey, I started reading more for pleasure after that!

    Also, I totally agree with Greg S. The Hitchcock adaptation is outstanding.

  10. Fantastic review, Matt! I read this one years ago and although I’m not much of a re-reader I wouldn’t mind checking it out again. I have now realized that Daphne Du Maurier wrote quite a few books so I’d definitely like to check more of them out.

  11. What a beautifully written review! It’s been ages since I read Rebecca, but your review made me want to reread it.

    Greetings,
    Tiina

  12. Excellent review! It’s been so many years since I read Rebecca. I have to second the opinion that I would re-read the book. It’s timeless.

  13. This is one of the blanks in my reading resume. I have wanted to read it for many years and have never found the time to pick it up. Thank you so much for the review and the much needed kick in the pants. I’m going out and getting this today.

  14. I am sooo sooo sooo pleased that you enjoyed this, its one of my all time favourites and I recommend it to everyone and then wait with fear to see if they love it or not! Fab review.

  15. Brilliant review! I’m so glad you enjoyed the book. Your review makes me want to read the book yet again and look for more layers of meaning that I might have missed my first few times reading it.

  16. Great review! One of my favorite books…and authors. The movie with Fontaine and Olivier was excellent as well.

  17. I read this book only this year and really enjoyed it. The tense psychological atmosphere combined with the beautiful and mysterious Manderley surroundings is bewitching. Your review is enjoyable but I agree with one of the commenters that your spoilers may be too obvious. It was also interesting to see how you unconsciously confused the ‘de’ of the de Winters with the ‘du’ of the du Maurier! hehe 🙂

  18. Elena:
    Rebecca is so suspenseful and the writing is so literary that you can forget hat it’s quasi ghost story.

  19. Greg S:
    Oh…I’ve got a huge backlog of movie tie-in and Rebecca is at the top of the list. Another one would be The Woman in hite, which I’m reading at the moment.

  20. dotscribbles:
    I will look for the film for sure. The book doesn’t spook me as much as i expect it to be. But Mrs. Danvers impresses me as a shady character until the very end. 🙂

  21. Sandy:
    All I have to say is you won;t be disappointed by this one. It’s engaging from the very beginning and meanders through many surprises and twists. It’s truly a literary and mystery treat!

  22. JoAnn:
    The book would go down as one of the most memorable in my reading history. I still can’t get over the truth of Rebecca’s death, which I completely didn’t see coming. I have to watch the film now. 🙂

  23. Jenny:
    I try not to be so suggestive with the quote….but I guess I failed!

  24. Beth F:
    You’re right that this book will stay with me for a long time. It’s going to the re-read pile! 🙂

  25. Literate Housewife:
    I actually bought My Cousin Rachel shortly after I acquired Rebecca, which I have held back from reading since the beginning of summer. Then recently I got the short story collection called Don’t Look Back. Now I’m really looking forward to My Cousin Rachel. 🙂

  26. mari:
    I’m with you on how adroitly du Maurier creates the environment that is conducive to the psychological and surreal nature of her story. In Rebecca, the ghost of Rebecca, which I expect, never appears, but it’s spooky all the same.

  27. iliana:
    I am going to re-read Rebecca. Now that I have read it and love it, I’m going to move My Cousin Rachel up to the top of the pile! 🙂

  28. Tiina:
    Thanks so much. I will re-read rebecca as well. 🙂

  29. OneLibrarian:
    I think readers from the century all feel the same way you do. It’s just timeless…would love to re-read and re-live that sense of thrill.

  30. Ryan:
    The book certainly lives up to all its hype and praises. 🙂

  31. savidgereads:
    I cannot believe why I haven’t read Rebecca sooner! It’s everything I look for in a book: engaging plot, great writing, psycholgical thriller, and so many surprises and twists. Wow!

  32. Kathleen:
    Throughout the reading, I asked what actually spook the new Mrs. du Winter and Maxim. It’s not the allusion of Rebecca’s ghost that scares them but the psychological factors.

  33. Michelle Miller:
    I cannot wait to see the movie! 🙂

  34. Rhodora Online:
    Oh I’m so sorry about the quote. I hope that the quote is well into the end of the book would not be too revealing. 🙂

  35. At 40 I’m pretty ashamed to admit in writing that I’ve never read this book!!! I loved your review of this one so much that I’m going to hunt down a copy on ABE books for sure!!

  36. Staci:
    I have only discovered Rebecca myself recently. I’ve been in a mood for suspenseful, literary thrillers.

  37. I am really looking forward t reading this. My sister read it in high school, and she loved it. Still, I have heard that it’s pretty hit or miss for most reader. I’m glad that it was a hit for you. I’m hoping it will be the same for me.

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