Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
If there was ever a book that gave me haunting dreams, it was Rebecca. Daphne du Maurier, echoing the style of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, has crafted a classic piece of gothic literature for the twentieth-century. Filled with beautiful prose, the reader is transported, to the woods filled with bluebells, to the stately house of Manderley, and to the rocky bay, fraught with dangerous memories. The reader is further drawn in, encouraged to place themselves in the heroines shoes, by the fact that Du Maurier never names her, speaking instead from the first person for the duration of the novel.
We first meet this unnamed heroine (UH) in the summery Monte Carlo, acting as a companion to a rather overbearing woman named Mrs Van Hopper. Mrs Van Hopper is a society magpie, quickly fluttering to the brightest sparkle in the room. It is not long before our magpie finds an attractive bauble in Mr. Maxim de Winter. Maxim, a wealthy landed gentleman from England, is relatively famous: he owns Manderley, a beautiful country house that is found on postcards and in picture collection. The death of his wife Rebecca in a sailing accident a year ago has made him a shadow of his former self and, with Mrs Van Hopper occupied by the flu, our UH is drawn to his mysterious and brooding ways. Quickly, she finds herself besotted by his similarities to the tragic heroes of gothic literature and his resemblance to brooding but handsome medieval portraiture.
At first, I felt rather hostile towards Maxim. He is rude, brooding, and while he may smile and laugh with UH on long drives through Monte Carlo, his reaction when he is about to be separated from UH is a bit over the top. He proposes…
Do you mean you want a secretary or something?
No, I’m asking you to marry me you little fool.
… and she accepts. As UH is (understandably) sick of acting as a companion, she readily goes to Manderley, even though she is aware that he asked her only to escape living alone in an empty house. However, Rebecca is just as formidable in death as she was in life. Her memory lingers everywhere and the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers is quick to endlessly compare UH to Rebecca and undermine and creep out our dear UH wherever she can. The tension increases when the boat in which Rebecca disappeared is finally found and an inquest is opened into her death. Will Rebecca haunt the couple forever? Will they ever truly be happy to love completely?
As a masterful piece of gothic literature, full of flawed characters and terrible pasts, I would recommend you read Rebecca. Du Maurier is a skillfull wordsmith and her prose flows, placing us in the shoes of an awkward, inexperienced woman who is thrown out of her depth into upper class society and a marriage with a man she barely knows. It’s a coming of age story, as UH learns to both stand up for herself and to defend the man she loves against all critics. And most of all, it is a story of lies and secrets, that threaten to destroy the very existence that UH has come to know. Read it by the fire, with a cup of tea, or reading on the train on the way to your really boring job that doesn’t have a brooding gothic gentleman just dying to whisk you away to his manor in the English countryside.
This review has also been published at The Forgotten Bookshelf!