3.26.2011

Daphne du Maurier's 'Rebecca'

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Despite being caught up in its spell, I wasn’t dreaming. I went again to Manderley, not in Hitchcock’s classic film, but, for the first time, in Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel.

Literature has given us many complex female characters – Blanche DuBois, Elizabeth Bennet, Scarlett O’Hara, Emma Bovary, Milly Theale. The reader is often outside the character, observing, examining, but in “Rebecca,” you are inside and at one with the female narrator.

I cannot give this woman a name, because Dame du Maurier said simply she "could not think of one to give her." She is known to readers (and movie buffs) worldwide only as “the second Mrs. de Winter.”

Movies have never been a substitute for the books on which they are based, but Hitchcock came close. In one very important aspect, he failed. It is only through the words of du Maurier that one learns the narrator’s most fearful antagonist is neither the inescapable presence of Rebecca (the first Mrs. de Winter) nor the demented obsession of the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. What most troubles our narrator, we find, is that she is a martyr to her own inferiority complex.

My Talking Books version is based on a special edition which features a wonderful Author’s Note and the original epilogue to the book.

At the time of Dame du Maurier’s death in 1989 at the age of 82, there were 3 million copies of her "unsurpassed masterpiece" in print, translated into 25 languages.

As she reveals in her “Author’s Note,” Dame du Maurier, upon finishing her novel, cleverly made changes. She added two vital characters. She moved the epilogue, rewritten, to the beginning of the story and rewrote the ending. She changed the master of Manderley’s name from the “too plain” Henry to Maximillian or Maxim. No spoiler to reveal that in the original epilogue Manderley eventually becomes a country club where the morning room is converted to a billiards room and “The Happy Valley” becomes a golf course. Those who have experienced “Rebecca” will know, then, how this must have altered the book’s concluding scene.

Those who have not read it are missing a Gothic mystery and romance which sweeps the reader along like “the salt wind from the sea.”

9 comments:

Bill Sumrall said...

When our library's classic book club announced "Rebecca" as a selection, I dug out an audiobook narrated by actress Jean Marsh of "Upstairs, Downstairs" fame, and it certainly proved a treat!
Like the unnamed narrator, experiencing "Rebecca" will haunt you. Highly recommended!

tnlib said...

I read "Rebecca" a thousand years ago - almost. Remember loving every word of it. I'd probably revisit it but I've found that all too often when I re-read a book decades later, it seems to have lost its appeal for me. So, I think I'll stick with the very good memories.

B.J. said...

Bill: Thanks for the backup rec of the book. I know you had said you lived it.

Tnlib: On the other hand, you’ve probably reached a level of sophistication where you can better appreciate the psychological makeup of the book’s characters. I don’t think you would regret reading it today.

Annelle said...

Like tnlib, I read "Rebecca" about 1000 years ago and loved it. I think I might revisit.

tnlib said...

Just put a hold on it at my local branch library. It might be a welcome relief. ; )

Frodo and the Crane family, said...

Not unlike Forrest Gump himself, Frodo enjoys friend Merry because "she is like a box of chocolates."

Remember "My Antonia?" After reading that, Frodo promised himself that for the remainder of his days he would do his level best to always fly over Nebraska, Oklahoma,and Kansas.

Lynn said...

Hi BJ,
I'm late responding to this very good account of this wonderful book. Like several others, I read it many years ago and loved it. It's so much fun to get caught up in a book and let it carry you along to other worlds, other times.
Lynn

B.J. said...

Lynn: I’m so happy when you comment! Right now I am caught up in Harry Potter and the world of Hogwarts – third reading! Never had so much fun in my life! Aside from the really chilling parts.

rohit said...

Must be an enjoyable read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.