By Daphne Du Maurier
My first foray into Daphne du Maurier’s writing was last year with The House on the Stand which I truly and utterly loved. I heard wonderful things about Rebecca and decided that it would be my second du Maurier book. I’m asking forgiveness up front for all the gushing that will now be hurled at you because I loved this book so very much.
Rebecca has been dead for months when Maxim de Winter meets his second wife in Monte Carlo. She’s training as a companion to a bitter, slightly haggard, older lady with no sense of class. When her companion comes down with the flu, she begins spending all her free time with Maxim. After a short and rather brusque courtship, she agrees to marry him and arrives at Manderely, his ancestral home in England, as the new Mrs. De Winter and is quickly overshadowed by the dead Rebecca. She is shy and makes constant mistakes attempting to live up to the standards of the dead Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers, a completely domineering housekeeper who is still loyal to Rebecca, scares her but only wanting to make her new husband happy, she listens to the advice of Mrs. Danvers to her own determent. Overwhelmed by her new life and the fancy dress ball she was talked into having to celebrate her new marriage, Mrs. De Winter dresses up as an ancestor of Maxim’s not knowing Rebecca also wore the same outfit at the last ball held at the hall before her death. Maxim barely recovers from the shock and smiles kindly through the whole evening but avoids his wife. Fearing she has ruined her marriage, Mrs. de Winter plays the part of happy wife until the morning when she can take no more and decides to confront her husband. Unfortunately, her plans change when a ship smashes into the rocks offshore from Manderley, and during the rescue, Rebecca’s small boat is found with a body inside. It is then she finds out the secret her husband has been hiding from everyone.
This story is told as a flashback with Mrs. de Winter looking back on, and almost bemoaning her short but very vivid life at Manderley. Mrs. de Winter and her husband are obviously living abroad and no longer at Manderly but her reminiscing makes it clear she misses the place and feels some remorse for not only her actions, and inactions as well, but also for the happiness she feels she and her husband could have had there. In many ways it’s sad: the missing of a home, of a life missed, of a life not lived, of a life wished for and cruelly taken away. Mrs. de Winter was not born to the life she married into. She had no money and no hopes for a life better than the odd one she seemed destined to live as a companion to older women. Becoming the wife of a powerful man is almost more than she can handle. With no experience with servants, money, or appearances she worries about embarrassing her husband, saying the wrong thing, and having him leave her. Their relationship is strange and strained. Maxim is standoffish and you are left wondering if he really does love his new wife or if he married simply to escape loneliness which is hinted at by Mrs. Danvers and feeds on the fears of the new Mrs. de Winter. When he finally opens up to her about his marriage to Rebecca you feel as though you understand what has made him they way he is. Unfortunately, his secret is not one most would live with and their relationship takes one more step into the almost absurd.
I loved delving into the marriage of these two strangers and their life. I was fascinated by the way du Maurier pulled me deeper and deeper into the psyche of Mrs. de Winter. For as a humble and shy as she was, she could also be strong (steadfast is probably better). She grows up suddenly in a span of 12 hours realizing the mistakes she made were out of fear and nothing more. Using that fear, she finds her voice only to be taken aback knowing she understands so little about the man she calls her husband.
Characters are my thing. (As a side note, the pacing is slow but the language is phenomenal and worth the build up. When all finally happens, you’ll be breathless. This is a psychological story rather than an action one.) The creation of Mrs. Danvers is a piece of art. Cruel, loyal, and belittling, she is a person not to mess with and you hate her and are just as scared of her as Mrs. de Winter. She appears out of nowhere, creeps down hallways, always dressed in black like a specter moving through Manderley. Amazing. I won’t say more; I don’t want to ruin her.
There is, I’m certain, much more to this book and in many ways when I read books such as this that are loved and well-known, I feel at odds. I can’t imagine I’ve added anything of interest to a topic I have come to late so I will end with this — if you can, read this book. You will be rewarded.