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Book Review: Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca Daphne Du Maurier

INTRODUCTION

Daphne Du Maurier, an author and a playwright oft is classified as a romantic novelist whose stories and novels are generally described as ‘moody and resonant’, with a few overtones of paranormal in them. Many of her novels have been adopted into films, Rebecca being one of them. The novel starts off with the words: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”. These lines are highly symbolical as they hold somewhat the crux of the story and set a scene in which a mere dream becomes a nightmare. The novel is perfectly set in the town of Monte Carlo and at the fictional house of Maxim De Winter – Manderley, Cornwall. As the novel progresses, we gradually come face-to-face with every character in the story however we are blindfolded from the very identity of the narrator. A woman, a man, another woman’s shadow; a landscape, a house, and a hidden history. These six elements provide evidence of the raw gothic elements present in the novel while Du Maurier simplifies and organizes these six elements, refining the narrative, concentrating the mythic, and enriching the ambiguity of her very own tale.

THEMES

LOVE: the novel constantly lays out incidences where elements of ‘love’ are the most visible. For instance, when Maxim proposes marriage to the narrator, the narrator at first seems quite uncertain yet propounded with joy and upon being asked again, she responds by saying “oh Maxim! I love you the most dreadfully…”. There is a scene where the narrator and Maxim have reached Manderley and go about to have a walk in the woods by the sea shore. Jasper, Maxim’s dog runs off to a desolated cottage by the shore while the narrator refusing the constant denial of Maxim runs off after him. Upon her return, Maxim infuriates at the mere sight of the cottage and commands the narrator never to remind him of his past or never to go near the cottage as it held very sharp memories for him. The narrator being a very sensitive character starts crying and pleads Maxim to calm down, while yet again confessing her love and maxim responding as “Do you? Do you?”. We see clear feelings of love from the narrator’s side, however it is uncertain until very late in the story about Maxim’s feelings towards the narrator. He finally confesses his love to the narrator after the narrator accepts the truth of Maxim murdering his ex-wife Rebecca.

PARANOIA

Rebecca’ the name itself reeks of poignant lurking of the dead. The narrator describes in detail how from the moment she entered Manderley, can smell, feel, and sense the presence of Rebecca even after she’s dead. MS. Danvers makes sure of the constant remembrance of Rebecca and makes it almost impossible for the narrator to live in love and peace. “Rebecca, always Rebecca. I should never be rid of Rebecca”, laments the narrator, the shy, gauche little creature who is repeatedly overshadowed by her glorious, poisonous and the ever so vibrant predecessor. Rebecca’s presence is not so easily extinguished in the novel, as the narrator thought once while she tore and burned a piece of paper that had a capital R on it, symbolising Rebecca De Winter. She finds it hard to get rid of the ever-so-present-yet-dead Rebecca, believing in the philosophy of ‘its hard to compete with a dead wife’.

OBSESSION

MS. Danvers is the first name that comes to our minds when speaking of obsession. MS. Danvers is a character much obsessed with the idea of Rebecca so much so that she preserves every little article that Rebecca used as though she were yet alive and living. Manderley gives off vibes of a haunted house even when its not because of this very reason, one of the most striking features about Rebecca is that it reeks of a haunted house/paranormal story, by without in fact actually being one. Rebecca never returns back to life or appears as a ghost during the whole course of the novel; but the ghost of Rebecca is created in the minds of the living people who are apparently obsessed with her very existence and her prominent death, MS. Danvers being the most prominent one. There are instances in the novel where MS. Danvers is seen at the climax of her obsession: she sees the narrator eyeing the room of the late Rebecca and insists that she should see the room from inside. She refers to the room as the ‘most beautiful room in Manderley’ and upon seeing the room the narrator notices how untouched yet clean the things were, from the hair brush to the linens, everything was at its place as it must have been while she was alive. MS. Danvers then makes the narrator feel the softness of the cashmere coat and fur, she makes the narrator slide her hands in one of the shoes that Rebecca once wore, she exceeds her limit by making the narrator feel the lingerie of Rebecca stating how beautiful her body was and how silky her skin felt. She was obsessed with Rebecca even to an extent that she made suicide a suitable option for the narrator as she influenced her that Maxim didn’t love her and wanted to be alone with the thoughts of Rebecca. “The fall would break my neck. It would not be slow, like drowning. It would soon be over. And Maxim did not love me. Maxim wanted to be alone again, with Rebecca.”

DEATH

death proves to be one of the most dominant themes in Rebecca. The main characters in Rebecca are all either dead or are surreally close to death. In fact, the title character, Rebecca, she herself is dead before the story even begins. Sure, there’s murder involved (Maxim De Winter killed his wife, after all), but death by natural causes is also a tremendously important factor: Rebecca was terminally ill with cancer at the time when she died. The dialogue “I’m afraid you have made a mistake,” I said; “Mrs. de Winter has been dead for over a year” seems morbidly hilarious as the narrator doesn’t recognise that MS. Danvers was referring to her on the phone, and she thinks the phone call was for Rebecca.

SOCIETY AND CLASS

the novel starts off by portraying the narrator as a paid-companion which is generally considered as a low-grade job, but she soon finds herself getting married to Maxim De Winter and becoming the lady of the house – Manderley. The class distinction is quite evident in the novel as the narrator is perched between the classes and struggles to behave in the manner any elite women would. When she becomes the oh-so-wealthy-mistress of the mansion Manderley, she’s very much worried about what both the servants and her newly acquainted peers might think of her. “I’m afraid that would not do for very long,” she said; “it’s usual, you know, for ladies in your position to have a personal maid.” These dialogues are spoken by MS. Danvers hinting that since the narrator is now belonging to a high class, she might as well get herself a parlour maid who does her work for her.

GENDER

Boys will be boys. And girls shall definitely remain as girls. In Rebecca, both men and women are shown as somewhat constricted by the gender roles that the society cordially expects. Women seem to have an extremely limited number of acceptable activities and employment opportunities. Educational opportunities as a matter of fact, aren’t even mentioned in the novel. This isn’t even to mention the pressure the society puts on married women to produce a male heir which is again a patriarchal issue. Daphne du Maurier does not neglect the male perspective either and explains it quite well per say. Maxim de Winter, the male lead protagonist, is portrayed as an absolutely tortured man by what he sees as the need to reflect a façade of perfect husband. This theme of gender is fairly subtle in Rebecca. “Maxim,” I said, “can’t we start all over again? Can’t we begin from today, and face things together? I don’t want you to love me, I won’t ask impossible things. I’ll be your friend and your companion, a sort of boy. I don’t ever want more than that.” The narrator goes to the extent that she very distinctively projects herself as a male. She goes as far as to suggest a seriously platonic relationship with Maxim as an alternative for the passionate heterosexual love which she can’t quite imagine them having together.

LITERARY TECHNIQUES, STYLE, AND DEVICES

To make a person continue reading the works of a particular writer, the writer must include strong literary techniques, style and literary devices as it makes the piece of work interesting and worthy of reading. Rebecca stands true in all these aspects.

THE USE OF IRONY

The use of irony is evident in the text as we see Ben, a mentally challenged gardener who works at Manderley clearly shows his horror and fear of Rebecca by saying “she won’t come back will she? You said so” as opposed to the rosy picture that MS. Danvers had painted for the narrator in the start, stating how loved Rebecca was and how everyone adored her. Second incident of irony used in the novel is that in the beginning we are made to think that Maxim loved and adored Rebecca when in fact we see later in the novel the complete and entire hatred of Maxim towards Rebecca and that it is HIM who kills her. Du Maurier makes you believe that everyone loves Rebecca when in fact everyone fears her. Rebecca is described as beautiful and intelligent but if that was the case then Maxim wouldn’t have hated her to such an extent.

THE USE OF SYMBOLISM

flowers are one of the most common symbols that are used in literature. It’s no different here in this novel, but maybe just a tiny bit creepier. We’re aware of the fact that the blood-red rhododendrons and the white azaleas are both cultivated in Manderley by Rebecca. Both of these tend to dominate Manderley, at least from the narrator’s point of view. The rhododendrons are described all over the property, and various other things that are owned by Rebecca still hold the scent of the effervescent azaleas.  The menacing red rhododendrons definitely reminds us of Rebecca’s alleged spilled blood and even foreshadows the red flames of Manderley burning at the very climax of the novel. The white azalea petals that lie on the grounds of the Happy Valley makes us regard Rebecca’s dead body. She always smelled like azaleas as per the description given by MS. Danvers, and her presence (in the form of these very flowers) is still supposed to be all over the property. This makes the moment where Maxim rubs a dead azalea petal on the narrator’s skin eerie, and it makes us wonder how exactly he feels about Rebecca and the narrator both.

The famous opening line of the book “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” is perfectly devised in an iambic hexameter. The last line of the book “And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea” is also devised in a metrical for; to a certain but not quite an anapaestic hexameter.

THE IRONICAL TITLE

Rebecca. The entire book is titled after her, so it is but natural to think that we’d at least get to meet this woman once in the novel or at least have a glimpse of her even as a silhouette. Instead, we hear her story from other characters in the novel: people who are fascinated and obsessed with her to a certain extent, as either dead or alive. There is something peculiar about the name Rebecca that seems to hold a power so prominent over everyone who seems to encounter it. There are reminders of Rebecca at Manderley that never seem to make her feel like dead; from the flowers she cultivated, to her bedroom with all her belongings still in it, to her “curious slanting” calligraphic handwriting. But none of these holds as much importance as her name, which apparently shall always haunt Maxim and his second wife.

CONCLUSION

The novel Rebecca is an outstanding novel with hints of brilliance throughout the journey of it. It is by-far the best written novel after Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre and of course they are explicit literary works in themselves and it would be futile to compare them at all. The excellent use of symbolism, irony, metaphors, and other literary themes make it diverse in itself and the diverse selection of themes make it even more interesting to read.

The first-person narration provides explicit details of the thought process of the narrator and gives us insights to the deepest corners of the mind of the narrator and compels us to think, even imagine ourselves in that very situation; however, the extensive use of first-person narration and long pages of thought processes of the narrator sometimes might prove to be monotonous and boring even.

Despite its cold elegance and rich language, Rebecca’s plot is unashamedly soapy and suspenseful and my weakness for high drama and borderline campery means it ticks all my boxes. I adore it.

“It’s testament to Daphne du Maurier’s skill that she can pack a novel with people who, if you found your name next to theirs on a wedding seating plan, you would break your neck getting to the table before them to switch place-cards, and still make it worth reading.” – The Guyliner.

All in all, Rebecca is a must read for people who have a soft spot for a mystery, goth novel that takes a murder to top as the cherry on a cake. It is a novel that once read will compel you to imagine living in the beautiful Manderley and will make you want to grow azaleas or the rhododendrons and as we step into the utterly vivid and quite possibly a dangerous dreamworld of Manderley, “secretive and silent as it had always been”, Du Maurier’s creative power surely can’t be in doubt. We shall never be free from Rebecca – nor would we ever want to be.

 

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Written by Aleesha

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