Author: Daphne du Maurier
Publication date: 1938
Genre: Gothic fiction
The nameless narrator undergoes a whirlwind marriage to Maxim de Winter, and returns to his family home, Manderley, as the second Mrs de Winter. Here she has to face not only the forbidding housekeeper Mrs Danvers, but also the constant reminders of his beautiful, popular first wife Rebecca.
Where did I get hold of the book?
University library again…
- Find the book in a library near you (worldwide).
- Support local independent bookshops by buying the book from Hive (UK).
What did I learn from it?
I’ve been going through a lot of stress recently, due to some roofing works we’ve been having done and umpteen unexpected problems resulting from it (broken panes of glass in the windows, holes in the ceiling, leaks etc), so finding time to concentrate on a book has been very difficult – hence the delayed posting of this entry. I really do struggle to find time for my own thoughts when there is a cacophony of bangs and crashes going on around me in the physical world.
However, last weekend, I found myself with a whole clear day to sit down and do nothing but read. No men on scaffolding peering in at the windows, no deposits of soot cascading down the chimneys… nothing but time and peace and quiet. And, for the first time since Anna Karenina last year, I found myself truly getting lost in the story. After suffering so much from external disturbances, I had forgotten how relaxing it is to read and read and read, and be able to ignore the outside world. I got through 300 pages in almost one sitting.
It may be partly due to the contrast between this and the preceding book (Nausea), but I found Rebecca a very easy read – and, not for the first time, I have been reminded of my preference for plot-driven rather than philosophical novels. This is not because I don’t have the intellect to cope with more literary works, but because the greatest benefit that reading seems to bring to my life, at least at the moment, is to provide an escape: something to help me put the real world on hold for a while rather than cause me to stop and ponder on it even further. And, last weekend, ‘putting the world on hold’ was what I sorely needed.
How did it make me see the world differently?
Being a feminist, after reading this book I was left with the uneasy feeling that women are meant to identify with the dead first wife, Rebecca: strong, feisty and independent, she absolutely refuses to be the subservient ‘little woman’, and (we are told) goes through life grabbing what she wants with both hands. She is the complete opposite of the second Mrs de Winter, the unnamed narrator, who is timid, nervy, uninitiated into the ways of the world and utterly dependent on her husband.
And yet, as I read the book, I couldn’t help myself feel more sympathetic towards the narrator. While she is undoubtedly unworldly and (initially at least) incapable of standing up for herself, I don’t think this is entirely down to subservience. I see strong indications that she is also introverted – which, although many people confuse this with shyness – is not the same thing at all.
The way she hides from unexpected visitors; her dislike of large parties; her preference for being alone… all these characteristics are ones that I share, and I am certainly not shy or socially inept. And Rebecca – her strength is depicted not just through admirable feistiness but also a more disturbing penchant for selfishness, disloyalty and even animal cruelty: every creature must bend to her will, whether man, woman or horse.
It may be because I have known people with similarly selfish traits, who seem to cast a spell on those around them but who, when you look more closely, you realise you cannot trust an inch – because of this, I don’t like Rebecca as much as she is perhaps meant to be liked, and I am rather more inclined to feel kindly towards the second Mrs de Winter… because she reminds me of me, and the fact that my own needs are just as important as those of the queen bees, even if I am quieter about vocalising them.
What changes will I make to my life as a result of it?
Anyone who has read this far in my blog will know I am overwhelmed by the sheer number of ideas I have and the difficulties I face in getting them ‘out there’ in the world. Reading this book has given me a huge helping hand in figuring out what to focus on and what to set aside.
My creative projects variously involve (a) things I can do just on my own, without recourse to anyone else, and (b) things I need to do in conjunction with other people. There are times when I feel that, to have an impact on the world, i.e. make my life have been worth living, I need to do things that tangibly involve other people. And yet I know that I am happiest when I am on my own, doing my own thing – and at those times, I tend not to mind whether or not my creative endeavours see the light of day.
Realising that my sympathies lie with the second, rather than the first, Mrs de Winter; recognising that I prefer to be alone (and that that is OK); understanding that I can still achieve things and make a difference in people’s lives through my solitary pursuits (this very blog being one example!) – all this has made me realise that I should stop worrying about what I ‘ought’ to be doing. I don’t need to throw big parties, be a social butterfly, or even run around behind the scenes trying to organise these things – I just need to do what makes me happiest, trust that these activities have a value of their own, and try to gently nudge them into the light so that others can benefit in whatever way suits them.
I am really hoping that Rebecca will help me become much happier and accepting of my own preferences in life.
A musical interlude
I am sure there must be plenty of songs about ghosts of ex-lovers out there (er, well, maybe…), but for some reason I keep coming back to Blondie numbers. Maybe it’s because several of them are about women determined to get their man, or dealing with rivals either past or present; either way, I have found several to choose from.
Runners-up include (I’m Always Touched By Your) Presence, Dear, Hanging on the Telephone and Sunday Girl. But the clear winner, claiming its spot by the slightly macabre connection I’m making between it and the manner of Rebecca’s death (allegedly by drowning), is The Tide Is High.