Well, after many stop-start attempts, I have finished Rebecca after nearly ten years! Why has it been so difficult, you may ask? It is a long story but it has to do with Jane Eyre being one my most favourite books and a very impressionable and eccentric favourite Literature teacher in high school who went a rant one day about how Rebecca was simply ripped off of Jane Eyre. So – it has taken awhile to get those prejudices out of my head so I could read this book from an objective and open perspective.
Narrated by an anonymous voice (we never know her real name), with the added benefit of age and time, the second Mrs. de Winter both reminisces and is haunted by Manderley Hall and her time there. Plucked from obscurity and from a world of drudgery as a companion, the recently widowed Maximilian de Winter courts and quickly marries the young girl. They return to Manderley Hall, a formidable estate complete with an infamous past. The new Mrs. de Winter quickly feels the presence of the first wife, Rebecca, who has left a lasting impression everywhere in the house, its servants and county.
Young, naive and insecure, the new Mrs. de Winter attempts to slip into the role as quietly as possible but soon realises that it is impossible to fill Rebecca’s shoes and nor, she soon realises, does she want to.
I took one out and looked at it, unwrapped it from the thin tissue of paper. ‘Mrs. M. de Winter’ it said, and in the corner ‘Manderley.’ I put it back in the box again, and shut the drawer, feeling guilty suddenly, and deceitful, as though I were staying in somebody else’s house … at any moment she might come back into the room, and she would see me there, sitting before her open drawer, which I had no right to touch. – p. 98
Everybody in the household seem to be against the new wife particularly Mrs. Danvers, the head housekeeper, who obsessively remains dedicated to Rebecca and refuses to acknowledge the new authority or the reality. On top of the new Mrs. de Winter’s ongoing battle against her new household and her jealousy at the memory of Rebecca, Maximilian becomes distant and harbours a dark secret.
The story can effectively be split into two parts. The first part reads like a sinister, Gothic tale of the young, rootless, new wife finding her place in domesticity and old wealth while the second part reads quite like an Agatha Christie mystery! I quite enjoyed Rebecca and it was rather gripping although the naivety of the young, nameless Mrs. de Winter really frustrated me, particularly with the constant bullying from Mrs. Danvers. (Whenever I read Mrs. Danvers, I couldn’t help thinking of one of Jasper Fforde’s books where the character had to battle an army of Mrs. Danvers! ) The obsession that Mrs. Danvers have for Rebecca made me think that I could possibly write an essay on the homo-erotic relationship between the two. All in all, I am glad I have finally read this and while there are the obvious similarities between this and Jane Eyre, there is nothing wrong with a double dose of a good thing.