Review: “Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier [1938]

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.

Advertisements

13 comments

  1. Oh, if teachers know what damage they can do?! 😉 Glad you made it trhough Rebecca and enjoyed it. Also: “the second part reads quite like an Agatha Christie mystery”- see why I like it so much? 😉
    I love Jane Eyre but I love this one as well, double goodness! And I loved the Rebecca references in TN as well- just stand up and say I’m the new Mrs DeWinter now! 😀

    1. Especially favourite teachers! I don’t think she meant to convert us against Rebecca or any other books. She was just really passionate! I was a little surprised at the second half but I was also quite impressed. Not at all what I was expecting from du Maurier and Rebecca!

  2. Rebecca is one of my favourite books, so I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it! There are definitely some similarities with Jane Eyre, but I think it’s different enough to be a great book in its own right. I love them both.

    1. I agree that there are enough differences and intrigues for Rebecca to stand apart from Jane Eyre. I was reading somewhere though that du Maurier was sued for plagiarising off another book for Rebecca but it was proven false. Poor du Maurier who only wanted to write a story.

  3. I’m glad that you enjoyed Rebecca, it’s one of my favourites too – although because I read Jamaica Inn first it will remain the dearest DuMaurier to my heart! I just read Jane Eyre but was oblivious to the similarities. Perhaps it’s one for a re-read…

    1. I’ve heard good reviews of Jamaica Inn so I think I will read that next. I did read her collection of short stories last year (‘Don’t look now’) which I quite liked.

  4. Rebecca is one of my all time favourites, all as I get older the main character becomes progressively more irritating to me. I recently read Jane Eyre (int he last couple of weeks) and love love loved it aswell. It has gone straight into my favourite books of all time list.

    I am curious though what you think the similarities are between the books and how your professor thought Jane Eyre had been “ripped off” by Daphne du Maurier?

    1. I’m glad you loved Jane Eyre as well. She’s capturing hearts all over the world! I’ll need to give that a re-read soon. It’s been awhile.

      The lonely, orphaned young girl; the big infamous estate; the brooding, dark, secretive, wealthy, older man; the ‘big’ secret about the wife – these were the essential elements of the story I found to be very similar to Jane Eyre. However, it was the only the first part of the story that I found the similarities in and I thought the second part was really quite different to Jane Eyre – all except that last fire which was too similar to the one in Jane Eyre.

  5. Glad you enjoyed Rebecca and your review has got me thinking about reading more Du Maurier. I always wish we could know the first name of the new Mrs De Winter! I would highly recommend My Cousin Rachel.

    1. I do have her autobiography (I think) or something else by du Maurier that I picked up from a sale somewhere. But yes, I’ll definitely be on the look out for more of her books now!

  6. I am glad you liked Rebecca. Like so many readers it seems, Rebecca ranks as one of my all time favourite books; I read it as a teenager and it blew me away and really got me into fiction. If you are looking for another du Maureir to try, my second favourite by her is The House on the Strand. It is thorougly unique and couldn’t be accused of being a rip off of anything 🙂 Until you pointed them out I didn’t see the similarities with Jane Eyre. I can see them now, but happily, it doesn’t diminish my view of Rebecca. Thanks for very interesting post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s