Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…
While working as the companion to a rich American woman, Mr. Van Hopper, holidaying on the Monte Carlo, Soon-to-be Mrs De Winter0 becomes acquainted with a wealthy Englishman, Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter. After a fortnight of courtship, she agrees to marry him, and after the marriage accompanies him to his mansion, the beautiful estate called Manderley.
Once living at Manderley as a new bride, she came to realise how difficult it will be to lay to rest the memory of and to compete with her husband’s first wife, Rebecca. Rebecca is understood to have drowned in a sailing accident off the coast next to the mansion a year before, but her memory has a strong hold on the estate and all of its inhabitants and visitors, Manderley is haunted by past routine and memory of Rebecca especially kept live by the domineering housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (nickname Danny).
Mrs. Danvers, who was profoundly devoted to Rebecca, tries to undermine the second Mrs. de Winter, suggesting to her that she will never attain the urbanity and charm that Rebecca possessed, “Rebecca is a tall, dark and handsome woman” (I thought those description was reserved for a man!). Whenever the new Mrs. de Winter attempts to make changes at Manderley, Mrs. Danvers reminded the new bride how Rebecca ran Manderley when she was alive. “Rebecca goes to the morning room for breakfast where it is heated”, “Rebecca places the alabaster vase on the table behind the sofa”, “You look so difference from Rebecca”, Rebecca is such a good hostess, Rebecca this, Rebecca that… Each time Mrs. Danvers does this, she undermines the new Mrs. de Winter of her lack of experience and knowledge necessary for running an important estate such as Manderley. The second Mrs. de Winter is intimidated by Mrs. Danvers’ imposing manner, complies with the housekeeper’s suggestions.
Lacking self-confidence and overwhelmed by her new life, the protagonist commits one faux pas after another, until she is convinced that Maxim regrets his impetuous decision to marry her and is still deeply in love with the seemingly perfect Rebecca. The climax occurs at a disaster at the Manderley’s annual costume ball which made the young Mrs. Danvers woke up from her fairy tale marriage.
At every point I really felt sorry for the second Mrs. De Winter…..
She would tear off sheet after sheet of that smooth white paper, using it extravagantly, because of the long strokes she made when she wrote, and at the end of each of her personal letters, she put her signature, ‘Rebecca’, that tall sloping R dwarfing its fellows.
I took up the narrow, slender pen, with the bright pointed nib. ‘Dear Mrs. Van Hopper,’ I began. And as I wrote, in halting, laboured fashion, saying I hoped the voyage had been good, I noticed for the first time how cramped and unformed was my own hand-writing; without individuality, without style, uneducated even, the writing of an indifferent pupil taught in a second-rate school.
Throughout the entire novel, the name of the second Mrs. de Winter is never revealed and remains a mystery. This confirms my feelings about why it doesn’t matter to me if the protagonist has no name (see: Wild Sheep Chase), it doesn’t bother me and it sure doesn’t bother fans of “Rebecca” either, as this had became one of the best loved Gothic Romance of all times. Perhaps the device to put the second Mrs De Winter nameless, confirms her acquiescence and acceptance of her role, and also serves to amplify the all powerful, ubiquitous overbearing presence of Rebecca.
The silence that I had always taken for sympathy and regret was a silence born of shame and embarrassment. It seemed incredible to me now that I had never understood. I suffered and continued to suffer, because they could not break out form their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth. This was what I had done. I had built up false pictures in my mind and sat before them. I had never had the courage to demand the truth.
I didn’t like Maxim very much. Oblivion of his young wife’s emotional needs, he was detached and cold. I was left to wonder if his attitude was due to the fact that he carries the burden of a dark secret, or really he was just this snobbish, inexpressive, selfish master of Manderley. I was especially angry with Maxim when he commented the act of second Mrs De Winter hiding the broken pieces of broken porcelain as an act “a between-maid would do”.
What I love about the novel
It is said the contrast of the two Mrs De Winter is both a reflection of Du Maurier state of mind. Du Maurier followed her husband for posting for the first time in Egypt was homesick and resent it. I relish the description and doubts of a young woman’s mind, as Du Maurier cleverly projected, that painted her own reality, including the readers, through the eyes of the second Mrs De Winter, oh and the twisted plot that surfaced towards the end.
What I like least about the novel
I plodded along grudgingly for the first half of the book, waiting impatiently when the whiney young Mrs. De Winter is going to grow up, take charge and stop whining! Towards the middle of the book, the plot took a drastic twist and I was hooked till the end of the book.
I’m reading this for A to Z challenge, classics challenge, Typical British challenge, 1001 books you must read list (1% Well Read Challenge), 501 must read books list, BBC Top 100 Big Read list, and for every conceivable book lists you must read before you die!
Paperback. Publisher: Virago Modern Classics 2008, originally published in 1938; Length: 441 pages; Setting: 1930’s Cornwall. Source: Library. Finished reading at: 4 April 2010
About the Writer:
Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning DBE (13 May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was an English author and playwright. Much of the novel, Rebecca, was written while she was staying in Alexandria, Egypt, where her husband was posted at the time Many of her works. have been adapted into films, including the novels Rebecca, which won the Best Picture Oscar in 1941, Jamaica Inn, and her short stories The Birds and Don’t Look Now. The first three were directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Her elder sister was Angela du Maurier, also a writer. Her father was the actor Gerald du Maurier, and her grandfather was the writer George du Maurier.