‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…’

‘They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word.’ – Daphne Du Maurier, Rebecca.

So it turns out I was named after Daphne Du Maurier’s most successful and well-known novel Rebecca. R-E-B-E-C-C-A, that is my real name. I wonder how many others have been named after beautiful literary classics. And I wonder how many literature loving females have been named after a deceitful and deceased, adulteress guilty of incestuous activity?

Hmmm, I wonder.

What a novel! Where to start? To be honest this feels like writing an essay, it feels like I’m back at Uni and any moment my housemates will appear with a piping hot cup of tea and the hope of a break in the kitchen, giggling and nibbling Oreo’s and the like.

But alas, I am at home, sitting at the bureau I just don’t sit at enough, trying to say something profound and inspiring about a 74-year-old novel. A novel loved and cherished, a novel that has been clasped to many a chest (most probably female) and relished on a Sunday afternoon on a cold winters eve…or maybe that’s just me.

Rebecca, is Maxim de Winter’s ex-wife. He is a widower and the darling Rebecca dies one night on her boat, swept away by the powerful waves of the fictional Manderley. Dead. Sleeping with the fishes. However, her prominence in Manderley, her impact as so many Rebecca’s undoubtedly make, (clearly because we are all remarkable women…I sincerely hope my heavy sarcasm is detectable in this post) is one that the new, young, passive, timid and frankly quite pathetic Mrs de Winter cannot escape. The sheer age difference between the new Mrs de Winter and Maxim is one that makes you both gasp and cringe terribly. This second and nameless wife, the novels protagonist – whose lack of name only serves to enhance her weak and vulnerable characterisation whilst reinforcing the fact that she is overridden by a women no longer alive – is treated as little more than a child, pet, toy and general thing of amusement, by the bold and grumpy Maxim.

Personally, I couldn’t stand the man. I seem to have developed an incredibly low tolerance for inattentive and selfish men, who only think of themselves, spending hours ignoring the women in their lives. Maxim was initially the embodiment of all the male qualities I loathe. He is rude, mean and generally appears disinterested in his new wife. Treating her like a dog, patting her head occasionally and giving her the rare treat of a smile, entirely dependent on his mood. No woman likes to be patronized and we especially hate being ignored, take heed men, take heed.

But the reason for Maxim’s rubbish husbandry, distraction and stand off-ish nature is revealed in a shocking twist of events, towards the hugely climactic end of the novel. When reading Rebecca, I was frolicking around in a meadow full of the most gorgeous imagery and language I had ever read; enjoying it wholeheartedly but simultaneously thinking, ‘This can’t be it!’ But that’s just it, Daphne truly lures you into a false sense of security in which you have no comprehension, no awareness of what horrors and surprises, what catastrophic things could occur. She was certainly a most superbly skilled writer, having written a fantastic array of characters into existence, ranging from the falsely admired Rebecca, to the hilarious and completely tactless Beatrice and of course the down right creepy Mrs Danvers. How this woman is married I have no idea. She is the sort of woman who would poison her husband and then eat him. She reaches a whole new level of perverse.

Mrs Danvers’ chilling and haunting presence serves as a constant reminder to both Mrs de Winter and the reader, that Rebecca – despite having drowned, or so we are to believe – still holds mighty significance in Manderley. All is far from idyllic, even in beautiful Cornwall. Mrs Danvers’ obsession with Rebecca, preserves her influence over the running and ambiance of Manderley, hindering the new couples happiness, preventing the new Mrs de Winter from settling into her new life.

This novel bears huge similarity to Charlotte Bronte’s, Jane Eyre. In fact the likeness is uncanny. Without giving too much away, both novels involve dangerous ex-wives, albeit one dead haunting a new marriage preventing it from flourishing; and the other alive,  her very presence preventing a yearned for union. Both are hugely focused around environmental elements. Both Jane and Mrs de Winter are orphans, and are therefore more susceptible to men treating them appallingly. Both Rochester and Maxim are equally abhorrent until a fire cleanses them, shocking them and consequently cutting them down to size. The list could go on. In fact comparing these two classics, although from very different era’s, could have made a fascinating essay. Masters, anyone?

So despite the feeble narrator who at times I actually wanted to shake, bursting with a huge desire to physically step into the pages and assert authority for her. And despite being named after a less than desirable female villain, I think that Rebecca is a most wonderful and rich piece of literature; a book that should be perused by all.

If you like books that leave you baffled and awed at the power of the author; then Rebecca is for you. If you love the unexpected and the thrill of a good plot twist; far too good and cleverly conceived in words to predict, transforming an initially straightforward and innocent plot into a hunt for a murderer, a quest for revenge and the truth, then Rebecca is right up your Street. You’ll be left holding red hot pages that could spontaneously combust at any possible moment.

It’s a brilliant read; a Gothic romance like no other. How could you say no?

So go on and read as if you have all day.


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