Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier was a rare hit with everyone – classics aren’t classics for nothing!
The unnamed narrator is the second wife of Maxim De Winter. Inexperienced and gauche, she is very much out of her depth and much of the book is taken up with her fantasies, many focused on Maxim’s first wife Rebecca, which dominate her life and her inactions. Rebecca was her polar opposite – passionate, wilful, and unrestrained by the conventions of the time and tales of her beauty and spirit and Maxim’s loss surround the narrator.
The setting plays a huge part in the story – Manderley – a hidden house full of secrets. The woods surrounding it feel dark and oppressive – and much of Du Maurier’s description – ‘blood red’ rhododendrons and the skull like appearance of Mrs Danvers are often repeated. It was commented that the film is very faithful to the book, but the writing lends itself to the screen.
We discussed: the parallels between the two women and Du Maurier’s own life (there is plenty about this in other reviews!); why the narrator remains supportive of her husband when she learnt the truth; how she becomes subsumed by him losing her identity (she doesn’t question his perspective); what would have happened if Maxim had been more supportive of and open with his second wife (there wouldn’t have been a story!); the obsessive relationship between Rebecca and Mrs Danvers; and the circular nature of her life – she ends up where she started – a companion to an older person in exile on the continent.
The themes that came through for me were jealousy and the suppression of truth to preserve outward appearances (both Rebecca and Maxim’s marriage and Rebecca’s fate). Du Maurier leads the reader through sympathy for the narrator to the hope for her sake that Maxim will escape justice – and places us all in moral ambiguity.