Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
About the Author
Daphne Du Maurier was born in London. Educated at home with her sisters and later in Paris, she began writing short stories and articles in 1928. In 1931, her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published. A biography of her father and three other novels followed, but it was the novel Rebecca that launched her into the literary stratosphere and made her one of the most popular authors of her day. Besides novels, du Maurier published short stories, plays and biographies. Many of her best selling novels became award winning films and in 1969 du Maurier herself was awarded a DBE. She lived most of her life in Cornwall, the setting for many of her books.
I read this book in school and it stayed with me somehow. Though I didn’t read it again until a few months back, I realised what bothered me (Mrs. Danvers). The narrator is a young woman of 21 who is never introduced to us by name. She is an orphan and a lady’s companion to an annoying old lady, Mrs. Van Hoppers. The book starts in Monte Carlo when our narrator meets freshly widowed, Max de Winter. He is famous and his house, Manderly is even more famous. Parties on a Gatsby scale, beautiful landscaping, and of course the architecture of a grand English estate have made Manderley a most coveted invitation. After a whirlwind romance, he sweeps the impressionable young lady off her feet, pries her loose from the services of Mrs. Van Hoppers, and marries her. He is distant, moody and yet charming, more like a father than a husband, but our young heroine is enamoured with her husband and his home.
When she reaches Manderly, she is immediately made aware of her shortcomings. Waiting for her is the Manderly staff, the most prominent being Mrs. Danvers who doesn’t let her forget just how inadequate she is. As she tries to settle in, she becomes caught up in Rebecca’s shadow and the effect she has had on most of her husband’s close ones. Rebecca had a haunting beauty, good breeding and capable clever hands that could steer a boat, hold a horse, arrange flowers and keep Manderly running expertly. Mrs. Danvers is obsessive about Rebecca and still clearly not over her death and despite the efforts of the narrator, she cannot win over Mrs. Danvers who is loyal to Rebecca to the point of preserving her room and possessions as they were when she was alive.
You can feel the narrators anxiety as she tries to navigate amongst Max de Winter’s family, his staff and his home. Even the house Manderly has a character of its own, dreary and wet with a hidden mystery. This is a classic gothic novel that you need to have a copy of. It is a book you read on a wet day, curled up next to a fire with your favourite blanket and a cup of Earl Grey.