Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Re-posted from, GoodReads
I’ve re-read the first four chapters of Rebecca this afternoon. More slowly than before, paying closer attention to du Maurier’s style and narrative skill. Knowing how it ends, I’ll be looking for how I regard the Big Reveal this time around, because what I think du Maurier was aiming for was to implicate the reader in the protagonists’ guilt and for the reader to question their own values (for 1938, anyway). This explains, I think, why the narrator is unnamed (not unlike Agatha Christie’s Murder of Roger Ackroyd.)
What I noticed especially in the first chapter was the extraordinarily high number of first-person references. In 3.5 pages, du Maurier works in 50 instances of the first person: I, my, me, we, our (but mostly the singular). The Gothic dreamscape establishes classic images of ruination, in which Nature (symbolizing the female antagonist, Rebecca) destroys civilization (Manderley=”man,” the patriarchy, to which the narrator is dedicated), but by the end the reader will realize that civilization itself is corrupt. In these first few pages du Maurier works in foreshadowing: “The beeches with white, naked limbs leant close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church.” Monstrous overgrowth, alien unions of bastard shrubs and cultivated flowers….
From England’s green and pleasant land, the narrator and Max have exiled themselves to a barren Mediterrean isle where the bright sun exposes all, living a life of banal retirement. The narrator suggests their memories make staying on at Manderley unbearable, but it is their crime that has made them unfit for living in England….
Jane Eyre is often referenced as a predecessor but there is much Wuthering Heights here, especially Mrs. Danvers as an older and simplified Nelly, Catherine as Rebecca’s origin story…. Max as Heathcliff’s heir a few generations later, the rough edges worn away by proper social polishing…
It’s still a brilliant read. 4 stars because it’s a fantastically successful story, but not as great as the best (I would rank Wide Saragasso Sea, Wuthering Heights, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, Jane Eyre higher for sure). But maybe I’ll change my mind by the time I finish.