Rebecca #20BooksofSummer #bookreview #readwomen

Welcome to my review of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier! Since this is an older book, published in 1938, I’m going to have lots of spoilers. I don’t feel bad about this, as many of you have mentioned how much you love Rebecca already. I’m also going to share images from the film, as images are awesome and the book and film follow each other fairly closely. But this is the book review.

My introduction to Rebecca came only recently. It all started with my immense hatred of the horrible movies coming out these days, which led me to my local library, where I began checking out old black-and-white movies like a crazy person. I skipped social events to watch them in the dark (you can’t watch black-and-white movies with the lights on. Everything looks wrong). And then I got to Alfred Hitchcok’s Rebecca, a gorgeous film with the indescribably expressive Joan Fontaine and the handsome (I can easily describe why) Laurence Olivier. I told my husband Rebecca is a ghost story with no ghost.

Rebecca

The novel begins with a narrator describing Manderley and how “we” can never go back. The wilds of nature have taken it over. To my knowledge, readers aren’t told who “we” is at this point. Then she explains how “we” sit in boring hotels and talk about boring subjects for the sake of their nerves, which are shattered at any memories of Manderley. Then, the narrator remembers how it all happened. Nice hook, du Maurier!

A young woman (our narrator), who is a twenty-one-year-old paid companion, travels to Monte Carlo with her employer, Mrs. Van Hopper, a gossipy, fat lady (my fellow fatties, please forgive me). There, the narrator meets Maxim de Winter, the forty-two-year-old owner of the renowned Manderley, an estate so grand it’s all anyone talks about. After Mrs. Van Hopper is laid up sick, the narrator is asked by Maxim to spend time with him. Over the course of a fortnight (that’s two weeks, folks), the narrator falls in love with him, and Maxim asks her to marry him (though he expresses no love). Should we be suspicious? Is this a shotgun wedding? Snoopy Mrs. Van Hopper certainly wants to know!

the naughty

As Mr. de Winter explains to Mrs. Van Hopper that she’s out  a paid companion, the narrator holds a book Maxim had loaned her earlier. It’s signed “Max from Rebecca.” Yes, that Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife who tragically drowned at sea ten months ago! The narrator, in an odd moment of defiance, tears the page out, rips it up, and lights it on fire. And now we’re done with Rebecca, right? Wrong.

She’s everywhere at Maderley. The servants tell the narrator how “Mrs. de Winter” did things (I put it in quotes because the narrator is also Mrs. de Winter). The woman who runs the house is the skeleton-like Mrs. Danvers, a villain in this novel, who mechanically obeys the de Winters but also schemes to get the narrator out of Manderley, even encouraging her to commit suicide! Maxim is distant, possibly because he’s twice the narrator’s age; the housekeeper is a sabotaging nutbar; and it’s always Rebecca, Rebecca, Rebecca. If only Maxim could stop loving Rebecca and love our poor narrator!

Suicide.gif

Rebecca gets to be the title, and a woman, bur the current wife doesn’t even get a name, she’s so insignificant to Manderley. At twenty-one, she’s constantly referred to as “the child” because she’s half everyone else’s ages.

When they first met, the narrator expresses her love like that of a child:

“There’s a cold wind this morning, you had better put on my coat.”

I remember that, for I was young enough to win happiness in the wearing of his clothes, playing the schoolboy again who carries his hero’s sweater and ties it about his throat choking with pride, and this borrowing of his coat, wearing it around my shoulders for even a few minutes at at time, was a triumph in itself, and made a glow about my morning.

This scene was so familiar to me and recalled how important it was in high school to lay claims on your boyfriend’s sweatshirt, one that said his name so everyone would know you were involved. You felt like a superhero all day long in that sweatshirt.

Near the end, a sailing boat is discovered at the bottom of the sea near Manderley…and Rebecca’s corpse is in the bottom. Someone’s jabbed holes in the boat and the seacocks were opened, which you never open while afloat because the water pours in. Rebecca was an expert sailor. Was it foul play? Did she kill herself? Was she really just careless for one moment and the sea ate her up?

The pacing of the plot of Rebecca is, for the most part, spot on. Daphne du Maurier knows just when to summarize an event for us, like much of the time Maxim and the narrator spend together when they first meet. She knows when to let the plot linger. Maxim is convinced to have a fancy dress ball at Manderley, just like he and Rebecca used to do all the time, and the narrator decides her costume will be a surprise. Problem is, she can’t think of what to dress as! Mrs. Danvers suggests she copy one of the family portraits hanging on the wall, and the narrator thanks Mrs. Danvers for her kindness.

the costume

Unfortunately, as she descends the stairs on the day of the party in her costume, Maxim, his sister, and brother-and-law are shocked and appalled! It’s the same costume Rebecca wore to the last fancy dress ball! Dammit, Mrs. Danvers and your shenanigans! The narrator spends the whole night standing near Maxim, not talking to him and responding the same way to everyone who thanks her for hosting the party: “I’m so glad.” This “I’m so glad” scene goes on for several pages, lingering in this horrible moment during which Maxim is distraught and won’t comfort his poor, deceived young wife.

The ending, however, gets a little slow, and I wondered if I felt this way because in the movie so many things are squished together to make the ending speedy. Maxim reveals he shot Rebecca and stuck her in the boat, there’s an inquest, Rebecca’s death is ruled suicide, Rebecca’s favorite cousin calls foul play, the police get involved, they track down a mentally disabled witness, they play with the telephone a lot, they track down a key witness, wait a day, go to the key witness, talk to him, drive home, stop at a gas station….it was so long compared to the quick dashing around in the film, in which everything is resolved in one day.

Many of the pages of Rebecca are devoted to setting. It’s not hard to picture Manderley. The rose garden out the east wing, the angry sea at the west wing, the morning room, the library with the China cupid, the brazen rhododendrons up the driveway, Happy Valley and the azaleas, the shingle beach. In many books, so much description would seem extraneous to me, but in Rebecca, the appearance of Manderley is important, not only because everyone loves it so, but because it’s appearance is all due to Rebecca’s demands: where things were placed, which flowers grew, what to hang on the walls. It’s lovely, indeed, but our narrator doesn’t care for much of it, and the decorations only remind everyone of Rebecca, emphasizing the focus of the book — REBECCA.

Now we’ve come to my two favorite aspects of the novel: the characters, and the imagining. All of the characters are memorable, distinct, and unique. Bravo! Mrs. Van Hopper is the first memorable character. She’s a gossipy fake, whose “one pastime, which was notorious by now in Monte Carlo, was to claim visitors of distinction as her friends had she but seen them once at the other end of the post-office.” Our poor narrator is embarrassed by Mrs. Van Hopper, but “there was nothing for it but to sit in [her] usual place beside Mrs. Van Hopper while she, like a large, complacent spider, spun her wide net of tedium about the stranger’s person.” I almost lost it when I read “net of tedium.” What a funny way to think of someone! When Mrs. Van Hopper is saying something especially stupid, the narrator thinks, “…she ran on like a clumsy goat, trampling and trespassing on land that was preserved…”

Maxim’s older sister, Beatrice, is my favorite after the narrator. She says any and everything she’s thinking, and she’s antagonistic to her brother, like all siblings. After meeting the narrator the first time, Beatrice ends the visit with “Come and see us if you feel like it….I always expect people to ask themselves. Life is too short to send out invitations.” When the narrator and Beatrice travel (Bee driving at break-neck speeds), the narrator feels a bit down. Beatrice wonders if she’s been experiencing morning sickness, and the narrator tells her no. Beatrice continues:

Oh, well — of course it doesn’t it always follow. I never turned a hair when Roger was born. Felt as fit as a fiddle the whole nine months. I played golf the day before he arrived. There’s nothing to be embarrassed about in the facts of nature, you know. If you have any suspicions you had better tell me.”

And in that moment, thanks to her matter-of-fact personality, I loved Beatrice and her shame-free talk with her new sister-in-law.

Jack Favell, who is Rebecca’s favorite cousin and her lover, is a slinky, memorable guy, but also a “bounder” (thanks for that word, British friends!). When Favell explains to Maxim why he’s not embarrassed to admit he was sleeping with a married woman, his sexist nature rears it’s ugly head:

All married men with lovely wives are jealous, aren’t they? And some of ’em just can’t help playing Othello. They’re made that way. I don’t blame them. I’m sorry for them. I’m a bit of a socialist in my way, you know, and I can’t think why fellows can’t share their women instead of killing them. What difference does it make? You can get your fun the same. A lovely woman isn’t like a motor tyre, she doesn’t wear out. The more you use her the better she goes.

Even the way Favell drinks is unique to me: “Favell drank it greedily, like an animal. There was something sensual and horrible about the way he put his mouth to the glass. His lips folded upon the glass in a peculiar way.”

Jack Favell.gif
I’m not surprised the actor who played Favell also voiced Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book.

Have I ever told you that my imagination once almost killed me?

Yes, I was riding my bicycle up and down our long dirt drive way, which led to a dirt road. Up and down I went, and I began to imagine, though I don’t remember what. Suddenly, I found myself underwater, looking up into the sun beams shimmering through. (If you think I’m making this up, I have two witnesses). What happened: I was so deep in my imagination that I never made the turn at the end of the driveway and instead went right across the road, into the deep ditch full of water, and lay at the bottom with my eyes open (to think this is the only time I’ve had my eyes open under water). I didn’t breathe in water, I wasn’t destroyed by a car.

Long story short, I absolutely deeply relate to the narrator of Rebecca.

She’s constantly so lost in her imagination that whole mini-scenes play out. Frequently, she refers to how things would have happened in a book, but more often she imagines the scene. When she’s changing out of her costume — after the big humiliation of wearing what Rebecca had — into a new dress for the ball, she overhears the workers on the lawn who are checking bulbs on the party lights. She imagines the man’s continued narrative:

Later in the evening he would stand with his friend in the drive and watch the cars drive up to the house, his hands in his pockets, his cap on the back of his head. He would stand in a crowd with the other people from the estate, and then drink cider at the long table arranged for them in one corner of the terrace. “Like the old days, isn’t it?” he would say. But his friend would shake his head, puffing on his pipe. “The new one’s not like our Mrs. de Winter, she’s different altogether.” And a woman next to them in the crowd would agree, other people too, all saying, “That’s right,” and nodding their heads.

“Where is she to-night? She’s not been on the terrace once.”

“Mrs. de Winter used to be here, there and everywhere.”

“Aye, that’s right.”

And the woman would turn to her neighbors, nodding mysteriously….

“Of course I have heard before the marriage is not a wild success.”

“Oh, really?”

“H’m. Several people have said so. They say he’s beginning to realize he’s made a big mistake. She’s nothing to look at you know.”

And this scene continues a page and a half. The imagined voices stir up the narrator, she confirming her own worst fears: that she’s not good enough, that she’ll never be the real Mrs. de Winter, that everyone is judging her like “a prized cow.” If the narrator were real, we’d both have Xanax.

Rebecca is absolutely a must-read book. It’s funny, mysterious, vivid, tragic, and well written. I don’t often look for books to relate to me, but this one really did. However, the fears and anxieties of this curious younger person will relate to any number of people, regardless of their unique identities. My only hesitation is that if you decide to buy a copy, the Avon mass-market paperback edition has a dozen or more typos.

20booksfinal

#20BooksofSummer

This book was read as part of Cathy 746‘s challenge to read 20 books between June 1st and September 5th. Here’s the roster:

  1. Harley and Me by Bernadette Murphy
  2. On Air by Robin Stratton
  3. Single Stroke Seven by Lavinia Ludlow
  4. Girls of Usually by Lori Horvitz
  5. Retelling by Tsipi Keller
  6. The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick
  7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  8. Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich
  9. Twenty-Five Years Among the Poorest Children in America by Jonathan Kozol
  10. Terror in Taffetaby Marla Cooper
  11. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  12. Anne of Avonlea by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  13. Anne of the Island by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  14. Anne of Windy Poplars by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  15. Anne’s House of Dreams by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  16. Anne of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  17. Rainbow Valley by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  18. Rilla of Ingleside by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  19. Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher by Monica Nolan
  20. Fluke, or, I Know Why the Winged Whale Sings by Christopher Moore
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67 thoughts on “Rebecca #20BooksofSummer #bookreview #readwomen

  1. The best part of the movie is during a scene near the end where Maxim is explaining Rebecca’s demise. The camera follows her movements as Maxim talks through them. If you squint, you can almost see her outline the moment is so vivid.

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  2. I loved this book! I think the amount of effort put into describing the settings really paid off–I don’t have a very visual imagination at all and hardly ever see books happening in my mind’s eye, but I was left with such a clear picture of Manderley at the end of the book. I didn’t notice the pacing to be off at the end, but I’ve never seen the film so that might affect my perception when I eventually get round to it.

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    1. I usually hate to watch a film AND read the book because they tend to be so different. Later, I begin to confuse which did what, the book or the film! This is not the case with Rebecca. They are so similar (many of the dialogue lines from the book make it directly into the film). I think the ending is better in the film — more suspense in the delivery and no sluggish pacing.

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  3. Great review! Yep, fantastic book and fantastic film – can’t wait to re-read it now! Mrs Danvers is my favourite I think – her psychology is so dark and twisted. Nobody does psychological like du Maurier. Have you ever read her short story The Apple Tree? It’s truly scary, but with that lovely ambiguity as to whether there’s anything supernatural going on, or is it all in the mind of the protagonist. As you say, a ghost story with no ghost… maybe!

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  4. I first came to know of Rebecca only recently, last year when I watched a B&W Bollywood movie based on the book. I loved the movie so much that I googled it and found that it is based on Rebecca, but it has a further twist at the end that is different from the book. It really does lend itself to film beautifully.

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          1. It’s not in English and I’m not sure about the subtitles, sorry. The one I saw didn’t have them I think. Not sure if the one on Amazon has subtitles.

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              1. I have to warn you that like most Bollywood movies, the action is interspersed with songs. it may feel annoying. But I personally like the music in this movie.

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                1. Flamboyant songs, I’ve been told 😀 Dude, sometimes you just have to get up and dance. I was drinking coffee in care the other day when a fun song came on, so I started kind of dancing in my chair. A lady saw me, so I apologized (I don’t know why; we women are kind of like that). But she responded, “Hey, you do what you gotta do.”

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                  1. Not all are flamboyant actually. We have songs for every occasion-happy, sad, festive, even creepy. The music in this movie lends to the atmosphere imo.

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  5. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve watched that film – but have never read the book. I did read another by du Maurier which was meant to be wonderful (My Cousin Rachel) and I didnt care for it at all which rather put me off Rebecca the book

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  6. This was such a joy to read, Melanie! “Rebecca is a ghost story with no ghost.” Spot on! I’ve read Rebecca three or four times now and it’s one of those wonderful stories that seems to offer something new with each reading. I first read it when I was around the narrator’s age and related to her so fiercely, but with each rereading (as I’ve got older) I’m increasingly drawn to Rebecca. It’s genius how du Maurier creates such a strong character without ever putting her directly on the page. The last time I read Rebecca was a few months after I got married (perfect time to revisit it) and it was so invigorating to see these two women with such polarised views about love, sex, marriage and femininity essentially fighting over the house. It’s so deliciously Gothic. And Beatrice! And Mrs Danvers! I *love* the characters in this book. Even broody Max has his moments (Hi, I’m Bad News!) Okay, I pretty much love *everything* about the book. It’s so easy to get swept up in the mystery and the romance of the house (what I wouldn’t give for that garden), but then there’s real meat there too. It’s one of the few books I’ve read as an adult that’s enchanted and delighted me in the same way books did when I was a kid, if that makes sense? Like the most wonderful game of make believe.

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    1. It definitely makes sense. For a brief period, my husband and I were reading children’s stories that we loved for our “bedtime stories.” I read The Great Gilly Hopkins, which did not disappoint and was even racier than I remembered. My husband then chose Mr. Popper’s Penguins, which often made me smile (until that ridiculous ending) and we watched the movie, too. Then I chose The War With Grandpa….and it was so terrible! I felt bad! That book was so delightful to me as a girl! I’m pretty sure the Sweet Valley Twins would NOT hold up, either…

      I found Maxim to be very kind in the book. Yes, he’s mostly quiet, but he’s often throwing celebrations that his worker employees attend, he gives money to beggars, he’s kind and cooperative, and even a bit saucy with ol’ Mrs. Van Hopper, who was delightful in the movie but deliciously awkward on the page. I’m positive I’ll read this book again and again. I just bought the Bollywood version of Rebecca, which Vijayalakshmi Harish recommended! See other comments for name and links if interested.

      Side note: I love how many people have read this review and yet not one commented on the fact that I almost killed myself daydreaming, lol. It was a harbinger of my MFA. 😀

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      1. I don’t think I’ve read any of those children’s books!! 😮 Maxim is such an interesting character. I have mixed feelings about him. He seems like ultimately a good person, but then he’s done this terrible thing. And he thinks the narrator might make him happy, but she doesn’t get him at all and he’s so alone. But then, he kinda deserves to be… I flip flop on Max. Also, I’m terribly glad you didn’t die of an overactive imagination! What a way to go!!

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        1. I really like him, and then in the end we learn he killed Rebecca, but at that point we’re so happy for the narrator that Maxim loves her that we don’t care that he’s a murderer. In the movie, someone (perhaps Hitchcok?) softened things by making the death accidental. He might have had to get around the review board or something like that.

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  7. Why didn’t I know there was a movie?! Of course there is a movie. I better hurry up and read this then, so I can watch it. 🙂
    (Like TJ, skimmed through most of this since I haven’t read the book yet!)

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  8. Great post! I love Rebecca, and just read it for the first time this year. I love how du Maurier plays on the reader’s thoughts and fears – the book is suspenseful in part because of what the reader brings to the story as well. I adored the atmosphere in the book, and the opening line is perfection in my mind. And the fact that the second Mrs de Winter is never named is so haunting – you can place yourself more in her mind – she is every woman.

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    1. I always think of the narrator as “no woman,” as in she’s “the child” and “Mrs. de Winter” (even though that name MOSTLY applies to Rebecca) and “the bride.” She’s not even A woman, she’s so insignificant. Despite that, she does still serve as a stand-in for the reader. It works on so many levels! Thank you for stopping by!

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  9. I haven’t read this classic yet, but everyone I know who has loves it. I also haven’t had the pleasure of watching the movie adaptation, but it sounds like it’s really good as well. I always assumed Rebecca was the name of the protagonist too, but now I’d definitely approach the novel differently after reading your review. Hope you have a lovely week!

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    1. If I had to do it again, I would still watch the movie first to get a great sense of what the house looks like and then read the novel, which adds to the movie because we know the narrator’s thoughts. I hope this week is a good one for you, too! It’s been so awful the past week with three shootings in the U.S. that gained national attention and sent the country spiraling, and then I think of my U.K. friends and the Brexit fiasco. Time to see if my Australian friends will let me couch serf! lol, jk but seriously.

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  10. You would think that after all these years the typos in the story would be straightened out!

    I read this book in my high school book club. We participated in book quote competitions that gave me so much life and purpose as teen! Every year there would be a list of 30 books and all the members in participating school book clubs would have to read the books to prepare for the competition at the end of the school year. We had to identify a random but distinctive quote from the books in the list to get points and eventually win. My school only won 1 year out of the 4 that I was there, but it was so fun. Rebecca was in the list in 2015, I think, and I was the one who got the point for guessing the Rebecca quote! 😀

    I love the book at the time, though I didn’t know there was a black and white movie after all this time. I assume there has been a more modern adaptation?

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    1. You book club sounds SO FUN. I would love that kind of trivia! In the 90s they had a Jeopardy-like game show where the contestants had to name the song based on song lyrics, and I always wanted a book version of that. The Hitchcock movie is ABSOLUTELY the go-to film. I’m not sure it could ever be improved…perhaps this is why no one has tried. It’s definitely worth the watch, and many of the lines in the movie come directly from the book, so it will be familiar to you. Du Maurier was alive when the film was made, though she didn’t write it; however, you can see that it respects her novel. Vijayalakshmi has convinced me that the Bollywood version (also older, also black and white) is amazing too, so I found a copy on Amazon and bought it! GO WATCH THE HITCHCOCK MOVIE.

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