This review has been a long time coming, Rebecca is on my list for Non-Austen Reads for Austen Readers, Catherine Morland’s Reading List, and Book Club Picks. I just haven’t had a chance, but that changes today!
Rebecca is one of my favorite gothic fiction books. Like Frankenstein, I watched the movie first and absolutely adored it. It’s one of my favorite films and one of my favorite Alfred Hitchcock films.
I like to kid that Rebecca is Northanger Abbey’s great grandchild as it takes place roughly four generations after Northanger Abbey and has similarities to Austen’s work.
The book starts in the present (1938) with one of the best opening lines: “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderly”. And has our main character, who’s name is unknown, eating with her husband Maxim de Winter.
The fact that we never know the name of our narrator is one of the most fascinating literary mysteries and always makes me wonder, did Du Maurier do that to further have her character be a “shrinking Violet”? To have us mistrust what she says? To help us fully be in the story as how often do you use your own name?
Our main character looks at her husband and while they are pleased in their life they will never be truly happy as so much has been lost. True happiness will never be achieved since Manderly is no more. Like Northanger Abbey, Pemberley, Mansfield Park, etc, Manderly does not just represent a home but also a certain state of who our characters are. And it is no longer. How did that happen…let’s go back…?
We are then taken back to years earlier when our main character was a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, a wealthy woman who moves around to places the rich and famous go as even though she has money, she is always trying to advance herself somehow by making connections. On one such trip she tries to befriend Maxim de Winter, a wealthy landowner from Cornwall, but he is not interested, he has plans and will be away.
While Mrs. Van Hopper does want to be friends with Maxim de Winter, at the same time she is a little happy he rebuffed her as there are a lot of rumors surrounding him. The number one is that he absolutely loved and adored his wife, still mourning her death.
When Mrs. Van Hopper falls ill our main character (MC) finds herself with time to do whatever she wants, but what does she want to do? Uncertain, our MC goes to lunch early and expects to be alone but spots the handsome Maxim de Winter. She accidentally knocks over her flower vase and spills all the water on the table, with Maxim inviting her over to sit with him.
The two begin spending all their time together, Maxim appreciating her sweetness and innocence; and she absolutely adoring him. Eventually the Main Character is called away to return to America, but Maxim saves her by asking that she marry him. After their honeymoon they go back to his home in Manderly and this is where the gothic drama starts.
When they arrive at Manderly it is a beautiful place but our Main Character feels lost and alone. She has no airs, no country hobbies (shooting, riding, etc), she feels out of place, and everything looks and reminds her of the first wife Rebecca. Not only does the house feel full of Rebecca’s spirit, but the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers loved Rebecca and continues to try and bring down our Main Character’s spirit.
Our Main character tries to find her place but keeps getting emotionally knocked down and around by Mrs. Danvers and others.
But there is more to the story of Rebecca than a beautiful socialite. Rebecca had many secrets and while our Main Character starts to uncover things, she finds the truth that the members of the house might not be able to handle if revealed.
This is a wonderful gothic story that I recommend for Northanger Abbey fans and any gothic fiction lovers.
I have always wondered if Daphne du Maurier wrote this book in response to Northanger Abbey, due to their similarities; such as Northanger Abbey was a response to Don Quixote and the Female Quixote.
Both have a sweet, innocent, gullible, lower income girl who is given a trip to an expensive tourist destination. For Catherine she gets to go with people she likes and care about her to Bath, for the Main Character she is a hired companion to a rude woman and goes to Monte Carlo.
Both ladies meet a very handsome man of which rumors swirl around their family; to them the guy is special and stands out. When they meet this man, they immediately fall for him, being consumed with being with him.
The guy they fall for is older than them and sarcastic.
The scene when the Main Character is being forced to leave and wants to reach Maxim, having incredible anxiety that she will never see him again; is so similar to Catherine’s panic attack when she misses their walking date and is so urgent to apologize and make up with him.
When I first read this book I was in my teens and connected to the main character a lot more, but now being an adult and having been in an abusive marriage, Maxim makes a lot more sense to me and he is the one I relate to. I love how he enjoys the main character’s company as she is so sweet and innocent, how clear he is in what he wants (nothing like his first wife), and even the trauma he’s encountered and how that affects the way he acts.
I love this gothic novel and again recommend it to those who love gothic fiction and Northanger Abbey.
For more Catherine Morland’s Reading List, go to Frankenstein
For more Non-Austen Reads for Austen Readers, go to A Match Made in Mehendi
For more book club picks, go to I Won the Cederberg Tea Giveaway + Book Club Picks: The Insanity of God
For more Daphne du Maurier, go to Last Night I Dreamt I Went to Manderley Again: Rebecca (1940)
For more Gothic fiction, go to Mexican Gothic