When it comes to love, one of the biggest threats to present and future happiness is the lurking shadow of former happiness. The idea that someone else has “been there, done that” can really get your goat, if you let it, and this is the driving force for the madness that is Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. I’ve read a synopsis or two for this novel and they vaguely describe the novel as a Gothic work about a young bride living in the shadow of her new husband’s late wife. It’s all very vague and generally only somewhat appealing, but having finally read the novel, it is so much more intense than that!
Yes, the main character is a young woman (whom, by the way, is never named) who marries a handsome, wealthy, older man (enter Maximilian de Winter) and goes to live at his elaborate estate, Manderley, where she assumes the role of “running the household.” Maximilian seems distant and indifferent for quite a while, so you find yourself sympathizing with the new Mrs. de Winter in her obvious assumptions that she continually falls short of being on par with Rebecca, Maximilian’s last wife who died in a sailing accident less than a year prior.
One of the things that surprised me so much about this novel was the overwhelming presence of the dead character. Rebecca is all anyone talks about, even though most characters make hugely obvious efforts to avoid speaking about her at all. The staff of Manderley poses quite a difficulty for the new Mrs. de Winter to maintain, as they are set in the ways of how the estate was run under Rebecca’s strict but gentle thumb. One character, Mrs. Danvers, makes no attempts to hide her adoration for the late Mrs. de Winter and her ever-increasing distaste for the young newcomer. Eventually, even the new bride begins talking of Rebecca, asking questions about her lifestyle and personality, and at some point, we know more about the dead character than we know about most of the living ones. It seems that Rebecca was such a friend and inspiration to all that she causes them all to forego their own personalities in favor of preserving hers.
There is a huge Gothic feel to this novel. Although Rebecca is dead, she is one of the most present characters in the novel, and the new Mrs. de Winter obsesses to the point of forcing herself deeper and deeper into Rebecca’s shadow. The sympathy readers feel is very powerful; I don’t doubt that everyone has at some point felt themselves to be in someone else’s shadow, though hopefully in a much less severe way than du Maurier depicts. Everything that the main character feels, we the readers feel, even so far as the beginning of the book’s prolonged climax. In an effort not to spoil anything, I’ll just say that the young bride unknowingly makes a huge mistake that throws her and everyone at Manderley into a whirlwind of emotion that was hard for me to read. My own emotions were flowing at full speed. THEN, let me also just say that the book’s climax I was referencing earlier lasts for the rest of the book. You guys, as soon as things got real in this book, they stayed real! The first event seems terrible all by itself, but then another event happens that seems to be of the utmost intensity level until it seems resolved and then another crazy happenstance that lasts literally until the last line of the book. I’d say slightly over half of the book is “pretty good;” you stay interested, and thank Heavens for that because that second half is just WHAM BAM POW, one “Whaaat??” after another. I warn you, you’ll feel just “meh” about the first half of this book, but this book does not just end with a bang; it “bangs” about halfway through and then it just keeps bangin’ until it ends with an abrupt and absolute finality.
Loved it! SO many twists; even more turns. Read it, please, and let me know what you think! I imagine I must now read a contemporary book, in the spirit of well-roundedness, so let me know if anyone has any suggestions and I’ll see what happens next.