Shy and timid, our heroine is stunned when the dashing, enigmatic Maxim de Winter asks him to marry him. They barely know each other but have spent many days in Monte Carlo – while her employer was ill in bed, leaving her an unusual amount of free time – taking drives and enjoying a comfortable quiet.
She knows that his home, Manderley, is revered and that she will be the second Mrs. de Winter, but when she accepts Maxim’s proposal she isn’t too concerned about all that.
Upon arriving at Manderley, however, she finds a magnificent manor that feels as though it’s still inhabited by Rebecca – Maxim’s first wife. The servants still follow her orders as though she were alive, the townsfolk speak of her beauty and grace with awe and the eerie, disconcerting housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, lays out clothes for Rebecca in her old rooms.
Certain that she will never meet the standard Rebecca met – and feeling it’s clear that Maxim could not possibly love her as he loved his first wife – the second Mrs. de Winter finds a pursuit in uncovering the secrets about Rebecca.
The truths she finds are much darker than she imagined…
When I was much younger I remember seeing Hitchcock’s black-and-white movie Rebecca and being thoroughly creeped out. That’s why I was thrilled to get a chance to read the original novel – since the book is always better, right?
Rebecca has a wonderfully thick, moody, atmospheric language. We are taken on trips through our narrator’s insecure mind – flights of fancy, imaginings of the worst, etc. It’s a highly realistic first-person voice from a young woman that lacks confidence – and it’s easy to recognize that fear, naiveté and painful nervousness in ourselves.
While reading Rebecca I felt I was at Manderley – it’s a vivid, disturbing, intriguing, daunting yet also lovely and cozy place. It’s a place that could be an ideal home – if it only it weren’t so haunted by the prior Mrs. de Winter.
Of course Mrs. Danvers is very spooky. With an unnerving excitement entering into her face and voice whenever she speaks of Rebecca and a cool look of hatred for our narrator, she gives you the distinct impression of being mentally unstable – dangerously so.
Rebecca is a gothic, nerve-wracking, surprisingly convincing shocker.
Though it’s been a long time since I saw the movie, I was stunned by how exact to the book it was. There was nothing, that I could remember, that was deviated from. I can’t help but wish I had read the book first – of course – so I could have experienced the surprises the first time around here.
My particular version of Rebecca – Harper’s 2006 printing – has author’s notes and extras that were really interesting as well.
One final comment: Our narrator has no first name.
For a while I was sure I had somehow missed it and kept an eagle eye out for it – but, nope. Du Maurier herself confirms she never gave our heroine a first name.
This both exasperates me and titillates me. The fact that Rebecca’s name is not only the title but a central theme of envy and worship throughout the novel gives a brilliant contrast.
So, I’ll accept it.