Monday, February 6, 2017

Classics Club 42: Rebecca


Right from the opening line - "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." - I was hooked on this beautifully written novel. Admittedly the plot does have  a certain soap operaish quality to it. The protagonist and narrator is a naive young girl who gets married to a more experienced, wealthier, older man. She's not really fitted for nor comfortable in his world  and he makes no effort to help her make the transition. She's always in the shadow of, and feels haunted by and inferior to  her husband's first wife, the perfect, titular but late Rebecca. Then Rebecca's body is discovered and the truth of her marriage with Mr de Winter is revealed - to our unnamed protagonist, if not to society at large. Despite, or perhaps because of,  this there was plenty in the plot to keep me interested. The delightfully awful snobbish of Mrs van Hopper was a highlight of the early part of the novel. This was followed by gothic spookiness and  the outright evilness of Mrs Danvers, and then suspense, as the real reason for Rebecca's death was revealed and the court process unfolded.

Even though the plot may seem light, not to mention sensational in places, it is meaty enough to give pause for thought and highlights several important life lessons. Our protagonist and her husband, Mr and Mrs de Winter, certainly demonstrate the importance of honesty and communication in a happy marriage. On the return to Manderley they both seem unhappy, and their marriage seems to exist more in name than in substance. However, once he tells her the truth and they start communicating and working together, they are both happier despite the threat that looms over them.  The theme of justice is also explored as the reader is forced to confront the issue of how much and in what way Maxim should be punished for his crime. Rebecca is unusual in that an admitted murderer is not punished by the justice system. One wonders if the Colonel would have been so helpful, so willing to pursue one avenue of inquiry but not others, had the de Winters not been society darlings. Plenty of other class related issues to mull over too.The novel is  also unusual in portraying the cost of an unhappy marriage on the husband, rather than just the wife.

To me though the strength of the novel, and the aspect that contributed most to my enjoyment was the writing style. The lush, detailed descriptions of Manderley really brought that place alive. Sometimes I find detailed description irksome, they seem to interrupt the narrative flow. Not here though. Instead they made me feel as if I was seeing Manderley through my own eyes. And du Maurier is no one-trick pony. Her ability to create spooky suspense and threatening gothic overtones is as strong as her ability to bring beautiful scenery to life. She also has the ability to make me root for our protagonist, despite being supremely irritated by her passiveness - such as her inability or unwillingness to tell her husband how miserable she was feeling and why.

I am counting this as my romance classic for the 2017 Back to the Classics Challenge.

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