March 15

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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

From Lisa at Elanora BranchYoung_Daphne_du_Maurier

I am going to enjoy discussing this book at the Elanora Library “Afternoon with a Classic” session this Friday.

Although I have always admired the opening sentence of this novel:“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again”, I have never actually read the book before.

From the opening sentence to the closing line – “And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea”  I was hooked.

The opening chapter describes a nightmare return to Manderley, an imposing English estate in Cornwall, where most of the action takes place. The gothic elements of the novel revolve around the house itself – Manderely – which in many ways becomes the main character.

The plot centres on Maxim de Winter, heir of the Manderely estate, and his wives past and present – the Mrs’ de Winters. The former Mrs de Winter, Rebecca, has been dead for over a year due to a tragic sailing accident, but her presence haunts the entire narrative and her absence makes her as much a presence as all the other characters.

We meet the second Mrs de Winter in Monte Carlo, where, as the paid companion of an elderly snob, she meets and marries the much older enigmatic and rich widower after a whirlwind romance. The second wife (interestingly, we never learn her name) is given to bouts of daydreams and reverie which intensify the mood set by the opening chapter. Sometimes it is hard to tell what is real and what is dream or daydream as the sequences are so cleverly written and slip backwards and forwards in tense. She loves her new husband with a hungry desperation, but grows increasingly despondent as she is convinced that he is still in love with his first wife.

We watch as the naïve and innocent heroine is married in haste on the continent, and then whisked back to Manderley to face the scrutiny of the staff and neighbours, who are constantly comparing her to, the former Mrs de Winter. Rebecca, it appears, was exquisitely beautiful, beloved by all, an artful homemaker and decorator, and the perfect hostess infamous for the many lavish parties she held on the estate.

Although the author only ever describes Rebecca in glowing terms, there is an undercurrent of mystery suggesting that all is not as it seems. There is the malevolent presence of the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, who is desperate to keep Rebecca’s memory alive. She takes an instant dislike to the new Mrs de Winters, constantly comparing her to the former Mrs de Winter.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but just let’s say that when the twist came – it took me totally by surprise. Even if you have seen the Hitchcock movie adaptation you are still likely to be shocked, for where Hitchcock whitewashed the plot, du Maurier had no such qualms.

No more spoilers, just read it, then please feel free to come and share your opinions at:

The Elanora Library

Friday 18th March 2016