Imagine being in love with a man that you have known for only a fortnight. Imagine him rescuing you from your otherwise mundane life as a hired companion to a woman who is tiresome. Imagine being married to this man who you love so much but becomes grave when thinking about the past, and his late wife whom you never talk about. Imagine being haunted by the ever lurking memory of his late wife as you start your life together at his home. This is the scene that is set in Rebecca.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
The novel begins in the present, as seen above and it becomes apparent to the reader that the narrator no longer lives at Manderley. We never learn the name of the narrator, which is very relevant because of the title she gets when she marries Maxim de Winter. Despite Maxim saying to her
'You have a very lovely and unusual name.'
The narrator is still young and unsure of herself and of who she really is and in marrying and becoming the new Mrs de Winter - her identity or rather her finding of her identity is stunted by the way the spirit or memory of the previous Mrs de Winter is still alive around Manderley. It is only when she hears the truth about Rebecca from Maxim that she truly comes into her role as Mrs de Winter.
The new Mrs de Winter feels compelled to run the household as the former Mrs de Winter - Rebecca - had. Wheneve she asks for something, a reply from a member of staff would be Mrs de Winter always did this, Mrs de Winter did it like that. Our narrator feels insecure, and inadequate since she is nothing like Rebecca who was adored by everyone and was capable of everything. With even Maxim's sister Beatrice noting
"you are so very different from Rebecca."
Our narrator's greatest challenge comes in the form of the housekeeper Mrs Danvers who one could describe as a disciple of Rebecca. She has kept Rebecca's bedroom the same as it was when Rebecca was alive. Treating Rebecca's old room and possessions almost as a shrine. Mrs Danvers despises the narrator, and almost gets her to commit suicide. Mrs Danvers connives to make the narrator's life miserable.
Rebecca's memory haunts the narrator as everyone remarks what a great hostess she was. She begins to think that because of the ineptitude that she feels that Maxim could never really love her. But then the action that occurs to stop Mrs Danvers in succeeding to get our narrator to commit suicide is what gets Maxim to confide in our narrator and bring them closer.
As I relaxed my hands and sighed, the white mist and the silence that was part of it was shattered suddenly, was rent in two by an explosion that shook the window where we stood. The glass shivered in its frame. I opened my eyes. I stared at Mrs Danvers. The burst was followed by another, and yet a third and fourth. The sound of the explosions stung the air and the birds rose unseen from the woods around the house and made an echo with their clamour.
A ship is run aground because of fog, and because of this Rebecca's boat is discovered with a body inside. Maxim tells his wife what an awful person Rebecca really was - delighting in having affairs and making Maxim miserable. Fooling everyone around her with her charm and beauty. This truly brings about a change in their relationship as all his wife can think about is that Maxim never loved Rebecca.
Things become complicated for Maxim, as Rebecca's cousin tries to blackmail him, but Maxim does not fall into his trap. With some things about Rebecca being exposed. Just as you think Maxim and the narrator will return to Manderley and have a happily ever after ending, you are reminded of why the novel starts
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.
I tried very hard to summarise without giving away any spoilers. I hope I have succeeded. But now for my review:
Rebecca is exquisitely written, du Maurier truly weaves a picture with her writing. She puts things so beautifully - Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long, tenacious fingers. The woods, always a menace even in the past, had triumphed in the end. They crowded, dark and uncontrolled, to the borders of the drive. The beeches with white, naked limbs leant close to one another, their branches intermingled in a strange embrace, making a vault above my head like the archway of a church.
The story that she has put together is just beautiful, a gothic novel that absorbs the reader wholly in reading it. Although there is no actual ghost present, both Maxim and the narrator are hauted by her ghost until her boat is found. The way that she is Mrs de Winter but is not truly Mrs de Winter until she banishes the ghost of Rebecca that taunts her in the way that the household is run. It is in learning that she is nothing like Rebecca that she truly comes into herself. A very introspective story from the point of view of the narrator.
I liked Maxim from the beginning, a bit like the narrator I suppose. I hated it when he became withdrawn from her, not letting her know what is getting to him. I felt such relief when he finally confided in her and allowed her to become his equal. I also liked the narrator, whilst she was with Mrs van Hopper she had my sympathy - to have to put up with someone like that as a job...
When finally we see Manderley, I liked Frith and Robert, although I think they should have treated the narrator a bit better. I disliked Mrs Danvers from the very start, I don't know why Maxim didn't just sack her when they got back. The way she treated the narrator like a petulent child was just awful. I am just glad that at the end the narrator is no longer afraid of or intimidated by Mrs Danvers, and that she and her husband finally have the relationship that she deserves.
I loved reading this book and it is now one of my favourite novels.