Thursday, 7 April 2011


Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

This book famously begins with the account of a dream. Another dream features at the end. Indeed the whole book inhabits a dreamscape charged with the emotions of the nameless narrator.  Indeed at times it seems as if the narrator is being annihilated by the powerful emotions raging around her.
The novel opens with that famous first line "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." On one level this tumbles us into the story and as it progresses we are always trying to catch up to that initial moment and all that is implied within it. Why is it that it is now only in her dreams that the narrator goes to Manderley? And Du Maurier goes further, telling us us more and more of what is to come in the opening salvo of this novel as the first two chapters set in the NOW of the narrator prefigure the events that we have yet to hear in our journey into her past.

"I believe there is a theory that men and women emerge finer and stronger after suffering, and that to advance in this or any world we must endure ordeal by fire. This we have done in full measure, ironic though it seems. We have both known fear, and loneliness, and very great distress. I suppose sooner or later in the life of everyone comes a moment of trial. We all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end. We have conquered ours, or so we believe.
The devil does not ride us any more. We have come through our crisis, not unscathed any more. His premonition of disaster was correct from the beginning; and like a ranting actress in an indifferent play, I might say that we have paid for freedom. But I have had enough melodrama in this life..."

Du Maurier on the stairs at Menabilly- the house that
was one of the inspirations for Manderley
The narrator is a companion to the fabulous grotesque Mrs Van Hopper on the Cote d'Azur when she meets the recently widowed Max De Winter and suffers 'the fever of first love'. An indecently hasty marriage brings the couple finally to Manderley, De Winters' family home and the heart of this novel. The house is approached by a very long winding drive, overshadowed by encroaching trees.
"The drive twisted and turned as a serpent, scarce wider in places than a path, and above our heads was a great colonnade of trees , whose branches nodded and intermingled with one another, making an archway for us, like the roof of a church." .... "in a moment the dark trees had thinned, the nameless shrubs had disappeared, and on either side of us was a wall of colour, blood-red, reaching far above our heads. We were amongst the rhododendrons. There was something bewildering, even shocking, about the suddenness of their discovery. The woods had not prepared me for them. They startled me with their crimson faces, massed one upon the other in incredible profusion, showing no leaf, no twig, nothing but the slaughterhouse red, luscious and fantastic, unlike any rhododendron plant I had seen before."
The sacred, the profane, sexuality and death are all here, gushing from the page. We are entering Eden with the snake and the entrance is through a kind of massively engorged pudenda. It is as if nature itself has been transformed by the events that have happened here.

When they enter the house "someone advanced from the sea of faces, someone tall and gaunt, dressed in deep black, whose prominent cheek bones and great hollow eyes gave her a skull's face, parchment white, set on a skeleton's frame." This is Mrs Danvers, who ensures that Manderley runs like a machine, a machine that swallows up the narrator. Meals are served and rooms prepared at particular times. It is a little like Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast. The narrator feels she mustn't change these routines put in place by Rebecca. She lacks confdence and feels overshadowed by the reminders of Rebecca. I won't say much more for fear of giving away too much.

It is hard to escape discussing how the novel reflects and distorts elements of Du Mauriers' life. An incestuous relationship with her father, her own and her husband's affairs, bisexuality, jealousy, plagiarism. Melodrama was something that didn't just happen on the page. She has said that it was letters from her husbands previous fiancee that inspired her to write Rebecca and she first comes across Rebecca through an inscription on the flyleaf of a book. ("the name Rebecca stood out black and strong, the tall and sloping R dwarfing the other letters.")

Early sexual experiences can cause oversexualisation and it seems to me that the world of Rebecca is shot through with this. It seems to me that Rebecca herself is a much a reflection of Du Maurier as is the narrator. Innocence, voracity and denial stalk the pages of this book. It's like Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights were put in a blender with something less respectable yet highly exciting.

Put your head on the pillow, brace yourself and enjoy.


  1. Responding to your message to Book Blogs - and loved reading this. Why is Rebecca such an enduring draw to booklovers? It's something to do with the way we all find some resonance in it, and the way du Maurier writes.

    It's also the starting point for a new novel I have coming out this year - do pop over to my blog and check it out.

    (New follower)

  2. I LOVE this book :) Awesome blog.

    I'm following.