Author : Daphne Maurier
Publication Date : 1938 ( Great Britian)
Crime fiction writer P D James was right when she said " A novel is a good novel or not. It's foolish to say you can't write a good novel as a mystery."
Of course! There's an element of mystery in it. Just because of it, confining Daphne Maurier's Rebecca only to the genre of mystery would be a great injustice to this wonderful literary piece of work. It has everything - intrigue, romance, beautiful prose, in - depth and round characters. It had all the qualities to become a classic just like ' Jane Eyre', ' Wuthering Heights' etc.
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
She was narrating her dream about Manderley. She was nameless and was living with her husband, an exile's life.
In her dream, she saw, Manderley was deserted and abandoned. The shrubs, the trees, the plants had encroached the drive and all around from their usual place giving it a ghostly look. Like any other bride, when she came to Manderley dreamt of a quiet life with her husband. But there was something sinister going on in Manderly.
Every wall of Manderely was yelling a name ' Rebecca'. She was the first wife of Max de winter who died of drowning in the sea. Mrs Danvers, an ardent devotee of Rebecca intimidated the narrator.
It was not that she had to fight with humans, but with the haunting and all pervading presence of Rebecca, the first Mrs de winter who died of drowning in the sea.
Rebecca was dead. But Manderley retained her daunting spirits. Mrs Danvers, had kept Manderley as if she had just gone out for a brief vacation and would be back anytime. The narrator did not do anything to alter the situation as she did not want to risk losing Max, her husband, whom she thought was still in love with his first wife.
She met him in Monte Carlo, France, where she was accompanying a wealthy American woman called Van Hopper as a paid companion. Her employer's illness gave her the opportunity to spend more time with Max and eventually, they ended up marrying.
Everyone compared her with Rebecca. Beatrice, Max's sister told her that she was nothing like Rebecca, and when she met Max's grandmother who also in her senility insisted on meeting Rebecca, leaving our narrator all the more perplexed. When Rebecca was alive, they had their bedroom in the western wing of the Manderley whereas; the second Mrs de winter and Max used the rooms in the eastern wing which was comparatively smaller in size for he did not want to go to the western side.
Mrs Danvers had gone to such an extent that she was almost successful in convincing our narrator to commit suicide by saying on and on that she was unwanted in Manderley and her husband did not love her. It would have happened if the rockets were not fired, indicating that a ship was aground in the sea near to the mansion with Max ordering everybody to offer help to the people in the ship.
A year ago, after Rebecca went missing in the sea, a dead body of a woman had washed up on the shore and Max identified her as Rebecca. But, to everybody's dismay, when the divers dived in to check the condition of the stuck ship, they came across a boat with a woman's body stuck in its little cabin. The boat was of Rebecca's.
No doubt! There would be an inquest. It was then our narrator heard something from her husband which she never expected. He was not in love with Rebecca and he hated her to the core. She was a woman of loose morals. That one sentence just changed our narrator in a trice.
“The moment of crisis had come, and I must face it. My old fears, my diffidence, my shyness, my hopeless sense of inferiority, must be conquered now and thrust aside. If I failed now I should fail forever," she told herself.
From that moment onwards, she had taken over Manderley. Mrs Danvers could not shake her anymore and nothing in the world could prevent her from adorning the title Mrs de winter. She was there lending her full support to her husband during the inquest.
Why was the narrator nameless? Was it the author's attempt to show that she never had any identity? Even after marrying Max de Winter, the owner of the famous Manterley, she was reduced to a shadow of his first wife. Perhaps yes!
She was living in her own world of imagination. Except for Mrs Danvers, everybody liked her- Maxim, his sister Beatrice, Frank even the insane Ben, living near the cottage near to Manderley.
"“I had built up false pictures in my mind and sat before them. I had never had the courage to demand the truth," she told herself.
The revelation of Max that he never loved Rebecca came as a pleasant surprise to her though it came with a heavy price to pay.
Kits Browning, Maurier's son says that her mother did not know what to call her. The only thing a reader could make out from the book was that she had a beautiful surname and she was very young than Max who was in his forties.
Then, as the story progressed, Maurier took it as a challenge to complete the whole story without giving the narrator, a name.
The book was a study in jealousy, according to Maurier. Before marrying Daphne, her husband Browning was engaged to a lady called Jan Ricardo who had a dark hair like Rebecca. Ricardo committed suicide by throwing herself in front of a train but the incident was not in any way related to Maurier's and Browning's marriage. At times, Maurier had felt there was no lessening of her husband's attraction to his late fiancee.
Maurier had also put some of her qualities in both the female characters though it were the traits of second de winter that could be seen in her mother, said her son Browning. But like Rebecca, she was also good at sailing and had all the toughness just like her.
Mrs Danvers was a woman who was absolutely mesmerized by Rebecca. They were alike in spirits -absolutely inconsiderate of other's emotions. She considered Rebecca's audacity to continue her clandestine relationships under the nose of everybody at Mandereley as something heroic.
Mrs Danvers was a cruel soul who lacked judgement. According to Mrs Danvers, Rebecca loved only herself and Mrs Danvers was her ally, the only confidante. Even she was ditched by Rebecca before she died.
The Gothic mansion, Manderley will stay in your literature mind just like Thrushcross Grange of” Wuthering Heights' and Thornfield Hall of " Jane Eyre".
Maurier conceived the idea of Manderley from Milton Hall and she adopted the settings of Menabilly, her own house which was hidden away in the woods.
I am still at Manderley. Loved the book.
- by Shalet Jimmy