Sunday, November 22, 2009
I have mixed feelings about Rebecca. It was certainly entertaining, but there were so many frustrating things about it, too. But then, I'm pretty sure that I was supposed to find those things frustrating. I guess I can sum it up by saying that du Maurier certainly knows how to evoke certain emotions from her readers.
For those who are not familiar with Rebecca, it is the story of the second Mrs. de Winter. (The reader never knows her first name.) She is young, shy, and gauche when she marries Maxim de Winter, a man old enough to be her father, after a whirlwind "romance" in Monte Carlo where they met on vacation.
Things are going well until the newlyweds return to Manderley, Maxim's family home in Cornwall, England. Maxim's first wife, Rebecca, drowned in a boating accident ten months prior to the second marriage, and the staff there are constantly telling the new wife "Mrs. de Winter did it this way," "Mrs. de Winter did it that way," etc. It's pretty rude that these servants keep reminding the new wife that she is taking someone else's place. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, is particularly bad, and she takes an immediate dislike to the new wife.
You want to just scream at the new wife to grow a spine and put these rude servants in their place, but she doesn't do it. It is understandable why she doesn't—she's practically fresh out of the schoolroom, and she has no experience managing a household, etc. She needs to rely on the servants to tell her how to get stuff done, but all they can do is bring up her husband's dead wife. And it's not just the servants. Maxim's sister, his grandmother, and others are constantly bringing up Rebecca.
To make matters worse, Rebecca was everything the new wife is not. Beautiful, witty, outgoing, etc. So it's not surprising that the new wife develops a crippling complex. She worries constantly that people will gossip about her and her marriage. And she eventually becomes convinced that Maxim will never love her the way he loved Rebecca.
My annoyance with the new wife was hard to overcome at times, but I think that is an integral part of the story. You really, really want her to stand up for herself, and even she wants to stand up for herself, but she's so terrified of making a false move that she just plays it safe. I thought it was a very realistic portrayal, as unappealing as it was.
There is an air of mystery to the book, too, but I can't really discuss it without giving too much away. So warning: SPOILERS AFTER THE JUMP! (For those of you who are not going to continue reading, just trust me that the story is a very fun read.)
[Oh my goodness, can I just say that it took me an embarrassing amount of time to figure out how to do this "read more" thing? Because it did.]
Anyway, as it turns out, Maxim is not heartbroken over his first wife. In fact, she didn't drown after all: HE MURDERED HER! He murdered her because she was an awful woman, a master manipulator that he just couldn't live with anymore, especially after she told him she was pregnant with her lover's child and that child would one day inherit Manderley. So he shoots her, locks her body in the cabin of her small sailboat, and capsizes the boat in the cove by Manderley. It's not until after his second marriage that the sailboat and body are discovered by a diver who is looking for hull damage in a ship that ran aground in the cove. It is quite campy fun.
But there are some real head-to-desk moments. For instance, after Maxim confesses to his new wife that he shot Rebecca, all his wife can think is "Thank goodness he doesn't love her! He loves me!"
Really?! That's what comes to mind? Not "oh my God, I've married/slept with A MURDERER?" And he didn't just kill anyone, HE KILLED HIS WIFE! It is some crazy shit. But on the positive side, the new wife finally finds her backbone after she learns this.
Also, I have to admit that it's hard to despise Maxim despite the fact that he's a killer. He lies shortly after Rebecca's death by falsely identifying a body that washed ashore as hers. But after Rebecca's actually body is discovered, he keeps the lying to a minimum. He just doesn't admit anything. And he doesn't impede the investigation at all; in fact, he actively cooperates and is willing to accept the consequences should the truth be learned. So I respect him for that. Also, he was quite tortured by what he'd done. His torment is what kept him emotionally distant from his new wife, so after he confessed their relationship strengthened. (Inexplicably. BECAUSE HE'S STILL A MURDERER.)