Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

First of all, I'd like to thank Allie over at A Literary Odyssey for hosting the Rebecca Readalong; I've wanted to reread this book for years and the readalong gave me the perfect opportunity to do so.  Second, I didn't post my first update for the readalong in time.  We were suppose to post on chapters 1-15 by January 14th.  The 14th rolled around and I realized I had read to chapter 17 already and the plot was thickening.  I had to make a difficult decision:  set aside Rebecca and dutifully write a blog post or ignore the deadline and devour the second half of the book.

I chose to consume the remainder of Rebecca.  This was a reread for me (I read Rebecca at least five years or more ago) and I could remember bits of the plot and the outcome, but I had difficulty recalling how everything "went down."  Early yesterday morning I finished the reread and I have to say that Rebecca is even better the second time around.

First, a few things before I begin discussing my thoughts on the novel.  1). I'm skipping a plot summary, because I think most people are generally familiar with the premise of the book.  2).  Do not read ANY FURTHER if you have yet to read Rebecca.  This is one huge plot spoiler.  So I guess what I'm saying is that this post is for Rebecca readers only.  ;)

Several things stood out to me when rereading this book:

  1. Having an unnamed narrator/heroine is a most brilliant idea and really made the novel.

  2. This is Jane Eyre all over again.

The Unnamed Narrator:

Maxim de Winter's new wife is young, inexperienced, poor, unglamorous and the exact opposite of Rebecca.  The reader never learns her name and this truly helps establish this new wife as less than Rebecca.  Rebecca is able to own things:  this is Rebecca's husband, house, dog, pen, brush.  The nameless heroine can claim nothing of  her own as her namelessness leaves her with out identity.   Rebecca's presence is heavy in the book:  the summer heat is oppressive and thick, flowers droop, doors thud and Rebecca's very name conjures anxiety and fear.  If the heroine had a name (for example, Sally) Rebecca's power would be diminished; Sally would have the husband, house, dog, pen, and brush.  The most the nameless heroine can do is share the title of Mrs. de Winter and Rebecca crowds her out of that title.

A significant scene occurs in chapter 20; after Maxim tells his current wife that Rebecca's body has been discovered he is begging forgiveness and kissing his wife hungrily.  Then the heroine states, "This is what I have wanted him to say every day and every night, I thought, and now he is saying is at last.... He is saying it now.... He went on kissing me, hungry, desperate, murmuring my name (p.252)."  Maxim is saying his new wife's name thereby diminishing Rebecca's power.  However, the reader is still left in Rebecca's thrall because the reader still does not know the new wife's name.  The balance of power has tipped for the characters, but the reader still waits.

Shades of Jane Eyre:

The shades of Jane Eyre one can find in Rebecca are pretty obvious:  a wealthy man with a home full of secrets who marries a young, innocent girl.   Mr. Rochester attempts to marry Jane before disclosing his past (or the fact that he is still married) and Maxim de Winter makes a selfish decision to marry the heroine of Rebecca without disclosing his past (or even telling her anything about his life).  Jane cares for Mr. Rochester in his blindness and the nameless heroine of Rebecca cares for Maxim when there is a chance others may discover he murdered Rebecca.  Heck, we even have burning mansions in both books.

I'm not so much interested in the similarities between the two novels as I am interested in my reaction to rereading the books.  When I read Jane Eyre and Rebecca for the first time I was captivated by the romance.  Maxim and his new wife desperately love each other!  Jane and Mr. Rochester desperately love each other!  On my second readings, I had different reaction.  I found Maxim de Winter and Mr. Rochester pretty much selfish douchebags.  Sorry, but that's my take on it.  Neither man thinks of the impact his past actions will have on marriage and love.  I thought Mr. Rochester especially egregious; attempting to marry Jane while marrying Bertha could have totally destroyed Jane; and he knew this.  Maxim is counting on his new wife to be innocent and young and bring about a freshness to his life.  Neither man views his wife/wife-to-be as an equal and both men underestimate the understanding of the women they love.

Of course, I still absolutely adore Jane Eyre and Rebecca.  In fact, I think I've been inspired to reread Jane Eyre in the next few months.  I'm also certain that Rebecca is a true classic that I'll be rereading for many years to come.


Amanda said...

I have to admit, in my second read-through of Jane Eyre, I love Mr. Rochester even more than I did the first time. I don't think he's perfect, but I don't think he's a selfish douchebag either. :D

I didn't realize Rebecca was a retelling of Jane Eyre until after I'd read the book, and I didn't really pick up on the similarities until I really thought about it afterwards. I hope to reread it in a few years and read it more from that perspective, just like I'm rereading Jane Eyre now knowing what's going to happen in the book, which definitely makes for a different reading!

Ruthiella said...

I agree there are similarities between “Jane Eyre” and “Rebecca”. But in no way is Rebecca a retelling of Jane Eyre, in my mind. Jane is a strong woman and really holds her own against Rochester. The unnamed narrator in Rebecca is initially a doormat and only gains strength when Maxim becomes weak and needs her. Also, while Bertha is physically alive, she is not much of a presence in either Jane or Rochester’s lives (until she becomes a hindrance to Rochester’s attempt to marry Jane and subsequently burns the house down, that is). My point is that Bertha is merely a plot device to keep Jane and Rochester apart until Charlotte deems they have suffered enough and gives us (dear Reader) our happy end. In “Rebecca”, the former wife is very much dead, and yet she absolutely pervades and dominates the lives of everyone in the book. I think of “Rebecca” as a ghost story in many ways.

It is interesting that you note on second reading, that you perceive Mr. Rochester and Maxim de Winter as selfish douche bags. I think age and life experience play a big part in how one may perceive a book; which is why re-reading can be great, sometimes bringing greater understanding to a well remembered book and sometimes bringing disappointment.

Andi said...

Welp, I haven't read it yet, so I quit reading when you told me to. It's one of those books I fully intend to read.

christina said...

Like Amanda, I didn't realize Rebecca was a retelling. And seriously, I loved that you called them douche bags. Hysterical.