Still a Favourite


Rebecca begins with a dream:

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

That first line has never failed to delight me and that dream sets the tone for the book. I’ve read it many times and each time I fall under its spell. Identity is a recurrent theme, just who was Rebecca, what was she really like and what lead to her death. I still want to know the narrator’s name and her awe of Rebecca still exasperates me. Daphne du Maurier described the book to her publisher as:

a sinister tale about a woman who marries a widower … Pyschological and rather macabre.

Dreaming is another theme. The new Mrs de Winter is in awe of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife, and has nightmares about her. She daydreams, imagining what Rebecca was like, how beautiful she was, how much Maxim and everyone else must have loved her and how capable and talented she was. She pictures what she thinks life was like for the family in the past and imagines what will happen in the future. She builds up false pictures in her mind and lacks the courage to demand the truth.

Then of course there is the house, Manderley:

A thing of grace and beauty, exquisite and faultless, lovelier even than I had ever dreamed, built in its hollow of smooth grassland and mossy lawns, the terraces sloping to the gardens, and the gardens to the sea. (page 73)

There is a nightmarish quality to the house, approached down with a dark and twisting drive, that turns and twists like

“a serpent … very silent, very still … like an enchanted ribbon through the dark and silent woods.

Then coming out of the dark woods the drive is edged on either side by

a wall of colour, blood-red, reaching far above our heads. We were among the rhododendrons. There was something bewildering, even shocking, about the suddeness 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 slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic, unlike any rhododendron plant I had seen before. (pages 71 and 72)

The “slaughterous red”  symbolises blood and death. The rhododendrons intrude into the house, not only are they growing outside the morning room “blood-red and luscious”, making the room glow with their colour, but they are also filling the room – on the mantlepiece, on the writing desk and floating in a bowl on a table. There are more shocks lying in wait for the new Mrs de Winter, a shy and socially awkward young woman, married to a man twice her age, haunted by Rebecca and as she struggles to fit in with the social class, her confidence is continually undermined by her own insecurity and the hostile and resentful presence of the housekeeper Mrs Danvers, whose eyes were “dark and sombre” in her “white skull’s face”, “malevolent” and “full of hatred”.

A novel where secrets are only just  supressed, like a ticking bomb waiting to explode revealing the devastating truth.

Sunday Salon – On Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca001This morning I was reading Rebecca again.

It’s long been one of my favourite books but it’s been years since I last read it. There is something special about reading a book when you know the characters and what happens to them and yet at the same time you want it to turn out differently – to prevent the disaster happening, and to help them understand where they’re going wrong. I first read it as a young teenager and was instantly captivated by the story. Re-reading it now I have the same feelings about it – I long to know Maxim De Winter’s second wife’s name; the most we know is that it is a “lovely and unusual name“, given to her by her father and I want to give her a good shake. She is so lacking in self-confidence, timid and obsessed by Rebecca, the first wife.

I still feel the tension, the mystery and suspense as the story unfolds even though I know what’s coming next, but it’s the details I’ve forgotten and re-reading means that I don’t need to rush through to find out what happens and can concentrate on those details. For example I’d forgotten about the visit to Beatrice and Maxim’s grandmother. This is a small episode which encapsulates the pathos of old age, the loss of memory and the way that old people are treated.

After my first reading of Rebecca I eagerly read as many of Daphne Du Maurier’s books as I could find. So I read Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, Mary Anne, The Scapegoat and The King’s General. I loved them all and have re-read them several times. I cannot imagine how it came about that I’ve lost my copies of Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and Frenchman’s Creek but I have! So all I have left of my original books are these:

Du Maurier bks

I bought a set of ten books a while ago from The Book People which included the three books I’ve lost.

I’ve since read The House on the Strand, The Flight of the Falcon and Castle Dor. None of them are as good as Rebecca, which was disappointing and I wondered if I would find Rebecca a bit of a let down now, which is why I’m now re-reading it. I’m glad to find that it is just as good as I remembered it to be! Some time soon I must re-read the other three books and hope they’ll be as good as well. And in future I’d like to read her other books too – not just those in the photograph but all her other books as well. I’ve read Margaret Forster’s biography, which I thought was excellent and I’d love to read Justine Picardie’s biogrpahical novel, Daphne, and Flavia Leng’s Daphne du Maurier : A Daughter’s Memoir.