Rebecca – part two

Since writing my first Rebecca blogpost we’ve had a quick dash up to the Aberdeen area, for one night only, but more of that later in the week.

Back to Daphne du Maurier‘s Rebecca, and I had mentioned that the second Mrs de Winter was mistakenly under the impression that her husband’s first marriage had been a success, so she compared herself with his first wife, always coming up wanting and knocking her own confidence.

Unknown to her Rebecca was in fact one of those women who should really have had a rubber stamp across her forehead DANGEROUS TO MANKIND because in reality she was a manipulative bitch who was only interested in herself and obtaining everything she wanted, whether it was her sister-in-law’s husband, estate workers or just random men she had met on her frequent sojourns in London. Which brings me to my thoughts on Maxim himself and my reaction to his actions.

A while ago I read a very dismissive comment on another blog about Maxim, describing him as ‘that murderer’ which I suppose he was, but for me it wasn’t that black and white because Maxim was the soul of patience and endurance where Rebecca was concerned. He had put up with so much outrageous behaviour over the years, and I would definitely have cracked up long before he did. Of course, Rebecca manipulated him to the end, telling him that she was pregnant and obviously the child was not his, his precious Manderley would be passed on to some nameless man’s child and Maxim would just have to grin and bear it.

Within five days of their marriage Rebecca had told Maxim things about herself which he could never repeat to a living soul. She frightened him and as they were up on a high precipice in the hills above Monte Carlo at the time, he was tempted to do her in then but he didn’t, too much of a gentleman maybe, or too shocked at the time.

Had I been in Maxim’s situation once I had got over the shock I would have taken Rebecca up to a very high cliff, to see the beautiful view of course – and firmly nudged her over the edge and I would have regarded it as a blessed relief because she was a poisonous menace to society, but then there would have been no story at all.

But you haven’t mentioned Mrs Danvers – I hear you say. Well I see her as a sort of reflection of Rebecca, her representative on earth, each of them manipulative, wicked and arrogant, safely at the top of their respective societies. Danvers is a horror.

I suppose every reader has their own image of Manderley impressed on their mind, I have to say that although I adore books which feature houses in the storyline I was never drawn to Manderley as a house of dreams. It was more like a place of nightmares, certainly not a home for the second Mrs de Winter and probably the sort of place which would only be loved by those brought up in it. But Daphne du Maurier was obsessed with Menabilly in Cornwall, which was the name of the house which she based Manderley on. On her first visit to the house the blood red rhododendrons which grew around it were in bloom, she well and truly wrote them into Rebecca. Years after she had first seen the house, and also years after she had written Rebecca, she did manage to rent Menabilly on a long lease of 25 years, it could never be sold as it was entailed and had to be handed on to the next in line for it. Interestingly, du Maurier’s children were not nearly so enthralled with the house. They were interviewed on TV some years ago and I think they felt that Menabilly was more important to their mother than they were. They just remembered how cold and uncomfortable it was.

Rebecca is of course du Maurier’s updated Jane Eyre. She was a bit of a Bronte fan I believe. The main elements are there, a grand house, wealth, a duped husband, a mousey young woman who eventually marries the wealthy homeowner and a devastating fire. However that didn’t stop a Brazilian author Carolina Nabuco from acccusing Daphne of plagiarising her book The Successor which was published in 1934.

As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed my re-read of Rebecca and I expect I’ll be reading it yet again in the future. It’s a toss up between Rebecca and To Kill a Mockingbird as to which of them is my favourite book.

You can read what I thought about The Rebecca Notebook when I read it in 2012 here.

Below is a photo of Daphne and her family with Menabilly/Manderley in the background.

Menabilly, Cornwall

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Well we’re almost at the end of October again, how fast has this year gone in?! Anyway I did mention that I would be re-reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier again and writing about my thoughts on it around now. I re-read Jamaica Inn a wee while ago and it was interesting to compare the two, Rebecca is a much better book I think, the writing is smoother making it an easier read.

I’ve no idea how many times I’ve read Rebecca over the years, it has been one of my favourites since I first read it, probably when I was about 12 or 13. But it must be about 10 years since I have read it and I was interested to see what I felt about it now – ahem – over 40 years since I first read it.

I’m going to assume that most people will have read the book or at least seen a film of it and so already know the story, so I’m just going to chat about some of the problems that people sometimes have with it nowadays.

I know that some people have had a problem with the book in recent times because they have so little sympathy with the narrator. I doubt if this was ever a problem when the book was first published way back in 1938. Of course although the narrator eventually becomes the second Mrs de Winter that’s as close as we get to her name. Du Maurier teases us with hints about her name: “You have a very lovely and unusual name.” says Maxim de Winter to the young companion of the ghastly Mrs Van Hopper, but that’s as much as we know about her name.

She’s 21 years old, and that was a surprise to me because in my mind she was always younger, in fact when I was 12 or 13 I really identified with her as I know I would have behaved in a very similar way to her. Crippled with shyness and lacking in confidence exacerbated by being thrown into the company of very rich people, the narrator is an orphan with no family or friends to support her so it would have been unusual if she had been a brash confident type, there was just too much against her at a time when young people were expected to know their place in society, unless they were rich. So I don’t have a problem with the meekness and nerves which she is dogged by.

I suspect that the second wives of most widowers can’t help feeling that their husband is constantly comparing them with their first wife, and when that first wife is a Rebecca type, apparently adored by everyone, it would be soul destroying for all but the most confident of women. So the second Mrs de Winter is a completely believeable and likeable character for me.

She’s under the impression that she’s a disappointment as a wife to Maxim but the reader knows differently as the clues are there. Mrs de W has just missed them. “I wish I was a woman of about thirty-six dressed in black satin with a string of pearls.” she says. But Maxim wouldn’t have been interested in her if she had been dressed like that, because that was Rebecca’s style.

Famously the book begins: Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

It was a real house which inspired the beginning of the book, but I’ll talk about that in my next blogpost. If you’ve read Rebecca recently or even ages ago and want to link to a post on the book, leave a link in the comments or just leave a comment.

Forthcoming Rebecca Read

Joan from Planet Joan and I are planning to do a Rebecca re-read, hoping to write about our thoughts on it sometime towards the end of October. If you fancy joining in with us you’re more than welcome, whether it’s a re-read for you or you’re a first time reader of Rebecca. In fact I’d be really interested to hear what a first time reader thinks of the Daphne du Maurier classic which has always been a favourite of mine. Maybe it will seem too dated for readers now, but I don’t think so, I hope not anyway.

I believe that Peggy at Peggy Ann’s Post is going to join in with us, and maybe Michelle of In the Silver Room too, I think.

The Rebecca Notebook & other memories by Daphne du Maurier

The Rebecca Notebook

I was lucky enough to pick up this book in an Edinburgh bookshop. It was just lying amongst sundry miscellaneous books, in a basket on the floor. So I was really surprised when I had a look inside it and discovered that it had been signed by Daphne du Maurier, it’s a hardback and in perfect condition. It was cheap too, so I had to buy it!

If you’re into Daphne du Maurier I think this is a book which you will want to read. Over the years I’ve heard that du Maurier was a bit of an odd bod – one of the awkward squad, but honestly, which of us isn’t at some time or another?!

Anyway, I was a wee bit trepidatious about reading the book as if I don’t like an author it doesn’t half put me off reading their books, I know, silly but true. All was well though as I think that the author’s voice came through really clearly and I DID like her. In fact I agreed with her about lots of things.

This book was first published in 1981 and as she says, it was almost 40 years since she had written Rebecca but she still had her notebook in which she had jotted down her plans for the outline of the book, quite detailed really and a must read for any devotee of Rebecca.

The rest of the book contains 11 prose pieces, not articles as such she says, for she had never been a journalist. They come under the heading of Memories and some are her reminiscences of her father and grandfather. Others are her thoughts on subjects such as Romantic Love, Death and Widowhood, Moving House, and A Winter’s Afternoon, Kilmarth – to name a few of them.

She was a woman for whom houses seem to have been the most important thing in her life. Possibly her children felt that Menabilly, her house in Cornwall for 25 years, was more important to their mother than they were and I suppose that would be more than a bit annoying.

It’s interesting to note that Daphne du Maurier didn’t actually own either of the houses she lived in in Cornwall, she rented them on long leases from the family which had owned them for generations. Times have changed so much since those days, people equate owning a house with success and stabilty now and hate the thought of having to rent.

I had also completely forgotten that Daphne’s father had been related to the ‘Darling’ family of Peter Pan fame, or in other words the Llewelyn-Davies family. Sylvia L-D was Daphne’s aunt and she writes about the family in the article titled Sylvia’s Boys who were of course well known to her as they grew up together. J.M. Barrie was known to them all as Uncle Jim at a time when he had umpteen plays on in various London theatres, he did far more than just write Peter Pan. What an advantage for an aspiring writer!

Favourite Books

I’ve nearly finished reading The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins which I am enjoying. I had been thinking of doing a blog post about favourite books as I often find that people have one particular book which they go back to time and time again at times of stress or just to cheer themselves up. Sort of comfort blanket books. By coincidence the character of Mr. Betteredge in the The Moonstone has a comfort book and his is Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe.

So I thought it was about time I got around to this post.

My mother-in-law’s comfort book was Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. I dread to think how many times she must have read it and for that reason it is a book which I would never read. Not even if it was the only book which I had on a desert island.

While there are books which I re-read every now and then like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and all of Jane Austen’s, I think the one which fits the bill best as my comfort read is Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. True it isn’t very comforting and in parts it is positively uncomfortable but there is just something about it and it grabs you in from the very first sentence – “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

If you wanted to write a book I would say it would be a good idea to avoid doing what is basically an updated re-write of a classic, as you would think that it would be bound to be a pale shadow of the original. But du Maurier certainly managed to come up with something which is itself worthy of the description of classic.

And if you don’t feel up to reading the book the original film starring Laurence Olivier and Joan Fontaine is always a treat to watch.

So, if you have some favourite comfort reads, I would be interested to know what they are.