Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again". Such a great opening line. Immediately you feel Manderley is a wonderful place that is now out of reach, an experience that once was but can never be again. The sense of longing that line creates lingers throughout the rest of the story.

Rebecca is the deceased wife of Maxim de Winter, owner of Manderley. Though she is never present physically, the memory of her, her larger-than-life personality and the impact left on the living characters are the core of the story.

The narrator is a young woman traveling in Monte Carlo as companion to an rather nasty older woman. She meets Maxim, falls in love with him and the rest of the book is about their relationship with each other, with Manderley and it's staff, and with Rebecca, whose memory just will not go away.

The interesting thing about this story is that the narrator is never named. She is only ever referred to as Mrs. de Winter and "she".  At first I found it annoying that I didn't know her name because it made her seem ineffectual, more of a shadow of a person than a real one. I've read that Daphne Du Maurier didn't name her because she couldn't come up with a name to suit her. Whether that is true or not, leaving her nameless certainly was effective in diminishing her as a person and leaving her secondary to Rebecca and pretty much everyone else.

It's hard to talk about someone who doesn't have a name: I'll have to call her "She". She had difficulty adjusting to life at Manderley and to her position as lady of the manor. Her nervousness was understandable. She was very young and inexperienced and had never lived the sort of lifestyle required of her present situation. Understandable or not, I got frustrated with her at times. She was afraid to explore the house and and get caught somewhere she didn't need to be, she was afraid of dealing with the staff and she just could not make herself take charge of situations when she needed to. Once, when she broke a china ornament in the morning room, she quickly scooped up the shattered pieces, put them in an envelope and hid them in the back of a drawer, not telling anyone until she was forced to because someone else was accused of stealing it. I wanted her to stand up to people more; her insecurity was almost embarrassing.

As for Maxim, I don't think I like him much. For the first half of the book, he's remote and sometimes slightly superior. He treats "She" (that just sounds so wrong) like a puppy, rather than his wife. Then there is a scene where he confesses what actually happened to Rebecca and his entire personality changes. He becomes tender and kind and starts telling her how much he loves her and how lost he'd be without her. I realize that unburdening oneself of guilt will bring relief, but if he really loved her so much, why didn't he mention that when he proposed? Really, it was a proposal, people, and he couldn't bring himself to say he loved her? And what was the purpose of treating her like a child or a pet? Why could he not call her "darling" until after he confessed?  If his guilt didn't prevent him marrying her, why did it prevent him being loving toward her?

I was a little dismayed that it never seemed to bother "She" that she was married to someone who could do what Maxim had done. Good grief, she was afraid of the servants but not him? The ending bothered me too. I don't want to give it away, so I'll just say that in some way justice was done, but in another way, it just didn't feel right at all.

This book may never be one of my favorites, but I liked it well enough and it was well written so I can recommend it, especially to anyone who likes a mystery. I've been putting off reading it because the cover is old and beat up (pathetic aren't I?) and I'm glad I can finally cross it off my list. And if that's the only real benefit I can see from having read it, I'm ok with that.


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