Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier: The Place and the Dead Woman

Daphne du Maurier

The du Maurier classic, Rebecca (read the book review), was publicised as a Gothic Romance even though the author disagreed. She wrote it as a study on jealousy and power shifts between relationships. For Daphne, it was a difficult novel to write and it drew heavily on her own life and experiences.

Rebecca reads like a thriller as well; there is an air of mystery, there is a murder and vile characters abound. The book has its fair share of machinations. The plot has a murder, sunken ships, suicidal tendencies, uncontrolled feminine sexuality. But most of all, Rebecca is a study of memories and impressions.

The place is Manderly. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.” This famous opening sets the tone of the novel. It is a dream sequence in which the narrator describes the iconic mansion. It stays dreamy; much of the book’s narration is set in the mind of the narrator, the unnamed young woman, gauche, confused, painfully shy who even after becoming the second Mrs de Winter, struggles to act in a socially acceptable manner.

Apart from the dreaminess, the book is characterised by glorious detail that does complete justice to the beautiful house and the gardens of supposedly one of the best properties in England. It is not just the house or the gardens or even the sea, it is also the details of the people and their thoughts and motivations that make up much of the story.

Rebecca, the book, curiously has a narrator whose first name is never disclosed; we only know that it is an unusual name that most people cannot spell right (though Maxim de Winter gets it right the first time around). But the woman after whom the book is named is dead and yet she looms larger than life, casting her shadow on the places she has been and the people she has been with, long after she has gone.

Manderley, the house and Rebecca, the first wife, come together to exert the strongest influence on the narrator and the rest of the cast.

Manderley is revered- it is so beautiful and mysterious and it has had its rituals set into place from the time Rebecca reigned. And yet, Manderley is destroyed by the time we close the book, we see the flames licking the walls from the ‘ashes (that) blew towards us, with the salt wind from the sea’.

Rebecca, the woman is the epitome of benevolence, charm and beauty, when she is alive and yet she has a hard fall from grace, mostly through her husband, Max, when the circumstances of her death are reopened and an inquiry conducted.

At a deeper level, Rebecca is a psychological drama. The dead woman is portrayed to be manipulative. Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper cum companion for Rebecca is malevolent, manipulating the second wife to immense social embarassment. Maxim is not above suspicion, for all the reader knows, he could be manufacturing the truth about his dead wife, painting her in sinister tones just because he could not rein in her individuality.

It has been 80 years since Rebecca was first published. On March 1, a new Virago edition of the book is being published and it has been speculated that the book not only mirrors the places (Menabilly in Cornwall) she has loved and the people she has felt jealous of (her husband’s fiancee) but also her own sexuality. In Rebecca, Daphne gives a free reign to the first Mrs de Winter who makes unconventional sexual choices. The author is aware that this does not go well with the society and even though not explicitly stated in the book, Maxim is possibly the husband who felt unable to ‘control’ his wife, leading to resentment and violence. This failure leads him to marry the second time to a young, impressionable girl who is likely to obey and revere him.

Two years after the book was published and notched up impressive sales, it was adapted for a mystery film by Alfred Hitchcock. The murder in the book had to be erased in the film for the murderer could not go scot free as per the cinematic conventions of the time. This has an oblique parallel in the book, where the person who murders is forgiven by his wife, inspite of it being a morally dubious choice.

Over the years, the popularity for the book has only grown and the dark, brooding thriller continues to enthrall millions.


To BuJo and Back

When I started blogging, I would always write my blog posts first on paper and then type them out. Labour intensive yes, but I just could not seem to think well while typing. My ideas flowed better with a pencil in hand and the scratching sound on paper reassured me that something was happening. I was making progress.

Then came modernity. I wanted to be able to type long documents, not the office communication or the reports kinds but the imaginative ones. The ones that had stories or articles or posts. So I moved from the paper to the screen. Soon, I was doing very well for someone who could only write on paper. Thus started my journey into the world of typing on keyboards and keypads. Soon, even the grocery lists on paper were replaced by the ones on my phone. It was just easier and convenient.

But over the years, I found that I was in need of inspiration a lot of times and I was just getting very tired of looking at screens. One day, while going through my things I came across my journals that I have filled with my scrawny writing over the years. And the itch to write on paper started again.

I like things to be organised and my writing too and of course, I love making lists. That was the perfect recipe for falling for a BuJo. For the uninitiated (I don’t think there are any), a BuJo is a Bullet Journal, which is a simple and innovative journal designed to keep everything in place, aka the notes, the tasks, your progress. It helps keep you on top in terms of assignments, to-dos, the social calender etc. For me, it also meant not letting go of those creative ideas and the little moments in a day that I could write about.

BuJos beckon the artistic and the organised. It is like a person’s mind, on the page. I had always wanted a journal that would carry Everything that I had ever wanted to write and that had ever crossed my mind. There were the lists, the random things that struck me through the day, the useful resources that I discover, the facts that I uncover from long time mysteries. There is the progress on my daily, weekly and monthly goals. There are the new ideas that just cannot go cold. There are opportunities and there is potential waiting to be tapped and I have to write it all down. And yes, there are my emotions and blog post ideas and things I must share with my group of friends.

I tried creating a very beautiful looking, artsy Bullet Journal. But the entire planning process took days. It was more of a balancing act, writing what, where and at the same time to not let it descend into chaos and an overwritten page.

I know that half the world is crazy about BuJos and the other half is just the ignorant lot. But, somehow, the planning took away the spontaneity.

I got back to the ordinary notebook, grateful for the simplicity. I now carry a bunch of them around with me; colour coded into sections so that I can find what I want without the option for a digital search. My pencils are right next to them and I am happy with the scratch of the pencil on paper.

How much do you write by hand? Do you have a journal? Do you do a BuJo? What have your experiences been?

To You

Image courtesy

Dear D,

You would be surprised to hear from me. No, you would be puzzled. You would look down to the unfamiliar name at the end of the letter, frown, search your memory and come up with nothing. Who is this from, you would wonder. But, your memory would fail you.

I first saw you in a crowd, that year of the extraordinarily hot summer, wearing blue, your coiffed hair losing strands in the heat. People around me whispered, pointing you out, for obviously, even then you were a head turner. I wondered why and pulled myself away to enter the rectangular, dark room, with the cobbled floor and took a seat next to the wall lined with little jars holding condiments, herbs, pickles.

The lady holding her pans and measuring spoons would appear at just the right time every day to teach us to put together simple ingredients to rustle up a gourmet meal. I was then struggling to master the craft, in fact trying any craft that would help me earn my livelihood and you, on the other hand, looked the pampered daughter of a rich scion.

I did not really want to talk to you, I was content to feel your presence. I thought of your soft flesh as I carved the juicy, soft mangoes to extract the pulp. The slow and precise slicing of vegetables made me aware of your long nails that flashed exotic colours every day. Your nails were sharper than my knives for they could tear apart hearts. I could see you in the milk vessels as the milk formed a thin layer of fat slowly on the surface accentuating the white colour. I smelt you in the fresh herbs that we tore with our hands, not daring to bring the blades near them.

I sat, listening to the teacher’s polite, cultured voice, imagining instead yours, talking to me, asking about me, my life in the dingy, one room with thin walls that could not mute the next door whisperings and the sound of scrambling mice.

The day, I was asked to come up to the cooking platform, I shook inside for even though I was getting good at the stirring and the cooking, the cold surface of the cooking stove made me think of you. For many minutes, I bent my head and concentrated on cooking the perfect sauce. When it was about to be done, I dared look up to steal a glance in your direction. I expected, feared, prayed for an admiring glance but you were busy talking… That felt like a rejection and I froze for long seconds till the sauce boiled over and the sizzle brought me back to what I was doing. Silently, I mopped up the mess, feeling like a failure.

Did you look at me then? Do you remember me now? Do you know that after that day, I stopped coming to the class? I redoubled my efforts at mastering the culinary skills in my one room house. I went on to have a successful career, yes, it would be successful in your eyes, it got me money and recognition. Sometimes, I felt empty but I considered I was making you proud.

I saw you the other day, no, saw your picture in the glossy that was on the shiny table at the dentist’s waiting room. Your eyes looked sad, the corners of your mouth downturned and you seemed to have spilled some wine down the front of your designer gown. People around seemed to be laughing at you, rather than with you. Does beauty fade so fast?

I had to write to you and tell you that I dream of you still. That I am here waiting to make the perfect meal, to feed your appetite.


Sunday Trees #326

I took this picture on a rainy day, having gone out to capture the tiny flowers near the sidewalk. The delicate petals drooped with the weight of the water droplets but I looked up to see this fruit hanging down from the tree, ready to be plucked, as the others had been, before this.

Looking at the verdant green makes me long for the rains again, the steady beat of the drops on the tin roofs of the balconies and leaves and buds sprouting everywhere.

Winter is mild here, a touch and go affair. It is getting warmer and the dried foliage around, however, means that I can see more of the lake from my windows and admire the sun shimmering bright on the water.

Big mercies.

I am inspired to post this picture for Becca’s Sunday Trees.