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.

Advertisements

10 Memorable Opening Lines from the Classics 

1. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” 

The opening line to Daphne du Maurier’s most famous novel, Rebecca is one of the great opening lines in English fiction. In one stroke, du Maurier establishes the voice, the locale, and the dream-like atmosphere of the story.

– The Strand Magazine 

Nothing can beat the dreaminess of the beginning of the book Rebecca. It talks of Manderley, the iconic English countryside property that the writer moves to after marrying the reclusive De Winter. 

Manderley turns out to be mesmerizing and mysterious, just as the eponymous wife, the first Mrs. de Winter. 

2. “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

In the political fiction, Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell, the opening gives the feeling of something amiss through the word ‘thirteen’. And sure enough, it brings us to the manipulation of language under the totalitarian regime of Big Brother. 

3.” All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy starts with a generalization and presents a philosophical view along with the telling if the tale. The family, or families of course are central to his story even though they are all unhappy, of course in their unique ways. 

4. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 

“It was a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

This sets the tone for this delightful Victorian novel. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen is of many things. It is about the society at that time but at its bare bones, the story is told through the Bennett family and is about husband finding for at least three of the five Bennett girls. 

5. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

In One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the opening lines present fire and ice. The first line itself creates the surreal environment that is book presents inuch greater detail while describing the lives of seven generations of the Buendias, the younger ones doomed to repeat the mistakes of their ancestors. 

6. “I was born in the city of Bombay…once upon a time. No, that won’t do, there’s no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar’s Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. The time matters, too.”

In Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie, the time matters. The stroke of midnight, at which the protagonist is born is portentous of his life, as his fortunes are tied to that of his country and parallels are drawn always between his life and the trajectory of the counyry’s growth. 

7. “Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.”

The opening lines of The Luck of the Bodkins by PG Wodehouse sound intriguing. For the uninitiated, the pride seems contrived. The furtive look on Minty Bodkins face characterizes much of his actions through the book. Mortally afraid of his muscular fiancée, Gertrude, Monty begs and cajoles her all through the book till the end when he finally finds courage. 

It is a laugh riot all the way, just like Wodehouse. 

8. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

—A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. 

The opening of the book establishes the nature of the time it was set in. The comparisons and the contrasts are endless and that is how much of the book moves, in confusion and conflict. 

9. “She will be here today.” 

In The Bridge Across Forever by Richard Bach, the first line echoes the anticipation and the hope for his search for a soulmate. 

10. “It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”

Joseph Heller in Catch-22 is satirist. The book is absurd and the opening shows just how twisted things can get during the war. 

Friday Listicles : Top 6 Literary Fixes


Being a voracious reader, I like to read book after book, with scarce a pause in between. I can be reading up to three different books at a time. When I am full of one, or overwhelmed with the thought thread in another, I only have to turn to yet another. Good books nourish the soul.  But there are times when I need some mindless reading, or something that is not too much effort but is good reading. I call such reads my literary fixes as they fill the gap in my reading and they are light and pleasant.

Here are my Top 6 Literary Fixes :

1. Re reading Classics


Classics are considered ‘heavy stuff’, with archaic language and difficult to follow plot line. Yet, there is nothing more comforting for me to turn to the familiar characters I have grown up with (I started reading classics at a very young age and had read many of them by the time I finished school) and relive their lives, struggles and emotions. I go down the familiar lanes, see the landscapes once again and wander the mansions. It is something I cannot do in real life, for people and places change every time I blink.

2. Western Novels


The wild, wild west attracts me like nothing else and because the uncertain, danger ridden, pistol toting, knife wielding characters always live on the edge, it is a perfect antidote to my staid lifestyle. Any time, I pick up a Louis L’Amour book and follow the protagonist across the deserts or on mountain trails, I come back rejuvenated.

3. Travel Literature


The Lonely Planet magazines are my best friend. They are always perched on my shelf just within reach. I pore over the articles and the magnificent photographs and sigh and dream. Well, some day….

4. Romance


The girl is lovely, simple, sincere and the guy is rich, arrogant and seemingly too good for her. Yet, ‘feelings’ develop and they inch towards a commitment. The key words are ‘simple’, ‘feelings’ and ‘inch’. These are the features of the romance novels I like. Yes, Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer…. They are old world and so am I. But, sometimes, books like Twilight seem too interesting and… delicious!

5. Humour 

P G Wodehouse would take the credit anyday for cheering me up. There have been train journeys, when I caught up on my reading of the pile of Wodehouses I owned, laughing uncontrollably all by myself and attracting queer glances from my co passengers. There is just something about the humour that is slapstick and yet delivered in the most understated manner. 

6. Good Housekeeping


This is the last but definitely not the least. Any time, I am fed up of the chores, the endless running about, the loooong list of things to be accomplished, I plonk down in a comfortable chair and check out the online version of Good Housekeeping magazine. The pristine houses and beauty of living spaces makes me forget my own shabby surroundings, badly in need of dusting. In my mind, I am repainting the kitchen cabinets a gorgeous red and getting the perfect floral centerpiece.

I would love to hear from you, my dear readers, about your literary fixes.

Friday Listicles: Top 5 Literary Fixes

Being a voracious reader, I like to read book after book, with scarce a pause in between. I can be reading up to three different books at a time. When I am full of one, or overwhelmed with the thought thread in another, I only have to turn to yet another. Good books nourish the soul.  But there are times when I need some mindless reading, or something that is not too much effort but is good reading. I call such reads my literary fixes as they fill the gap in my reading and they are light and pleasant.

The Top 5 Literary Fixes

Re reading Classics
Classics are considered ‘heavy stuff’, with archaic language and difficult to follow plot line. Yet, there is nothing more comforting for me to turn to the familiar characters I have grown up with (I started reading classics at a very young age and had read many of them by the time I finished school) and relive their lives, struggles and emotions. I go down the familiar lanes, see the landscapes once again and wander the mansions. It is something I cannot do in real life, for people and places change every time I blink.

Western Novels
The wild, wild west attracts me like nothing else and because the uncertain, danger ridden, pistol toting, knife wielding characters always live on the edge, it is a perfect antidote to my staid lifestyle. Any time, I pick up a Louis L’Amour book and follow the protagonist across the deserts or on mountain trails, I come back rejuvenated.

Travel Literature
The Lonely Planet magazines are my best friend. They are always perched on my shelf just within reach. I pore over the articles and the magnificent photographs and sigh and dream. Well, some day….

Romance
The girl is lovely, simple, sincere and the guy is rich, arrogant and seemingly too good for her. Yet, ‘feelings’ develop and they inch towards a commitment. The key words are ‘simple’, ‘feelings’ and ‘inch’. These are the features of the romance novels I like. Yes, Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer…. They are old world and so am I. But, sometimes, books like Twilight seem too interesting and… delicious!

Good Housekeeping
This is the last but definitely not the least. Any time, I am fed up of the chores, the endless running about, the loooong list of things to be accomplished, I plonk down in a comfortable chair and check out the online version of Good Housekeeping magazine. The pristine houses and beauty of living spaces makes me forget my own shabby surroundings, badly in need of dusting. In my mind, I an repainting the kitchen cabinets a gorgeous red and getting the perfect floral centerpiece.

I would love to hear from you, my readers, about your literary fixes.

Read, Write, Live

Reading has been something as essential as breathing. Always. It started from comics at a young age. Comics were frowned upon in those times. They did not have the acceptance they have today; now, they are crucibles of creativity and it can be imagined that the kids reading them today would graduate to reading and perhaps writing the graphic novels so popular in this age.

Well, we were told not to read them too much. Pocket money was limited and there were only a small number that we could buy on a regular basis. But we were enterprising. We children believed in pooling our resources (a rather sought after skill these days). We read our comics and then exchanged them. When we had read all from our immediate friends, we tried getting introduced to friends of friends. Then, we transcended age groups. I remember clambering over the brick wall of my best friend to get to her neighbour’s house because she told me that he had a huge pile of comics that we had never read.

Well, my imagination was fertile. And soon I graduated to magazines for children. ‘Champak’ was my favourite. I was crazy about the ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ series. There were ‘Tinkle’ and Chandamama’. In Hindi. ‘Chacha Choudhary’, ‘Pinki’ were my friends in the comics. ‘Panchtantra’ tales fed my musings.

Then came the abridged classics. I read so many of them. My teacher in the fifth grade presented me with ‘Oliver Twist’ as a reward for a completed assignment. I am so grateful to Mrs. Virdi for introducing to the great works. I am still hooked.

Yin is balanced by Yang. Anybody who reads has to write some day. They are simply two sides of the same coin. So, my life has been governed by these two passions. This led to me choosing the title of ‘Read, Write, Live’ on my blog. As for the tagline, there is nothing as satisfying as expressing oneself be it through colours, camera, clay or words. I salute every single person who is engaged in self expression, whatever it may be.