Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes to the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.This famous opening paragraph begins the story of the unnamed second Mrs de Winter. She is only twenty-one when he meets the older Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo. After a short courtship they are married abroad, and spend their honeymoon in Italy. Then they go home to Manderley, the famous de Winter estate on the west coast of England.
The second Mrs de Winter knows that Maxim lost his first wife, Rebecca, in a sailing accident that took place only a year before their marriage. She heard from her husband himself that what happened changed his life forever, but that seems to be the full extent of what he’s willing to say about it. And she knows that Rebecca was beautiful, sophisticated and loved by all who met her. When she comes to Manderley, she cannot help but feel that Rebecca’s shadow is lurking over her at every moment. And the sinister Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper, is there to ensure that Rebecca is never forgotten. Her ghost, while not actually present, constantly haunts the protagonist’s life.
I’ll try not to go on for long about how wonderfully atmospheric Rebecca is, because really, this has been said time and again, and with good reason too. The mood couldn’t have been more perfect. I also loved the pacing, and I found the story suspenseful even though I already knew what happened at the ending.
I watched the Hitchcock movie something like ten years ago, and unfortunately for me the ending was one of the few things I remembered clearly. As I read on, more and more of the story came back to me – the extremely creepy scene with Mrs Danvers and the protagonist by the window, the fancy dress ball, etc. Funnily enough, I remembered the second “twist”, the revelation that is made in the very last chapter, but not the first, the thing that is revealed at the end of chapter nineteen. This seemed odd to me, since the two are connected, but a little googling revealed that the movie differs from the book in that particular point. But anyway, like I was saying being familiar with the story really wasn’t a problem, because Rebecca is the kind of novel in which there’s at least as much enjoyment to the found in the telling as in the story.
Rebecca’s unnamed protagonist had my sympathy from the very start. I could see a little of myself in her timidity, her awkwardness, her reluctance and her self-doubts. And plus there’s the fact that her storytelling voice is absolutely riveting.
Most of all, what I loved about Rebecca was the sense of irrevocable loss it evokes. We learn in the first few paragraphs that Mr and Mrs de Winter have lost Manderley. We learn that they survived whatever happened, but that their lives are full of sorrow and regret, full of longing for what can never be gained back. The rest of the story is a flashback that tell us exactly how things came to be the way they are. And I bet I’m not the only one who went back and re-read the first two chapters once the how became clear at the end.
But that sense of loss I mentioned is about more than just what happens at the end. It permeates the whole story, even the before. It has to do with change, with the fact that every moment that passes can never be lived again. Take these two passages, for example:
This house sheltered us, we spoke, we loved within those walls. That was yesterday. Today we pass on, we see it no more, we are different, changed in some infinitesimal way. We can never be quite the same again.This is really not my attitude towards life, and I tend to think that even though the passing of time brings loss, it also brings new discoveries, and dwelling on one at the expense of the other is a sure way to be miserable. But at the same time, the feeling is familiar to me, and I loved how perfectly Rebecca captured it. I also loved the protagonist’s solution: to live the present to the fullest, because you never know.
I wanted to go on sitting there, not talking, not listening to the others, keeping the moment precious for all time, because we were peaceful all of us, we were content and drowsy even as the bee who droned above our heads. In a little while it would be different, it would come tomorrow, and the next day, and another year. And we would be changed, perhaps, never quite like this again. Some of us would go away, or suffer, or die, the future stretched away in front of us, unknown, unseen, not perhaps what we wanted, not what we planned. This moment was safe though, this could not be touched.
Other Blog Reviews:
Here, There and Everywhere
The Bluestocking Society
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Just Add Books
Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Where Troubles Melt like Lemon Drops
The Zen Leaf & Trish's Reading Nook
(Please let me know if I missed yours.)