Sep 26, 2008

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

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.

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.
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.

Other Blog Reviews:
Here, There and Everywhere
The Bluestocking Society
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Treading Carefully...
Just Add Books
Cynical Optimism
Much Madness is Divinest Sense
Everyday Reads
Where Troubles Melt like Lemon Drops
Subliminal Intervention
The Zen Leaf & Trish's Reading Nook

(Please let me know if I missed yours.)


  1. Great review! One of my all-time favorite books. It's a perfect time of year to read this one, too.

  2. I've never read this one ... I didn't really know what it was about, and frankly I wasn't interested in getting to know. But you've definitely gotten my attention - it's going on my TBR list now! :)

  3. hey nymeth!:) that was a great review.. i read rebecca about 8 to 10 years ago when i was in high school.. i remember liking it then... but i definitely want to read it again.. i hardly remember the book now..

  4. I go back to this story every couple of years - usually in the winter - and it's always wonderfully melancholy and tragic...even though the mystery and suspense are largely absent at this point, as you said - her voice is riveting and fascinating...I think I'll read it this weekend, thanks for the nudge!

  5. Lisa: It really is!

    Heather, I think you'd enjoy it! On top of everything it's really well-written too.

    Ramya, sounds like it's time for a re-read indeed. And thank you :)

    Ken: This really is an Autumn/Winter sort of book. Enjoy your return to Manderley!

  6. I've heard of this novel over and over again but I've never read it before. Your review has convinced me!! thanks!

  7. Rebecca is one of my all-time favorite books, but I don't know if it would have been quite so special if I'd known the ending when I read it. It's a perfect fall read, though, for the atmosphere. I'm so glad you enjoyed it!

  8. Oh people have twisted my arm quite enough. :) I had never heard of this one until a few months ago but now I'm seeing it everyone and it sounds like the perfect autumn read.

  9. beautiful review Nymeth! I too loved the book and I knew the story and ending from the movie, but had never read the book. I'm glad I did finally!

  10. I've seen the movie of this one but can't remember whether I've read the book. After yours and Deslily's review I'm certainly going to have to get hold of a copy and read it soon though. Luckily, I'm old so I can't actually remember the twists or the ending! ;-p

  11. Rebecca is one of those books I come back to and reread every few years even though I know the ending. I love it.

  12. I haven't read this one since high school, but I just LOVED it and know I would love a reread, possibly even more than I did the first time. Thanks for the review!

  13. Oh, this is a favorite. I have read it at least three times. I'm going to save it for a winter stormy weekend. Great review!!

  14. I'd like to read this book soon. This seems like the perfect season for it. Nice review.

  15. I havent heard of this before, but it does sound really good.

  16. What a great review of a great book Nymeth! I'm dying to read more DuMaurier soon after reading this one. Between your review, Deslily's review, and Debi's recent review of Tales of the Macabre, I really need to get to it soon. I have Jamaica Inn sitting on my shelf right now...I think I'll start it soon!

  17. I've only read one book by du Maurier and it was so-so, but I really want to read Rebecca. Especially after your review. Sounds delicious.

  18. Thanks for the link love! Glad you liked it.

  19. Your last paragraph was especially poignant. I, too, felt drawn to the unnamed protagonist (although I secretly wanted to be as confident as Rebecca, just not evil).

  20. I really enjoyed your review. This book has been sitting unread on my shelf for quite some time. I think it really helps when you can identify with the main character even a little.


  21. I really liked this when I read it years ago! Thanks for the great review.

  22. I'll be reading this book in the next couple of weeks, and I'm even more excited about it after your review!

  23. Great review, thanks for the link! You're absolutely right about that sense of loss.

  24. Great Review! I love du Maurier. Actually, I think I liked some of her other work better (most notably My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica Inn), but Rebecca is a classic. I'm glad you liked it!

  25. I really liked your review! I read Rebecca the first time as a freshman in high school, and shortly after, i read everything my school library had of Du Maurier. I've been meaning to re-read Rebecca for several months now, and I still haven't gotten to it.

    Again, loved the review!

  26. oh this sounds so wonderful! its definitely one of the next books i shall read. the writing is so beautiful! I am such a hitchcock fan too!

  27. Great review. I've had this on my list for so long. Your review reinforces to me that I really need to read it!

  28. great review! One of my favorite books ever :)

  29. A: yay, I'm glad to have convinced you! This is a great book and I don't think you'll regret picking it up.

    Bookfool: I really wish I'd been able to have the experience of reading it without knowing the secrets!

    Trish: It really is! I think you'll enjoy it.

    Deslily, thank you! I'm very glad too.

    Cath: it's a good think you don't remember! But maybe what happened to me will happen to you also, and you'll find yourself remembering more and more as you read on. Let's hope not, though, because it's fun to be surprised.

    Chris: I think I will return to it many times too.

    Tricia: Yes, I bet you'll love it just as much if not more the second time around!

    Daphne: A winter stormy weekend and Rebecca...what could be more perfect?

    Charley, it really is! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

    Naida, it is; I hope you enjoy it when you get to it :)

  30. Chris: Thank you! I have Jamaica Inn sitting on my shelf too (I mooched it after Stephanie's review just like you :P) and I really want to get to it before the end of RIP.

    Framed, I hope you enjoy it!

    Melanie, you're welcome :)

    Bellezza: Me too, me too.

    Anna: It does make a book more enjoyable. I hope you enjoy Rebecca!

    Rebecca: You're welcome! I'm glad you liked my review :)

    Laura, I can't wait to see what you think!

    Stormfield, you're welcome! Daphne du Maurier conveyed it so well, didn't she?

    Stephanie: Like I was telling Chris, I got Jamaica Inn thanks to you! I hope to get to it soon.

    Nicole Marie, thank you so much :) I'm really glad you liked my review. I hope you manage to re-read it soon!

    Mariel, it really is beautiful! I'm sure you'll enjoy it.

    Dar: Indeed you do!

    Jupitersinclair, I can see why :)

  31. That is such a memorable opening line isn't it? I enjoyed reading your review Nymeth!

    I read the book ages ago and I am pretty sure I've seen the movie but again, that was a long time ago. I should revisit these and see how well I enjoy them now. I get the feeling I'd probably enjoy them even better.

  32. Oh I'm glad you liked this! I remember loving this book back when I read it and of course the Alfred Hitchcock movie is just classic. Great review!

  33. Iliana, it really is. I hope you do enjoy them even more the second time around!

    Amanda, thanks! Now that I've read it, I think I'm going to revisit the movie.

  34. Oh gosh, I've got to get off my butt and read this one, too. LOL Your reviews are irresistable, Nymeth!

  35. I have wanted to read this book ever since I read the Thursday Next novels. (Mrs. Danvers clones galore).
    Thanks for the review. I will definitely be getting myself a copy of this one soon. :)

  36. I wish I could remember more of this book. I read it a long time ago and now I can't really remember more than bits and pieces. I might do a re-read before too much longer.

  37. Hey Nymeth, if you keep doing this, I'm going to bust my bank account BIG time. LOLOL! This one sounds like a great read and I've put it into my wish list... I've just received Gossamer and a whole load of other titles today!

  38. I read this such a long time ago and raelly must read it again. It seems lots of people are reading this lately. I am glad you loved it so much.

  39. Andi: You dooo! And it's not my fault, the books are just that good :P

    Mari: Eek, Mrs Danvers clones sounds as creepy as it gets! I really need to read that series.

    Ladytink, it really sounds like it's time for a re-read!

    Alice: Sorry :P Well, just so you know yesterday I ordered Michael Dirda's Book by Book, and it's all your fault! I look forward to hearing all about your new acquisitions.

    Rhinoa, I really did! Like so many people said, it's a perfect Autumn read.

  40. What a great book! I don't remember the exact plot twists between the book and movie, but I remember enjoying the book's version of events better. What an atmospheric book!

  41. I loved this book. Great review!

  42. Kim, I preferred the book's version too. The difference is that they tried to soften up what happened between Maxim and Rebecca in the movie. And isn't the atmosphere the best?

    Teddy Rose: Thanks!

  43. every time I visit your blog I add another few books to my wish list!
    now I know what books I want once I break my book ban.
    great review.
    Rebecca sounds like a great read.

  44. How wonderful to read Rebecca and The Thirteenth Tale in such close proximity to one another. I definitely consider Rebecca to be a favorite read. You've captured the mood very well. I'm sure I'm colored somewhat by the more recent BBC version, which I love, but even though that film conveys that same sense of loss it also seems to pull up from the book the sense of love that these two characters do have for one another despite how potentially mismatched they are and how tragic things are around them. I like that sense of melancholy romance and like you I wouldn't want to live a life dominated by that but it is a feeling I like to experience on occasion because it is during those times that I think I most appreciate the love I have in my life.

  45. Naida, sorry about that :P It's what book bloggers do to each other! I hope you enjoy Rebecca as much as I did.

    Carl: Yes, you said it perfectly! I wouldn't want to feel it all the time, but being familiar with that kind of melancholy and sense of loss makes the good moments even more precious. I hadn't heard of that BBC version. I'll have to check it out.

  46. Hi Nymeth,

    Thanks to your review, here's my review!


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