By: Flavia Nunez
Rebecca, written by Daphne du Maurier and published in 1938, is a full-circle story in which the beginning is its ending. The first few chapters are spent in the dull haze of post-Manderley, where the unnamed narrator and her ambiguously distant, aging husband live out their self-imposed exile in different hotels away from England. The unnamed narrator constantly thinks about Manderley, the name of their once-prized estate, and hints at a tragedy that occurred there—a tragedy they cannot seem to escape from. Just as suddenly, however, the haze stops, and the reader is transported to Monte Carlo, thus beginning a flashback that will carry through to the rest of the story. As a lady’s companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, the narrator is an overly shy and naïve young lady. At a resort in Monte Carlo, she meets Maxim de Winter. Officially, he is a rich and older gentleman who lost his wife the year before. Unofficially, he is the typical reticent, brooding, stubborn, English Gothic hero/anti-hero (for more information, refer to Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester, Pride and Prejudice’s Mr. Darcy, and Poldark’s Ross Poldark). When Mrs. Van Hopper is bed-ridden with an attention-seeking illness, Maxim invites the lonely narrator to have lunch with him, sparking an acquaintance. Before long, he begins to take her on daily drives to see the sights of Monte Carlo. Maxim constantly refers to the narrator as a child, but when Mrs. Van Hopper sets her mind on a move to New York, he proposes marriage as a way to keep them from separation. The narrator has fallen in love with him, so even though his proposal is restricted to the line, “I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool,” she accepts blindly. At the beginning, Rebecca is a story about the pains of one-sided love. As it evolves into a mystery, and then a thriller, and then a SPOILER *[psychological look into the mind of a killer and his complacent wife,]* END OF SPOILER the theme of blind love is ever-present. It is the unnamed character’s decided fatal flaw, one that surpasses even her crippling self-insecurity. She sees Maxim as a god, and by extension, sees no wrong with him. At the same time, Maxim knows her age and uses it to his advantage. He hurts her in tiny ways by abandoning her when she does not do as he wants; in essence, he manipulates her into meekness. He likes the narrator because he lets her do what Rebecca did not: control. In this book, the narrator would give her life, body, soul to him. This remains largely static from beginning to end and shows the extent people will go for a love that may not always be reciprocated. It helps understand why individuals remain in toxic, mutually unbalanced relationships, especially when one is young and first in love. This reviewer is honest when she writes that she chose this book when she heard that Taylor Swift wrote the song “Tolerate It” after reading it in quarantine. Now that this reviewer has finished reading the book in its entirety, she praises Taylor Swift’s patience, because to be quite frank, Rebecca is not a thrilling read. Its plot is not the fastest, its characters are not the most enjoyable, and its writing style will not keep one on their toes. The narrator notices every tiny thing and so the author describes every tiny thing, almost to the point where dreams and fictitious situations take up pages of description. And yet, despite its ability to drag on, Rebecca is well-written view inside a toxic love affair. While some believe that Du Maurier wrote a self-insert character in the unnamed character, this theory does not make sense when acknowledging that the love interest is not painted as a dashing gentleman. Though his physical features are described to be straight out of a middle-aged painting of a knight early in the book, Maxim can be interpreted as the antagonist. He murders the titular character who the reader never meets. The author may have believed that this is hidden, but it is quite clear from Chapter 5. In its own way, Jane Eyre did it first. But Rebecca is not a story where a reader should demand originality, or quick-wittedness, or likeable characters. This reviewer almost wants to write that it is not meant to entertain. It is a realistic depiction of gender roles in society and how men can get away with what women can never. It details the vampiric relationship of a lonely old man and his doe-eyed young wife, a classic situation in many English classics. A reader does not find himself asking how, or when, or where. Rebecca leaves you asking why. Why is the narrator so shy? Why did Maxim marry her if he did not love her? Why is Mrs. Danvers sort of, maybe, (definitely) mentally unstable? Du Maurier does not answer everything because we are restricted to the mind of the narrator. In this aspect, Rebecca mimics real life—one cannot know the complexities of every human being. But its twist, for this reviewer SPOILER*[—where Maxim reveals why he killed Rebecca—]*END OF SPOILER was worth the 250 pages of descriptions of flowers and the symmetry of Manderley and the slight tilt of the waves of the coast. If you choose to give this book a go, this reviewer has just one last thing to say: Prepare to read. Prepare to read a lot.