In Novel on October 24, 2004 at 1:38 am

rebecca-thumb.jpgRebecca (1938)
by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca is a gothic classic with the wonderful traditional macabre elements: murder mysteries, gruesome death, young-girl-old-man relationship, incest, big mansion with dark secrets, obsession, and (in the gothic tradition of Jane Eyre) a dark brooding elderly husband tormented by a dark past. I had this book for few years and somehow never read it…damn what was I thinking!? The early chapters were a bit slow but soon after it became a very addictive and thrilling page-turner. It’s been awhile I came upon a book I found hard to put down. Now I understand why it’s such a beloved timeless classic and a MUST read for anyone who loves this genre.

Story: A shy, timid and awkward young girl hastely married the elderly but handsome and wealthy widower Maxim, whom she barely knew. Back at his beautiful mansion, the young bride was disturbed by the cold and sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who was fiercely and chillingly devoted to Maxim’s first wife, the beautiful and beloved Rebecca. Rebecca died ten months ago in a drowning accident: she sailed alone in her boat one night and never returned. Her body was washed ashore days later and was battered unrecognizable by the rocks. Even though she was dead, Rebecca’s presence continue to haunt the mansion as though she was still alive. The young bride’s inferior complex further fuel the misunderstanding between her secretive husband. Mrs. Danvers persisted her mind games that driven the heroine into the blink of insanity. Then one day a shipwreck occured nearby and the rescue team found Rebecca’s capsized boat deep down at ocean. A corpse was found in the locked cabin. Who was the person who died with Rebecca at the accident? Was it really an accident or cold-blooded murder? More sinister development to come and a surprising twist revelation that led to a powerfully devastating ending.

From what I read, there’s a dispute on the nature of the relationship between the housekeeper Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca. There seems to be a lesbian overtone between the two, though it’s more of a one-sided zealous devotion from Mrs. Danvers. She worshipped Rebecca like a goddess and insisted Rebecca despised all men and “above” things like relationships with men.

There’s another character named Frank, who is Maxim’s manager. He’s a lovely character, very gentle, shy and awkward, just like the male version of the heroine (maybe that’s why Maxim liked and trusted him as well). Frank is just as devoted and loyal to Maxim as Mrs. Danvers to Rebecca. Even the heroine remarked how much Frank loved Maxim. Though not as homoerotic overtone as the pair above, I did considered him a prime suspect (of whatever mystery there would be) at the beginning because he was just ‘too good to be true.’ ^^;;;

Then there’s the question whether Maxim loved the heroine or not. On surface he treated her like a pet (an inferior companion he liked to pat, and ignored when he didn’t feel like to). Then as revelations revealed he seemed to use her like a ‘protective charm’ of innocence to fend off the haunting evil presence of Rebecca, and see her worth as a temporary remedy to the demons inside of him. Later he admitted that she’s not very ‘effective’ afterall. And he ruined her innocence by his ‘confession’ forever (and her reaction followed was even more ‘amazing’)…geez… ^^;;;

Mrs. Danvers is very convincingly written. Like the heroine I too shivered and felt threaten whenever she appeared on pages. Even though readers never meet Rebecca, the little glimpse of her from other character’s descriptions suggested a very complex and interesting wicked character. Was she really evil? Rebecca is merely a name in the story, but she is the most prominent figure that ruled the course of actions and events. Her lingering presence affected every character’s life from beyond the grave. While the heroine remained nameless the entire book. It was a clever literary device depicting the lost of self-identity. She’s more of a shadow than the dead Rebecca.

Daphne du Maurier is a wonderful writer. Her prose is classy, easy-to-read, and good at character analysis. Rebecca was adapted into the Oscar-winning film by Alfred Hitchcock in 1940 (ironically it’s the only Hitchcock film to win an Oscar. Hitchcock never won Best Director!! o_0). As a Hitchcock-phile I never watched this film because I’ve always wanted to read the book first. Lawrence Olivier didn’t seem fit my image of Maxim at all (not old enough!). And I heard that the ending is different due to some censorships. Hitchcock adapted two more stories by Daphne du Maurier into films: Jamaica Inn (haven’t seen this one either) and the very famous The Birds. I rent a movie called Don’t Look Back this week that is also based on a short story by Daphne du Maurier, comment later. Her other works all seem very interesting, but they’re mostly out-of-print, shame.

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