Out of all the gothic novels I have read, one stands out. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. It’s a terrific book, and in this post, I will hopefully convince others to read it.
“I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth.”
Here are the six reasons why you should read Rebecca:
This post does not contain spoilers.
Reason One: The Manderley
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
The Manderley is a manor, a beautiful estate in England. The stones and mortar, in a certain light, appear homely. It’s a place you can see yourself roaming around, hours on end. However, it’s also a setting in a gothic novel. Expect hidden corners and quiet hallways, because Manderley frightens the reader, on numerous occassions.
Reason Two: Mrs. Danvers
A chilling creature of a woman, Mrs. Danvers is terrifying. Not only does that make her the perfect antagonist, but she’s captivating. She’s also strangely mysterious and off-putting, you read about her and a chill erupts inside. Her cruelty and sinister behaviour is effective because it’s realistic. Without spoiling anything, the scene where she ‘helps’ our heroine, is memorable. Why? Because I know women who are that nasty. What makes her behaviour so vile, is that she’s good at it.
Reason Three: The Power of Ghosts
Rebecca is dead. That’s not a spoiler, as most of the narrative surrounds her demise. But who was she? What legacy did she leave behind? Was she a friend, or foe? Can our heroine measure up to her? These are the questions you’ll ask while reading Rebecca. It’s rather captivating that a character can make such an impact, without directly appearing in the narrative. What Daphne Du Maurier does well is show the effect Rebecca had on other characters. Rebecca could be a ghost, but she doesn’t have to be. In her life, she already made an impact on the people surrounding her.
Rebecca is not a supernatural gothic novel. Why? Because it doesn’t need to be. Those who have read the book will know what I mean.
Reason Four: Identifying Identity
“I wish I was a woman of about thirty-six dressed in black satin with a string of pearls.”
A core part of Rebecca is the theme of identity. What defines us? Can we take someone elses place? How can we measure up to others? Such questions of selfhood plague people, both fictional and real. In Rebecca, our heroine has her identity assumed by others. People are quick to cast her into societal roles: from the loud Mrs Van Hopper to Maxim himself. Part of Rebecca’s power is how fractured the main character’s identity is. As a result, so too, is the world around her.
Because of that, Rebecca stresses the vitality of a strong identity. Young women in particular should listen, because they risk the same pitfalls as the protagonist.
Reason Five: Maurier’s Genius
Maurier is a great writer. You’ll notice that in the first paragraph. She understands what makes gothic literature tick, but she also comprehends the nuances of it. A point of excellence in Rebecca are the societal structures and expectations placed on characters. However, what really stood out was Maurier’s ambigious characterisation of Maxim. While reading Rebecca, I could never figure out my thoughts on him. Should I root for him, or loathe him? Among the web of lies, who is telling the truth?
A fantastic novelist keeps you guessing. Rebecca does, which only cements Daphne Du Maurier as a master storyteller.
Reason Six: The Novel’s Legacy
“A dreamer, I walked enchanted, and nothing held me back.”
Rebecca was successful and influential. Among the pop culture jungle, there are numerous references to Rebecca, from fashion designers to filmmakers. Artists and writers are drawn to the intrigue and mystery of Rebecca. Part of its popularity stems from Daphne Du Maurier’s ability to twist literary and commerical expectations together in a delightful way. Simply thinking about Rebecca is satisfying: like the very best dessert cakes, you know you are in for a satisfying treat.
Yes, a literary work being popular is no argument for its quality. But I highly recommend you see what the fuss is all about. Also, the Alfred Hitchcock adaption is brilliant.
What are your thoughts on Rebecca? Have you read it? Comment below!
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