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Author: Daphne du Maurier| Genre: Gothic, Suspense | Pages: 397
A handmaid falls in love with a dashing widower Mr de Winter and accepts his marriage proposal and becomes the lady of Manderley. Little does she know about the past and haunt that the country estate is, of its first mistress, the late Rebecca de Winter.
Maxim de Winter marries a handmaid half her age and brings her home to the ultimate, famous, pined for, dreamt of, Manderley. The new bride is haunted by the late Mrs Winter’s reputation and prestige and soon not only her marriage but life too will be threatened by her gothic presence in Manderley.
Now that I’ve finished reading it again, I revel in the afterthought of why this is my favorite novel of all times.
Let’s begin, shall we? Mind you, this is going to be one long review.
Our young unnamed narrator swooning over Maximilian de Winter is only eager to accept his marriage proposal and goes packing off to Manderley after a fortnight of meeting the dashing owner of the popular estate. Now I’d be damned if I say this is a story of two people – One alive and another dead, the two Mrs de Winters. This is the story of Manderley. The de Winter’s mansion. And that and only that is the overbearing protagonist of this masterpiece.
Really few books have had openings as stunning as this novel. The one solemn line,
Last night I dreamt, I went to Manderley again.
sets the nostalgic, intriguing, longing-filled mood of the novel. That the novel takes on a dark tone interlaced with the gothic theme is revealed only after the first 50 odd pages when the new bride meets the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers. It is this woman who holds the strings to almost everything transpiring under the roofs of Manderley, and time and again makes it clear about her undying, unnatural devotion to the late mistress.
The narrator is forever intimidated by dead Rebecca and her devoted housekeeper and her struggles to live up to the reputation of her successor is quite apparent until the big mystery around Rebecca’s true disposition is revealed. But with that, now she has to decide if Maxim is really the man she married, and if now her marriage is a colossal failure as the maids, the housekeeper, neighbors, and friends, have been desperate to declare.
On one hand, as the austere setting of Manderley slowly sketches the influential figure Rebecca was, we also observe the newly-wed bride grow up from her shy, intimidated, inhibition-driven self to a mature woman who can take up the reins of Manderley, and cast Rebecca’s shadow out of her life and that of her beloved’s.
In a span of a few months, and a few rather grim episodes, the author has impeccably established each and everyone’s contributions that define the mood of Manderley that make it stand out as one of the most prominent literary figures of all times. It is quite interesting to observe that despite striving hard none of the male figures in the plot gain any importance and come out as weak side casts.
The narrator is not much of a prim figure but manages to cut a significant piece in the prose despite the fact that she abhors herself and in turn, the reader comes to loathe her too for her lack of nerve and spine. All in all, it is for the incompetent Mrs de Winter the second that this novel could be termed one long monologue of self-introspection born out of self-pity, and that is one trait I detest in a main character. On the other hand, Rebecca is everything a woman would want to be, from her character sketches, before the big reveal on her true nature.
What I’ve always generously liked about this book however, is the estate Manderley. It holds more prominence and substance than all the characters of the story put together. It is dark, menacing, overbearing, and yet emerges to be powerfully glorious in its sublime presence even after being reduced to ashes as the start of the novel wonderfully establishes.
I could go on and on, for it isn’t for nothing that this novel is called the ultimate literary successes of all times bringing Maurier the fame she hardly anticipated.
I pretty much love everything Maurier wrote and I am so glad that I am from a generation that still knows and reads her works. Her prose comes from a place not many authors dare to explore and that is what makes all of her pieces masterworks of fiction.
Come to think of it, I do not adore My Cousin Rachel or Jamaica Inn or Frenchman’s Creek or any of her short stories any less than I do Rebecca because they are all so rich, such powerful female protagonists, wonderfully gothic themes, astonishing settings, and unforgettably striking plot moods.
I am yet to come across authors who would delve into the human psyche and come out with such strong myriad characters who promise to live with you for ages to come. This characteristic was standard of Tolstoy and perhaps, because I have been a Tolstoy admirer since forever, it was easier for me to fall in love with Maurier for the same sweet reason.
In a nutshell, Rebecca is a book not to be read, but to let it devour you, to feel its teeth on your conscience, to feel yourself sink and drown in its torrents of jealousy, of obsession, of immature inhibitions, of hopeless romance. And then whether you come out of it feeling glorified that you’ve read one of the best literatures of all times or feeling subdued for a maid haunted by her predecessor, is something I’d like to chat about.
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