“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
If there ever existed an underrated quotable literary quote, it’s this one.
Rebecca still stands, eighty or so years on, as a masterpiece of modern gothic. It is dark, brooding and ever so slightly unsettling, like most of Daphne du Maurier’s work. Unlike these others, however, Rebecca has withstood the test of time and is widely considered to be the author’s magnum opus. It has been adapted into film (never quite satisfactorily, as happens with most of them) and nodded to in literary culture and pulp fiction alike.
About the Book:
As I’ve said in my longer review/analysis here, Rebecca is all about memories, and how they can linger as ghosts. The young protagonist, recently married to a man who is much older than her, is haunted by the lingering memories (presence?) of his dead former wife. Of course, say you, the reader, for after all, isn’t that marriage a bad idea.
Ah, but this is young love, and a chance at life for our chronically unnamed protagonist. She is carried forward before she realizes that she is treading water; that she is a stranger to aristocracy and to the life that her new spouse Maxim de Winter lives. Within the walls of Manderley, amongst its lush gardens, a certain something of the dead wife lingers.
Du Maurier’s writing cannot be called lyrical, but she really can build atmosphere. Her plot is intricately guiding to the reader, so much so that the twist at the end is not foreseen.
Why it’s so important:
Not many novels can be read a century past, in our current time, and years into the future – yet still hold the same grip upon its reader. Rebecca manages to possess such an effect, and does it well. Daphne du Maurier herself called the story a study in jealousy, and through that lens alone the story takes on many layers of meaning. My own opinion is that it expertly demonstrates how powerful memories can be – even more so when they are repressed.
Why you should read it:
Rebecca is not a book for light reading. It haunts the reader, and you’ll find yourself trying to puzzle it out for days after. Make of this what you will; many readers love the gothic aesthetic and actively seek out books that make them brood. Others aren’t fond of the gloom. If there is one reason to read Rebecca apart from sentimental pleasure, it would be for how ubiquitous this novel’s influence is. It is unquestionably a classic, and you’ll find a smattering of it in many other novels that came after it. As a literary meme, it has done tremendously well for itself, being referred to in everything from Stephen King’s Bag of Bones to Taylor Swift’s single “Tolerate It”. It even inspired a limited edition watch collection. Even the Nazi’s couldn’t resist, using the novel as a key to a code.