We recently listened to an audiobook of Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier. There follows a collection of thoughts on the matter, **including spoilers**.
It may not have been out of print since it’s first publication. It may have one of the most iconic opening lines in fiction. But I would contest that Rebecca is not a book to read when you are a cynical feminist type in your thirties.
Like Tess of the D’Urbervilles and anything by the Bronte sisters, this is one you should read as a pre-teen if you want to sympathise with the central character in any way.
As an adult, I spent the entire time being alternately irritated by the way she puts up with people being shitty to her without saying anything, and baffled by the things that try her patience enough for her to comment on them – mainly people going hatless. I really feel like there are better things for her to get upset about – maybe the complete mental breakdown of her housekeeper, or the fact her husband has clear anger management issues and is also a murderer?
Having said all that it is a really good portrait of how a naive and dreamy teenage girl might approach a romantic relationship, but one that rings massive alarm bells about consent, communication and equality.
Also DuMaurier apparently said all the characters were meant to be flawed and a bit awful, and was surprised this book should be received as romantic in any way. She wasn’t kidding. And if you like an unlikeable female protagonist, Rebecca herself is pretty interesting.
Different time etc but holy balls, the ableism.
Different time etc but holy balls, the sexism.
It’s probably more pronounced when you listen to it as opposed to reading it but there is so. much. repetition. If I had a pound for every time she describes the long sloping R of Rebecca’s signature I’d have several pounds. And we get it, Mrs Danvers is gaunt and you think her face is skull like, get a new simile already. And was there any real need to describe in detail every single occasion where tea was laid out? They seem to have it about 19 times a day. Don’t believe me? Ask The Toast.
Anna Massey, who narrates the version we heard, bloody loves a melodrama. Her performance is top notch, if you do want to listen rather than read.
The unnamed narrator has lots of little flights of fancy in which she imagines what other people are thinking about her and assumes it to be negative. I personally cannae be daein wi this inferiority complex. You have never once bothered your arse to speak to the woman who lives at the end of the drive, why the hell do you assume she cares enough to be judging your marriage all day rather than living her own life?! And rather than assuming your husband thinks he’s made a terrible mistake marrying you based on no evidence, why not just talk to him? I mean, I know why – it’s narrative necessity + The Patriarchy. But I’m not into it.
Anyway, as the story unfolds she begins to develop a little bit more self confidence, but remains very bad at just speaking to people to find out what the hell is going on. I suppose this reflects this portion of society at the time pretty well – but if you’re looking for a feisty or intrepid heroine the second Mrs DeWinter is not the one for you.
Much of her unhappiness (not to mention the burnination of Manderley) could be avoided if our heroine sacked the servant who is deliberately making life difficult for her rather than putting and shutting up. I know she’s never managed anyone before and I dunno how modern bosses are advised to deal with such things but to me, a member of staff encouraging you to jump out a window because everyone hates you is a pretty enormous red flag.
Who knows, if she just said ‘here’s your P45 Mrs Danvers’ maybe she wouldn’t end up an accessory to covering up a murder. She might remain blissfully unaware that her husband’s emotional distance is not because she’s bad at hostessing, nor the massive age gap, nor even the fact he’s still in love with his dead wife – but because he’s waiting for someone to work out that he went affy murdery last year.
Overall Rebecca is overwrought AF. I wish I’d read it when I was 12 rather than 33, as I suspect I would have loved it then… but as it is I’d say it’s reasonably enjoyable gothic nonsense, albeit rendered deeply problematic if you hold it to modern social standards so probably don’t do that.