Essay done and dusted, it has felt more a pleasure than a chore to read Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca for my studies. I absolutely adore this book! Labelled as popular literature rather than great literature (yes that’s my subject for this essay), due to its domestic subject, its rambling gothic house and its initial love story, Rebecca was written in 1938 and takes its inspiration from the equally wonderful Jane Eyre. It is certainly clear to see traces of Brontë’s masterpiece but Du Maurier, I believe, deviates from the formula with her ambiguous ending and her almost brutal shocking reveal.
Rebecca is the story of the other woman, as the young and naïve narrator, whom remains nameless throughout the story, meets the mysteriously delectable Maxim De Winter on his travels. After a whirlwind courtship, they are hastily married and destined for the stunning home of Manderley. However, waiting for them on their return is Rebecca who, despite having drowned over a year ago, is as much a presence now in Manderley than she ever was before. The narrator has to contend with living within the walls of Manderley, knowing full well that there are three people in her marriage and you can’t very much argue with a deceased wife!
What follows is layer upon layer of suspense with Du Maurier keeping the reader on tenterhooks right until the very end where even then, not quite content with providing us with a happily ever after ending, we are left with a frustratingly ambiguous conclusion open to a mass of interpretation. Du Maurier’s prose is cleverly constructed with the narrative weaving between simple, immature sentences (thereby matching the narrator’s immaturity) through to highly accomplished syntax and at times, some of the most breath-taking beautifully descriptive pieces I’ve come across. The fact that the most prominent character of the book never actually makes a physical appearance is further testament to some great characterisation.
Du Maurier is an accomplished storyteller but perhaps too good for her time as I did find out during my studies that acclaimed director Alfred Hitchcock had to forgo the shocking reveal of Rebecca’s demise and play it safe with an alleged accident due to film code stipulation that the murder of a spouse should always be met with punishment!
Rebecca is a masterpiece which deserves its popularity, it has never gone out of print since its first publication. It is storytelling at its best and remains with you some time after a final read, especially as you contemplate your own response to the reveal!