I decided to read Rebecca because I kept seeing mentionings of it in the blog world and thought I should find out what all of the fuss was about. I was a little thrown off when I first got this chunky little text from the library, due to the little note on the cover: “The unsurpassed modern masterpiece of romantic suspense.” Romance? I thought I was reading literary fiction, not veering off into a world of exposed nipples and lame euphemisms. Yes, I know, romance means more than just that and in literary history has traditionally meant something completely different, but when you walk into the romance section of a bookstore that’s what you find and it scared me. However, never fear all you who are uninitiated in the ways of Rebecca; there is not a single nipple to be found, except those that are carefully concealed under several layers of proper dress.
There were a lot of things I liked about Rebecca but I’m going to try and keep this short, so here are the highlights:
It’s aptness. I know I use this word a lot but I assure you that I only use it when I mean it. The unnamed narrator, Mrs. de Winter the second, admits to a lot of thoughts and mental wanderings that you rarely read about but you (or at least I) always experience. These are the kinds of thoughts you don’t acknowledge to others. Mr. D wonders what the servants think of her underpants (I told you so!), imagines lengthy scenarios where her husband dies or she is mocked, and is intimidated by her own home, unsure of where to sit herself in the morning versus the afternoon.
The changing times. Rebecca is set in a world that is very clearly changing. Women wear trousers and sail boats but are still subjected to certain expectations left over from Victorian England. I’ve read a lot of Victorian literature recently but nothing showing what happened socially afterwards, so it was fun to advance into the next century.
The fact that the story doesn’t really start until after the marriage. My Victorian lit professor repeated a quote to us once that I don’t really remember but was along the lines of, “An Englishwoman’s life ends when she gets married, when a Frenchwoman’s life begins.” After all the Jane Eyres and Pride and Prejudices and Mary Bartons, it was nice to see what happens after “I do.” Shockingly enough, getting married does not mean that a woman has to die or become silly.
The writing. DuMaurier actually often writes in a way that I have been taught to disdain in prose fiction. Her narration is often filled with stage direction: so-and-so said this, did this, walked there, the other person entered, did this, sat down, ate a crumpet. It seems a little boring but it worked. It created tension and made me read on and even though sometimes I wanted to know what Mrs. D was thinking at the moment, rather than her later reflections, it worked for me. I also enjoyed the initial chapters, which were very different and just kind of floated along.
Complaints? I probably had some, but nothing that sticks out. I pretty much just adored this book. I’m even considering reading the sequel written by Susan Hill, Mrs. deWinter. Maybe. I’ll let you know.