By Daphne Du Maurier
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." So begins 'Rebecca', the 1936 novel that helped popularise its author, Englishwoman Daphne du Maurier. For those like me who want to go back to works of the past from time to time, 'Rebecca' will not disappoint.
It is a mystery, with romance and some Goth thrown in. 'Rebecca' is about the beautiful, strong, intelligent, effervescent Rebecca - wife of the wealthy and powerful Englishman, Max de Winter.
In the story, Rebecca had died the previous year, and Mr de Winter – out of seeming heartbreak and great loneliness – marries a young naïve girl, not of his class, soon after he meets her in the French Riviera. He brings the young, new Mrs de Winter back with him to his family estate of Manderley….and so unwinds the mystery that had shrouded Manderley for many years. The new Mrs de Winter is narrating the story - many years later in retrospect – and, reading it, you feel the girl's many insecurities and endless struggles against the shadow of her dead predecessor seep through. Being the perfect wife, hostess and community member, the power Rebecca exerts over Manderley – even posthumously – is almost supernaturally strong. Mr de Winter withdraws into a sort of catatonic state; Mrs Danvers – the matron in charge of servants and affairs at Manderley – takes an instant dislike to the new Mrs de Winter and proceeds to make life as uncomfortable for her as possible. Then one night after a ball, a ship is wrecked just outside Manderley - bringing to the surface the many lies that lie buried beneath Manderley.
Daphne Du Maurier 'paints' the English countryside splendidly in 'Rebecca', and introduces and maintains characters that are common, as well as enigmatic and even bizarre. She does brilliantly well in keeping 'alive' Rebecca, and even though dead, we see a very strong-willed and powerful personality (and later toward the close of the novel, something else) in her leading lady, seen through the eyes of Rebecca's successor and those around her. Du Maurier's writing style of making almost everything dark and foreboding is grimly intoxicating, but it is the plot that is truly remarkable, and how du Maurier weaves every little strand to finally answer truths that you didn't even sense were awaiting that will amaze you.
'Rebecca', to me, is a story about relationships and a struggle for power each person within that structure vies for against the other to achieve and maintain. Rebecca de Winter reached that pinnacle of supremacy, and literally fought to death to keep it that way. However, it was the younger, the naïve Mrs de Winter many will feel drawn toward. I did, as I was once young and naïve – and coupled with my traditional Papua New Guinean upbringing of "not questioning but respecting authority no matter what" – once treaded the world with timidity and some sort of trepidation. The young Mrs de Winter's growth toward that awakening – the realisation that your essence and personal worth is never as a result of the social grouping you belong to – is in effect mine too. With me, I hope I had reached that understanding a long, long time before my reading of 'Rebecca'.
I will recommend this book to young women growing up and trying to find a footing in the world – against a domineering parent, a more apt sibling, a smarter classmate, a powerful husband. But I will especially recommend it to anyone wanting some good ol' mystery to knock off a weekend!