Sometimes I look at lists of “classic” literature, and it’s remarkable how few I’ve read. I was an English major, but college classes don’t read as many novels as they do plays, short stories, and poetry—at least in my experience. However, I read Rebecca a few years ago for my Women in Literature class, and was surprised I’d never heard much about it, despite it apparently being famous. Still, to give it some more visibility (to those few of you who’ve followed this blog; thanks btw!) here’s my review!
Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca tells the story of an unnamed young woman, who works as a companion for a gossipy old woman in the 1930s-ish. In Monte Carlo, she meets a rich English gentleman, Maxim de Winter. They become fast friends, but when the woman’s employer decides to leave for America, Maxim surprises everyone by proposing marriage to the narrator. Infatuated, she accepts, and they return to Manderley, Maxim’s home in England. However, soon after, our protagonist notices that her new home seems haunted by the memories Maxim’s first (now dead) wife, Rebecca. And not only does she face the realization that perhaps her marriage was a hasty decision and that Maxim does not love her back, but the events that occur one evening shed doubt on the circumstances of Rebecca’s death.
This is a haunting, Gothic tale with romance, mystery, and suspense. The characters are good, and the story keeps your attention. The mystery is slow to reveal itself, but when the action and intrigue begins, you are invested and want to know what will happen.
Yet while I root for the protagonist, I’m not a huge fan of Maxim. He’s a little condescending, and there isn’t as much of a foundation for their relationship as I’d like. A lot of their bonding takes place off-screen (well, off-page), so the readers don’t see as much of his personality as she does. He’s fine, but overall there are plenty of characters out there I like more.
The main character is pretty well-written. She starts off insecure and naive, but throughout the plot becomes much more confident and strong. It’s a fast development in the last third or so of the novel, but is rewarding to watch. But one little thing I thought of while re-reading this that might have made her evolution more powerful is if we got to learn her name. She’s unnamed the entire novel, aside from being called “Mrs. de Winter.” Of course, that name still seems to belong to Rebecca, who overshadows our narrator. So I think after she learns (well, spoilers) and matures and becomes more bold, it would have been rather moving if she’d asserted her own identity, outside of just Maxim’s wife. Oh well, it’s a minor criticism.
The other characters—especially Mrs. Danvers, Frank, and Beatrice—are all great, in their different roles in and knowledge of the mystery of what happened to Rebecca. They each provide different tidbits of information that serve to both illuminate and intrigue. This book is sort of like if a murder mystery were set in Downton Abbey. Luckily, without as many characters and storylines, but just as engrossing.
As a character, Rebecca herself might be the best part (other than Jasper the dog, of course). There’s good reason her name is the book’s title. Though she’s dead the entire book, she is still very much a presence, in the memories of the servants and the possessions in the house and the weight on our protag’s mind. As the story continues, the image of Rebecca becomes clearer and clearer, and all the more alarming.
The end of the story is slightly abrupt, and feels a little anticlimactic. However, the main conflict is resolved well, and it actually makes for a thought-provoking conclusion, if a little lacking in action.
However, in the end, Rebecca is an excellent mystery-romance with a protagonist you root for, questions you want answers to, and a gripping plot. It’s not perfect, and the relationship between the two mains could have been explored a bit more, but the tone and story are still entertaining. This is definitely worth a read for fans of classic literature.
Overall rating: 8/10