“Do you think she can see us, talking to one another now?” She said slowly. “Do you think the dead can come back and watch the living?”
Right from the off, Rebecca gave me a deep sense of foreboding. I love when writers create atmosphere like this, detailing picturesque environments that suggest an ideal life, but are tainted by some disaster that topples the house of cards for everyone involved and then having you hanging onto their every word waiting to find out who will come out on top. The tension was palpable.
Our narrator is an orphan training to become a ladies companion under the tutelage of an insufferable gossip of a woman. One day she snags the attention of recently widowed gentleman Mr de Winter, and quickly he and our main character strike up a romance and marry. The girl is stunned to be so abruptly lifted from her ‘station’ and she’s completely daunted by the prospect of having to fill the exquisite shoes of Rebecca, her new husbands late wife. She quickly becomes intensely resentful of the phantom first wife which only grows worse when she returns to her new married home of Manderly, where everything she does is compared to the talented, beautiful and enigmatic Rebecca, by everybody who had ever known her, in particular the openly hostile and insipid Mrs Danvers, Maderly’s mains housekeeper. But as the new Mrs De Winters fights her upward battle to maintain the affections of her husband by aiming to emulate her predecessors perfection, we learn that Rebecca may not have been all that he seemed.
Whenever I read classics, I’m either bored out of my wits (which is why I rarely read them, though I am making an effort to read more) or I’m entirely consumed by them and this one was perfect. I loved the authenticity of narrators voice, I love that De Maurier bound the girl’s identity so deeply in Rebecca’s that we don’t even know her name. Where I had expected a romance written in the style of the era it was written in, I found a murder mystery that could have been released in the last year and still would have wiped the floor with the likes of Gone Girl with its sense of suspense, dread and surprise. And while it is very much a product of its time, in the way the narrator is so passive in her role as ‘wife’ and so fixated on her youth and naivety, De Maurier contrasts her heroines meek personality with so many more complex and varied personalities in every single one of her other female characters, that we can see that while passivity and obedience might have been what was expected of women of the time, it wasn’t always what you got from them. I especially loved De Winter’s sister, expecting her to have Rebecca up on the same pedestal as everybody else and treat her new sister in law with hostility (especially considering that this sudden marriage between her brother and this girl child placed the narrator in a very powerful seat with regards to her family an their estate) but who instead offers sympathy, companionship as support.
Reminiscent of the likes of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and The Great Gatsby with their descriptions of the underbelly of wealth, class and status Rebecca teaches how no amount of it can make you immune to the pitfalls of love and relationships. It is an amazing book, that regardless of how old it gets will never cease to be great.