Review by Charlotte Ray
Rebecca is a novel published in 1938 and written by one of the most popular English writers of the 20th century, Daphne Du Maurier. It has become, perhaps, the most famous of her many books; over sixty years later, it continues to haunt and perplex yet another generation of readers. In short, Rebecca is a story of two women, one man, and a house. These four elements are bound together by Du Maurier to create an elliptical, shifting and deeply enthralling narrative, which captivates readers from start to finish.
Rebecca is written from the perspective of an unnamed woman who is desperate for the validation provided by Maxim de Winter’s love. It is written in a cyclical way; the narrator begins at the end, with herself and her husband Maxim de Winter living in exile in Europe for reasons which are as yet unclear. Thus, it comes as a shock to the reader when the plot loops back to the couple’s first meeting, in which our heroine is swept off of her feet by the dashing widower, Maxim de Winter, and his sudden and very unexpected proposal of marriage. Orphaned and currently working as a companion to Mrs Van Hopper in a hotel in Monte Carlo, she can hardly believe how lucky she is. It is only when the two return to Maxim’s massive country estate, Manderley, that she realises the extent to which his last wife has cast a shadow on her own life. It becomes increasingly clear that Maxim’s late wife, Rebecca, threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
Far from being an ‘exquisite’ love story, Rebecca raises questions about women’s acquiescence to male values which are as pertinent today as they were eighty-two years ago. Du Maurier’s novel was initially dismissed by critics who believed it was merely a Gothic romance or a ‘novelette’: women’s fiction. However, a more in-depth examination of this fascinating story reveals a darker literary construct that criticises women’s subservience to men and demonstrates how oppressive masculine power can be.
I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to anyone and everyone. However, be ready to be shocked, enraged and saddened, yet captivated by this story which hinges upon secrets and reveals a society that rarely allowed the truth to be expressed.