“I am glad it cannot happen twice, the fever of first love. For it is a fever, and a burden, too, whatever the poets may say. They are not brave, the days when we are twenty-one. They are full of little cowardices, little fears without foundation, and one is so easily bruised, so swiftly wounded, one falls to the first barbed word.”
Written by Daphne du Maurier and published in 1938, Rebecca is a classic English novel that follows the narration of an unnamed protagonist who, whilst working as the companion to a rich American woman vacationing in Monte Carlo, meets a wealthy widowed Englishman named Maxim de Winter. When he suddenly proposes her hand in marriage, she agrees to accompany him to his mansion, the beautiful West Country estate Manderley, but soon finds that the memory of his first wife, Rebecca, still maintains a grip on her husband and the servants, especially on the housekeeper Mrs Danvers. Haunted by her memory, a mystery that lives on even after Rebecca’s death begins to unravel.
The following post is a review of only the book. You can read my review of the film adaptation in comparison to the book here.
Daphne Du Maurier‘s Rebecca is my number one favourite book of all time. Beautifully written, the story is centred on two of the most humanly complex characters ever written, begins with one of the most memorable opening lines in literature, and ends with an intensely powerful image.
A mysterious and gripping story, Rebecca grips you from the first sentence, with the famous opening line:
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
From that point on, we join a nameless narrator in a nail-biting journey full of suspense. Told in a first-person narrative, the story is told in the form of a flashback as the narrator retells her story of overcoming personal insecurities, discovering one’s identity amid social pressures and expectations, and what the meaning of true love really entails.
Looking back at her time at the beautiful mansion that is Manderley, we’re told that something drastic has happened as the narrator comments that she and her husband can never go back. But what? As she goes on to detail what is primarily a love story, as a reader you find yourself impatiently waiting for something to go wrong. You know that her world is going to come crashing down at any minute, but what will be the final hit?
As much as it is a classic romance, Rebecca is also a gothic tale full of secrets and human flaws. Just like Manderley itself, the story is beautifully written and engaging, but it is also surrounded by a dark mystery that shadows over every happy moment.
Incredibly atmospheric, Rebecca is an immensely haunting read. It’s not often that a book is named after a character who doesn’t make an appearance in the story, but through Du Maurier’s poetic narrative you are made to believe that Rebecca’s ghost could appear at any minute, as you can constantly feel the strong presence that Rebecca still has over the household and everybody that resides there.
The book’s first-person narrative means that you get to know every worry and struggle that goes on in the narrator’s mind. We constantly know what she is thinking, which is rarely the same as what she is acting out, as she often wonders about what Maxim would be doing if she wasn’t there and how Rebecca would be doing certain things differently. It is this narrative that makes Rebecca’s presence in the book so strong, with the added focus of knowing what’s going on inside the narrator’s mind allowing us to see the massive effect that Rebecca is having on her.
Just like Pride and Prejudice, Rebecca is a story about human flaws, about how they can take over but how they can be overcome at the same time. The narrator faces these struggles constantly, and Du Maurier paints her character so well that you can feel the pressures from those around her, as you experience every pinch of doubt but also every growth in confidence for yourself.
Du Maurier’s writing style throughout is so engrossing that you become captivated in this personal growth that the narrator goes through. There’s so much to relate to in her insecurities and social awkwardnesses, and the theme of identity is handled brilliantly, so much so that every twenty-something reading this book will see something of themselves in the book’s central character, despite the substantial social changes.
But Rebecca isn’t just a love story or a mystery or a haunting gothic tale; it even delves into the realm of crime fiction, as the investigation and trial at the end of the book take it onto a whole new journey. It is at this point when the more interesting twists and turns come into play, and in these final chapters of the book that we are filled with the most suspense, as the story could easily go in any direction. The lead up to the closing few lines, as well, will have your heart beating ten times faster than the climactic revelations that occur before them.
Rebecca is the definition of classic literature. If you ever feel bogged down by popular fiction, get your hands on this book and it will remind you exactly why reading can be one of life’s best pleasures. Ensure that this is a book that you read at least once in your life.
Rebecca was adapted into a film in 1940, which you can read my Book vs. Film Review for here, and watch the trailer for below: