By Mary Anna Violi | @MaryAnnaVioli
Thus begins Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, with one of the most iconic openings in literature. The eeriness of the iambic hexameter structure of this first line of Rebecca underscores the hallucinatory sort of events the young second Mrs. de Winter attempts to unravel. While some readers swoon over the “romance” in Rebecca, the story is more Gothic suspense than it is romance. The character of Maxim de Winter, the wealthy, emotionally damaged widower who marries the 20-year-younger second Mrs. de Winter, barely functions as a fully engaged husband to his shy and naïve second wife. The second Mrs. de Winter’s attempts to better understand her husband’s erratic outbursts are thwarted either by Maxim himself, or by the malevolent housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers.
Rebecca’s narrator is the second Mrs. de Winter. How reliable a narrator we believe her to be is contingent on how much credibility the reader is willing to invest in her. We are more likely to believe the second Mrs. de Winter because she lacks previous experience with the Manderley estate and those in its orb. We might be willing to invest more in what she says because she views Manderley and Maxim de Winter without fully knowing what and who they are in the greater context of the narrative. Yet she on various occasions she plays fast and loose with the truth in order to deflect attention from herself. These lies continually make her appear an awkward juvenile. Maxim is inexorably linked to Manderley. He shares with his second wife that Manderley is his home; it is where he was born, where he grew up. Even though Maxim is wealthy enough to have remained either on the Cote d’Azur where they met, or in Italy where they honeymooned, he opts to take her to Manderley. He soon realizes it would have been better had they remained in Italy on a perennial honeymoon.
Throughout the course of their months at Manderley, it is evident that Maxim becomes more and more unhappy, likewise his young bride. He is haunted by events leading up to his first wife Rebecca’s death. The past continually rears its head at the most inopportune moments to send him either into a rage, like prior to the costume ball, or plunge him into despair, as when the young Mrs. de Winter insists on following Jasper the dog to the cottage by the sea. The reader fails to understand Maxim’s moody behavior, but inklings provide clues to dark secrets lurking within the man. While Maxim holds the key to aspects of the past, the dead Rebecca reveals herself to the reader as the narrative progresses. All is most certainly not what it appears or appeared to be in Rebecca. The shifting landscapes and slow unveiling of characters, coupled with plot twists keep generation after generation of readers enthralled in du Maurier’s classic story.
Ciao for now.