The Black Mansion

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Rebecca

Posted on 15/01/2021

7 min. read

And there was that aesthetic again.

Rebecca: a gem of a novel!

One of my favourite books is Rebecca, a novel written by Daphne du Maurier and published in 1938. The novel was so popular that two years later, Alfred Hitchcock turned it into a film, starring Laurence Olivier and Joane Fontaine. Today, the film is considered to be a milestone in movie history. There have been at least three major subsequent versions, the most recent being from 2020 and 1997. However, before you watch any of the films, I recommend you read the book. Here’s why!

Plot summary

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me. There was a padlock and a chain upon the gate. I called in my dream to the lodge-keeper, and had no answer, and peering closer through the rusted spokes of the gate I saw that the lodge was uninhabited.

These are the first lines of the book. The immediate question in my mind was: What happened here? What is this place, Manderley? Why is the gate padlocked? Who is the narrator? We are not told these things, on purpose. After these mysterious introductory sentences, the narrator tells us that she is a travel companion to an elderly American lady and that both of them are staying at a luxurious hotel in Monte Carlo.

His face, was arresting, sensitive, medieval in some strange inexplicable way…

At this hotel, the narrator meets a rich widower, called Maxim de Winter, who is the owner of Manderley. His talented and beautiful wife, Rebecca, has died recently. He and the narrator build a romantic connection, which develops quickly, leading to marriage in a few days. The newly-weds move into Manderley and are happy. However, the narrator gradually starts to realise that there is some mystery surrounding her husband’s dead wife. Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, keeps up appearances by obeying the orders of the new mistress, but seems to not have relinquished her devotion to the former mistress of Manderley.

While the narrator was in Monte Carlo, the focus is on Maxim, her impressions of him, and the growing romance. When she gets to Manderley, the focus shifts to the running of the large estate, and Rebecca’s influence starts to overpower the narrator. Slowly she starts to become intrigued and seeks to find out more about Maxim’s dead wife.

Why don’t you go? … He doesn’t want you, he never did. He can’t forget her… It’s you who ought to be dead, not Mrs. de Winter.

During their time at Manderley, Maxim is quiet and seems to go into himself instead of focussing on his new wife and giving her the attention and love she so desperately seeks from him. The motives of Mrs. Danvers towards the narrator are also unclear. At times one has the impression that she is trying to be helpful, but at other times she appears to be intimidating. Du Maurier gives the reader only bits and pieces of information, just enough to advance the plot. By this point one is wondering about all the characters in the story. Does Maxim really love his unsophisticated new wife? Or does he still love Rebecca? Is Rebecca really dead? Odd unexplained incidents keep one guessing, and try as one might, one cannot be sure what is coming. When the secret is revealed, it is a complete surprise. The plot has been masterfully crafted and the ending is well rounded and satisfying.

There are many aspects of the novel which are brought out really well. For one, there is the yearning love of the narrator for Maxim and her deep desire to please him and be loved by him. The Hitchcock film conveys this aspect in the way old Hollywood films do.

There are many aspects of the novel which are brought out really well. For one, there is the yearning love of the narrator for Maxim and her deep desire to please him and be loved by him. Then there is the creepy, thrilling aspect of the story, which centres on Mrs Danvers and her devotion to Rebecca.

They were standing on a small veranda in the South of France.

Interesting aspects

Rebecca was written in 1938, roughly towards the end of the modernist period. One characteristic of the period is that writers often described the emotions and actions of characters very vividly and as they were. In Rebecca, we are given a detailed look at the thoughts and emotions of the first-person narrator, and the plot is reflected through her point of view.

Why I liked it so much!

While I, as a reader, got a close insight into the narrator’s psyche, there were many other aspects that made the novel special for me. First, the setting of the whole novel was very intriguing. Manderley is a big and old mansion situated on the wild coast of Cornwall, which gives it a ghostly air. It reminded me of Allerdale Hall from the movie Crimson Peak by Guillermo del Toro. Second, the plot keeps one guessing till the very end. Third, one feels with the characters, understands them, and is happy for them when they reach their aspirations.

Final words

Rebecca is just such a masterfully written book, and I highly recommend that you read this book. You would be missing out on something very nice if you do not.