Rebecca, written by Daphne du Maurier, is a triumph of the hidden female protagonist; gothic literature, and essentially a more humble version of Jane Eyre/Wide Sargasso Sea. Even though it was extremely popular at the time of it’s publication, it lacked the literary depth that marks what is considered the more thoughtful fiction in the western canon; this is no Joyce or Dickens, but in its simplicity is a thoroughly chilling and haunting story that is perfect to add some cold to our bones on a hot summer day.
Much in the style of Wide Sargasso Sea, we have an unnamed and very enigmatic/mysterious narrator, the protagonist of our story. She is newly married to the charming Max de Winter, and the novel is a recounting of her time at her husband’s estate, named Manderly. It’s here that the problems begin arising. The narrator is haunted by the seeming presence of Max’s dead wife, Rebecca. IN addition, the housekeeper constantly unfavorably compares the narrator to Rebecca, and derides everything about the poor Mrs. Winter: from the way she dresses to how she wants to run her household. She’s tormented and bullied to nearly non-existence, and any complaints she makes are either ignored or receive a gaslight treatment. Naturally, through all of this she begins to suspect that her husband never stopped loving his dead wife, and that he secretly resents her intrusion in this sacred place held only by the ghost of Rebecca’s memory.
BUT THANK GOD IT’S ONLY A STORY.
The poor Mrs. Winter is driven nearly to the point of madness (note: this novel is a perfect example of why you should always hire new help for each new wife, and why you should never trust the opinions of housekeepers that hate you. Also, don’t be born in the Victorian Era.) until at last! *swoon* it’s revealed that her husband actually loves her! And hated Rebecca! The reason for his coldness is all Rebecca’s fault! Nevertheless, even with the triumph of knowing her man’s love is hers, our narrator is still indebted to Rebecca for this knowledge. She haunts her from the grave!
Anyhow, there are many, many plot twists and surprises hidden in this juicy story, making it much like a combination of the two previously mentioned novels dealing with the same literary style (ooh I do love a good dark gothic mystery!). The most interesting theme in all of these novels however, is that despite all three women being main characters, all three are nearly paralyzed in their abilities to change the courses of their own lives, as well as their ability to even identify themselves. Jane Eyre less so than the others; as far as the time period she was fairly independent. But both of the protagonists of Wide Sargasso Sea and Rebecca are nameless; they have various pet names and mistaken names given them through the dialogue of the other characters, but both texts are highly memoir-ic, in that we only get detailed accounts of the events in their lives, and almost no direct information about either of these two women. Such a shame as both undergo rather traumatic and horrific events in both of their respective stories; in WSS the heroine is forced to marry a man who is indifferent to her, and the combined stresses from this superficial relationship with moving to England causes her to literally go crazy. In Rebecca the main character is moved into her husband’s home, when it is very obvious that the presence of the previous lady has no entirely dissipated, nor has her loyalties. Also, both novels outline GROSS misunderstandings of women; WSS clears up the unsettled questions of the “crazy woman in the attic” of Jane Eyre. And of course Rebecca, as we come to find out, is not the idyllic angel that everyone pictured her to be. Female identity is so obscured in this novel that it’s hard to see which way is up, and we never really get to see the “real” person behind the narration, or even who Rebecca really is, a telling novel for a time when the #metoo movement has gained so much traction for giving a voice to the voiceless, and for demanding that our voices are heard.