“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” So begins Daphne duMaurier’s classic novel of romantic suspense, Rebecca. I’ve read the book three times now – once as a teenager, once about twenty years ago, and again just recently. My daughter, who is nineteen, was sick and asked me to come into her room while she tried to go to sleep. I asked if she wanted me to read to her and she said yes. It’s a thrill to be able to read to a grown girl. She doesn’t ask for that often. I found Rebecca on her bookshelf. I knew she hadn’t read it, so I opened the book and began. She fell asleep within five pages, but I took the book back into my bedroom and continued reading by flashlight, so I wouldn’t wake my husband.
Rebecca takes place in England, where duMaurier was from. Her command of language is exquisite, and her descriptions of Manderley, the country mansion on the Cornish coast where the protagonist (she is never named!) goes to live with her new husband, are beautiful:
“We stood on a slope of a wooded hill, and the path wound away before us to a valley, by the side of a running stream. There were no dark trees her, no tangled undergrowth, but on either side of the narrow path stood azaleas and rhododendrons, not blood-coloured like the giants in the drive, but salmon, white, and gold, things of beauty and grace, drooping their lovely , delicate heads in the soft summer rain.”
duMaurier quickly drives the plot along – a young woman marries an older man whose first wife has drowned. She arrives at his estate as the second Mrs. de Winter, only to find that the first Mrs. de Winter, the beautiful and accomplished Rebecca, may be dead but is far from forgotten. Her suite of rooms is kept as though she’s about to walk through the door, her clothes are laid out and ready to be worn, and the sinister Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca’s servant, is ever loyal.
The book was written in 1938 and the writing reflects that period. Because of that, there are certain aspects of the story that don’t stand the test of time very well – the parts that deal with the legal system, police procedures, and the ferreting out of the truth from evidence, for example. The world of forensics as we know it didn’t exist back then. And the mores of that time were also very different from those of today. What was scandalous then would not cause an eye to blink now. But I didn’t mind that. I felt it a small price to pay for a wonderfully crafted book with gorgeous writing. In fact, I loved the idea of stepping back in time to a much more graceful and genteel world.
duMaurier has woven a story of mystery and intrigue and love. If you’ve never read Rebecca, pick up a copy. There’s a reason it’s still considered a classic.