Spoiler Alert: Plot Summary
Rebecca is a tale of deception, passion, grandeur, beauty, and horror. It tells the story of Maxim de Winter and his first wife Rebecca's death, as well as the budding romance between Maxim and his second wife, the new Mrs. de Winter, during their time at Manderley, his vast estate in England. The new MdW (we'll call her this, as she gets no other name in the novel) is young, inexperienced in the world of rich living, and clueless about Maxim's past. It is clear, though, that the new MdW adores Maxim, and she'd do anything for him. I won't reveal the particulars of the plot (so I suppose I should call this section "ersatz spoiler alert") because this novel relies on mystery and the obscuring of certain details, and revealing them would deprive you of the pleasure of discovering them on your own. If you've read Rebecca, then you can happily recount the story to yourself (or read the SparkNotes if you've forgotten). If you haven't, go grab a copy. It's a great summer read, and one you'll be glad you grabbed.
Spoiler Over: Continue Here
I read this book for the first time in Mrs. Hibschman's (sp?) class in 7th grade. I greatly enjoyed it then, and I thoroughly enjoyed it this time around. A few thoughts, in no real order:
- "One of the bestselling novels of all time" (according to the book jacket)
I found this particularly amusing because I was talking to a friend about The Voice, a TV show, and how they find increasingly hyperbolic superlatives for their judges each week. Christina Aguilera, widely acclaimed as the best female vocalist of all time. (Hm. Excellent, yes. Talented, yes. All time? hrm.... Suzy - widely acclaimed as the best cat of all time.)
I found not one, not two, but 6 typos in this novel. Dear "Avon fiction", as Rebecca has been in print since 1938, you've had plenty of time to get your act together. Snap to it and hire a copy editor!
- Happiness as a state of mind
The new MdW speaks about finding happiness with Maxim in the early part of the novel, and I particularly liked this line: "Happiness is not a possession to be prized, it is a quality of thought, a state of mind."
- The new MdW's description of Maxim
"He belonged to a walled city of the fifteenth century, a city of narrow, cobbled streets, and thin spires, where the inhabitants wore pointed shoes and worsted hose. He would stare down at us from a long distant past - a past where men walked cloaked at night, and stood in the shadow of old doorways, a past of narrow stairways and dim dungeons, a past of whispers in the dark, of shimmering rapier blades, of silent, exquisite courtesy."
Maxim, on the many-splendored scents of Manderley: "His sister used to complain that there were too many secrets at Manderley, they made her drunk. Perhaps she was right. He did not care. It was the only form of intoxication that appealed to him. His earliest recollection was of great branches of lilac, standing in white jars, and they filled the house with a wistful, poignant smell." I still think fondly of wriggling through the hole in the hedge at 419 East Pine to pick lilacs next door, filling every jar, vase, and bowl in the house until the aroma pervaded every room.
- A little Proustian moment of MdW's
The new MdW talks about the small sorrow she feels each time she leaves a place, and how a little bit of herself is left behind. It reminded me very much of Proust and the descriptions of sensations of place and belonging in Swann's Way:
"I am aware of sadness, of a sense of loss. Here, I say, we have lived, we have been happy. This has been ours, however brief the time. Though two nights only have been spent beneath a roof, yet we leave something of ourselves behind. This house sheltered us, we spoke, we loved within those walls. That was yesterday. To-day we pass on, we see it no more, and we are different, changed in some infinitesimal way. We can never be quite the same again."
- Maxim proposes to the new MdW while she's in Monte Carlo working as a companion for Mrs. Van Hopper. It reminds me of the scene in Pride and Prejudice when Mr. Bennet tells Lizzie she must be a stranger to one of her parents after Mr. Collins' proposal:
Maxim: "So Mrs. Van Hopper has had enough of Monte Carlo and now she wants to go home. So do I. She to New York and I to Manderley. Which would you prefer? You can take your choice."
Narrator: "Don't make a joke about it, it's unfair."
Maxim: "If you think I'm one of the people who try to be funny at breakfast you're wrong. I'm invariably ill-tempered in the early morning. hehehehe. me too, Maxim! The choice is open to you. Either you go to America with Mrs. Van Hopper or you come home to Manderley with me."
Narrator: "Do you mean you want a secretary or something?"
Maxim: "No, I'm asking you to marry me, you little fool."
- Barricade, stack of books
It is within the realm of possibility that I finished this book in the wee hours of the morning at my mother's house, barricaded into my room because I heard voices outside during the creepiest scene in the book. It reminded me of when my host brother, Vianney, had a party when I was living in France, and how I tried to stack all of my books against the door so drunken teenage revelers wouldn't accidentally come into my room. They did anyway, and I looked like a fuddy-duddy (I was in my pajamas and in bed at 10 pm) who creepily stacks books on the floor. haghaghaghaghhag. They looked at me and thought, hmph! Americans!
- Ducks & drakes, winkles
My mother keeps an enormous ancient dictionary in her den, and it came in handy twice during Rebecca. Allow me to enlighten you:
(1) Ducks and Drakes - reference to skipping stones; did you know a drake is a term for a male duck? (I didn't.)
(2) Winkles - a small herbivorous shore-dwelling mollusk with a spiral shell, sort of like a snail. Ben (a neighbor) gives the new MdW a handful of winkles on the beach and tells her she can eat them (as long as she boils them first) and during a tense moment a few hours later back at the house, she squeezes the winkles in her pockets. It makes me think of squeezing a Chompo bar. ;)
- The new MdW, on feeling uncomfortable around the servants
"The housemaid Alice had been so superior. I used to sneak my chemises and nightgowns out of my drawer and mend them myself rather than ask her to do them." The new MdW is sweet, but very shy, and several things she did felt very much like something I would do in her situation. She hides from her very first guests at Manderley (eventually unsuccessfully) and accidentally breaks a valuable Cupid doll and then hides the evidence. As a klutz and someone who really doesn't enjoy meeting strangers, I dig you, MdW!
- The new MdW, on her relationship with the super-creep housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers:
"If she was looking at me, I should not know. Even if I turned in my chair and looked up to the windows I could not see her. I remembered a game I had played as a child that my friends next door had called "Grandmother's Steps" and myself "Old Witch". You had to stand at the end of the garden with your back turned to the rest, and one by one they crept nearer to you, advancing in short furtive fashion. Every few minutes you turned to look at them, and if you saw one of them moving the offender had to retire to the back line and begin again. But there was always one a little bolder than the rest, who came up very close, whose movement was impossible to detect, and as you waited there, your back turned, counting the regulation Ten, you knew, with a fatal terrifying certainty, that before long, before even the Ten was counted, this bold player would pounce upon you from behind, unheralded, unseen, with a scream of triumph. I felt as tense and expectant as I did then. I was playing "Old Witch" with Mrs. Danvers." Mrs. Danvers gave Me the Creeps, and she's not even real!
- Je Reviens
The name of Rebecca's boat is "Je Reviens", or "I come back", which I found delightfully ironic after reaching the climax of the story. (Sorry, I can't tell you why! Find out for yourself!)
At several crucial moments in the book, the characters have to stop for tea, or lunch, or pause in their discussion because the servants can't hear what they're discussing. It seemed SO frustrating to me, and I can't imagine what it must have been like to actually behave this way in the 1930's in high society. Definition of Waspiness. Yes, we're investigating a grisly crime. I'm sorry, I forgot to ask, do you take lemon or sugar in your tea?
- Favell and cousin
A man named Favell has a relationship with a woman in the novel (Sh! It's a secret!) who happens to also be his cousin. It reminded me of Mean Girls: "Seth Musakowski is looking Fine tonight." "Ew! Seth Musakowski is your cousin!" "Yeah, but you have your cousins, and then your first cousins, and... wait. That's not right, is it?" "That's So not right."
- London - rain and heat
There was a great weather metaphor at the end of the novel. As the story reached its climax at Manderley, the oppressive heat finally breaks, and a torrential thunderstorm begins. The next day, though, the characters must drive to London, and the heat hasn't broken there. The mysteries of London had not yet been revealed and the characters were still in suspense about their futures, and I thought the metaphor of the oppressive heat and it not having broken in London despite it having broken at Manderley was fantastic.
Sentences I particularly liked:
- "Nature had come into her own again and, little by little, in her stealthy, insidious way had encroached upon the drive with long tenacious fingers."
- "There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, not the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand."
- "The house was a sepulchre, our fear and suffering lay buried in the ruins. There would be no resurrection."
- "We all our of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us, and we must give battle in the end."
- "I wondered how many people there were in the world who suffered, and continued to suffer, because they could not break out from their own web of shyness and reserve, and in their blindness and folly built up a great distorted wall in front of them that hid the truth."
- "There were no shadows between us any more, and when we were silent it was because the silence came to us of our own asking."