Unearthing the dark secrets of a dead wife

Rebecca, the evergreen classic by Daphne du Maurier, creates a world of intrigue with unforgettable and hauntingly beautiful characters

By Author  |  Published: 2nd Jun 2019  12:40 amUpdated: 1st Jun 2019  3:39 pm

‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.’ With this one seemingly ordinary sentence, Daphne Du Maurier leads us into the intriguing world of the De Winters where — the readers find — mystery, deceit, beauty, passion, obsession and hatred abound.

Now, what exactly is Manderley? It’s a secluded grey stone mansion on the shore of a beach in Cornwall – abandoned for good now – that housed the de Winters at one point. And if you are wondering who dreamt of going to Manderley again, it’s the second Mrs Maxim de Winter whose maiden/first name the reader doesn’t get to know. So, she remains Mrs Maxim de Winter. Forever!

Unlike the first Mrs Maxim de Winter who, despite her physical absence, is omnipresent in the book – right from its title to its theme, she’s everywhere – in the eerie quietude, the parties at the mansion, the silent background, and in every word and in sprit! That’s Rebecca for you, whose presence you can’t shake off long after you’re done reading the classic novel. 

Before her chance meeting with Maxim de Winter – a wealthy, recently-widowed Englishman – at Monte Carlo that leads to their spur-of-the-moment marriage, the second Mrs de Winter appears as a young, naïve, timid 20-something woman who loves sketching and works as ‘companion’ to a rich American woman, Mrs Van Hopper who warns the young girl – “You know why he’s marrying you, don’t you? You haven’t flattered yourself he’s in love with you? The fact s that empty house got on his nerves to such an extent he nearly went off his head…”

But, the excitement of the new bride who set out to Manderley soon evaporates as she is “aware now of a stab of panic, and uneasy sickness that could not be controlled”. “Gone was my glad excitement, vanished my happy pride. I was like a child brought to her first school… Any amount of self-possession I had gained hitherto… was like a rag now…,” she admits as the newlyweds approach the beautiful estate. There, she meets the sinister housekeeper Mrs Danvers – ‘Danny’ for Rebecca – whose obsession with and undying devotion to the perfect and hauntingly beautiful Rebecca make the young bride determined to unearth the darkest secrets of Maxim’s dead wife.

Besides Mrs Danvers who shows her hatred towards Mrs de Winter openly at every point in the story, there are those other endearing people who try to make the new mistress’s life better. Like Frank Crawley, friend and trusted advisor to Maxim and a hard-working agent of Manderley, Clarice, Mrs de Winter’s faithful and trusted maid, Frith, the kind middle-aged butler, Beatrice and Giles Lacy, Maxim’s quick-witted sister and her slow-witted husband.

And, then, there is Jack Favell, the cunning and wily first cousin (and rumoured ‘lover’) of Rebecca de Winter who keeps coming over to Manderley and shattering the calm, composure and sanity that Mrs de Winter tries to attain, besides creating self-doubt and a fissure in the relationship between the newlyweds.

This first-person narrative tells the readers the story from young Mrs de Winter’s perspective. The tale of half-truths, hidden secrets and many mysteries surrounding the beautiful Rebecca, whose charms make her the life and soul of any high society party, is as haunting as the lead character herself. Nobody – not even a reader – can remain oblivious to Rebecca’s magic, albeit one that’s on the darker side!

Daphne du Maurier’s work, first published in 1938, is a gem of a book which pulls the reader into its pages taking him/her though the hidden corners of Mrs de Winter’s mind where fear lurks and confidence loses its grip. Even while empathising with the young and innocent second wife, the readers can’t help but fall for Rebecca. And it is and will always be Rebecca, who lives on… in the readers’ minds forever!

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