Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Leslie asked me who picked out this book and I have to confess that it was me. We can’t blame Libby for this one. I bought it at Costco about a year ago. I had read it years ago, remembered it fondly and realized that I really wanted to read it again. I recalled it being a love story with a little suspense. Those of us who had read it before had the same feeling. None of us came to the discussion today feeling that we had just read “a classic tale of romantic suspense,” which is what it was billed as on the cover of my copy.

We realized by Mrs. Danvers revelation in talking to Favell that Rebecca may well have had lesbian relationships, which the author herself was known to have. We weren’t quite clear on the relationship between Mrs. Danvers and Rebecca, but it certainly might have been more intimate than just housekeeper and madam, since Rebecca was carrying on with her own cousin. Madelon pointed out that while Favell was deluded into thinking that Rebecca was going to marry him, she would never have given up her plush life for a bounder.
The narrator is never given a name and the book is named for the deceased wife, two powerful and effective conventions. We questioned whether Maxim ever loved either of his wives or anyone for that matter. We talked a little about the role of the Oedipus/Electra complex and certainly part of the girl’s infatuation was transference for her lost father. Interesting that Max’s proposal was “instead of being companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, you become mine, and your duties will be almost exactly the same.” We agreed that she remained a paid companion, just to another paid companion.

Maureen labeled Maxim was ineffectual and weak, treating the girl with the same affection he showed to Jasper, his dog. We felt that the change came from him being the caretaker/parent shifted when she agreed to be complicit with his crime, and at that point she gained power and became the caregiver/parent. Leslie said that the novel creeped her out, and I’d have to agree with her, although I did read it in two sittings. Wasn't it cool that the whole unfolding played out in a monstrous storm?!

“Last night I dreamed I went Manderley again.” What a powerful opening sentence and what a powerful setting. The estate was another one of the characters. Linda was impressed by the tower of blood red rhododendrons and thought them a good analogy for Rebecca, she who had the West Wing overlooking the sea with its power and sound. The girl’s room was the East Wing, overlooking the garden – a reflection of her timidity? (Note that in her opening line she used the pronoun “I.”)

We felt for the girl whose choices never were very good. Madelon wondered how the girl could ever feel safe, knowing that her husband had already committed a murder. How easily it was rationalized – she made me do it. We all really liked the book, though I have to agree with Sherry that the pace lagged a little near the end with all the discussions in the parlor, ala Agatha Christy. We also talked about how it fits the criteria for gothic novel. Dolores felt that the ghost was the spirit of Rebecca, even if it weren’t a supernatural ghost. Certainly it was her story.

I can’t do our discussion justice in a few short paragraphs when we talked about the book for an hour and a half. We decided that the book wouldn’t transfer to a newer time setting since forensic evidence would convict Maxim. Realize that all of this happened in four months and then they had the rest of their lives to live it out. While Maxim didn’t go to prison, weren’t their ex patriot lives a sort of prison? Linda said she was reminded of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. If you haven’t yet Rebecca, don’t read on because this ending will ruin the book for you.

My copy of Rebecca has du Maurier’s original epilogue which the publisher chose to omit when the book was published in 1938. Since only I had read it and I do think it fleshes out the open ending, I read parts of it out loud to the group. It really closes the author's tone of the opening. It is several pages and I can’t type all that so will share selections with you.

“If you travel south you will come upon us in the end, staying in one of those innumerable little hotels that cling like limpets to the Mediterranean shore….You see then that he is crippled, he walks slowly and awkwardly with the aid of sticks, and it is some little time before I have settled him for the afternoon….I sit down beside him and open my bag of knitting.”

“The devil does not ride us any more. But we are shorn of our little earthly glory, he a cripple and his home lost to him, and I, well, I suppose I am like all childless women, craving for echoes I shall never hear, and lacking a certain quality of tenderness. Like a ranting actress in an indifferent play, I might say that this is the price we have to pay for our freedom. But I have had enough of melodrama in this life, and would bereave my Maxim of his five senses if it would ensure him his present peace and security until eternity.”

She reveals that Manderley is being reopened as a country club and that she had received the prospectus for it. Ugh, I can’t shorten the following without ruining it, so just for you guys, here goes:

“As we sit today at our table in the window, quietly working our way through from hors d’oeuvre to dessert, I think of that other hotel dining room, larger and far more splendid than this, that dreadful Cote d’Azur at Monte Carlo, and how, instead of having Maxim opposite me, his steady, well-shaped hands peeling a mandarin in methodical fashion, I had Mrs. Van Hopper, her fat bejeweled fingers questing a plate heaped with ravioli, her small pigs’ eyes darting suspiciously from her plate to mine for fear I should have made a better bargain.

Only a few years ago – far fewer than you would suppose – she dominated my small work, the salary she paid me was one hundred and fifty pounds a year, and Manderley was unknown to me. There was I, with straight bobbed hair and youthful unpowdered face, trailing in her wake like a subdued mouse. Now, with Maxim by my side, in spite of all we have lost, in spite of his maimed body and scarred hands, those days, the terror, the distress, are over, and I feel a glow of contentment come upon me. His maimed boy and my disfigurement are things of no account, we have learned to accept them, we live, we breathe, we have vitality, the spark of divinity has not passed us by. This factor alone should be enough for us, we have been spared to one another, and because of this we shall endure.

Dejeuner is over. The little waiter wipes the last crumbs from our table, and when I have helped Maxim to his feet we make our usual pilgrimage to the verandah. The sun has lost its morning brilliance and is streaking to the west, leaving an afterglow which is easier to bear. Maxim draws the rug over his knees, throws away his cigarette, then closes his eyes. I fix my dark glasses, reach for my bag of knitting. And before us, long as the skein of wool I wind, stretches the vista of our afternoon.”

Goosebumps anyone??