Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Period Piece Challenge: Rebecca

Well dear reader, while I consider myself quite well read when it comes to the classics, it has been pointed out to me on numerous occasions - for the most part by my fellow VS authors with only the deepest concern for my cultural education - that I have not seen enough period films.  I tend to agree.  While Mariah's series on the Classic List introduced me to some truly fantastic classic films, I still think I am lacking a bit of depth in my exposure to period movies.  I am setting a challenge for myself.  I have chosen three of my favorite period novels.  I intend to review the books, watch at least two of the film and/or TV miniseries that inevitably followed from them, and then proceed to gush about the films (for better or worse) on Victorian Swag.  Hopefully we'll all learn something new.

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

That beautiful phrase is the opening line of my first week's pick: Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca.  A haunting tale of love, secrecy, trust and betrayal, it is definitely one of my favorite period novels.  It is slightly scary (okay maybe a tad more than slightly, but only in a creepy dreary England Jane Eyre kind of way) and amazingly detailed. Set in the gorgeous and imposing Manderley, the story follows the new Mrs. Maxim de Winter and her husband as they attempt to settle down into life at Maxim's sprawling estate as newlyweds in the shadow of the former Mrs. de Winter's (aka Rebecca) mysterious death.  This book is written in such a way that lends itself well to an overactive imagination.  Trust me, you don't need ghosts or other supernatural beings for a thoroughly creepy period novel.  All you need is the evil and eerily omnipresent Mrs. Danvers looking over your shoulder as you read.  Let me explain.  Mrs. Danvers is Mr. de Winter's head maid.  She also happens to be incredible devoted to Rebecca and thereby bent on the destruction of the new and impossibly naive Mrs. de Winter.  And when the investigation into Rebecca's death is reopened, nothing can prepare you for the ending!  It's a must read.    

I love this book for several reasons.  First, Manderley.  I was (still am) IN LOVE with the idea of this estate.  It is the classic stately, English estate complete with grand echoing halls, east and west wings and proper rose gardens and views of a briney sea.  Du Maurier's descriptions of the place really bring it to life and, while it is a bit frightening (I definitely could not be persuaded to spend a night alone there) at times, it is one of the most well-crafted settings for a story I have ever had the pleasure to read.  Second, Maxim de Winter is one of the most troubled, brooding Englishman of all time.  I, of course, pictured him with cigarette, furrowed brow, and classic convertible.  Not a bad mental picture and not a bad fictional gentleman.  While not exactly emotionally accessible, I really enjoyed his wounded bad-boy-meets-English-countryman personality.  But I'll let you make your own decision on that.  Third and finally, while it's not exactly a book you will speed through, each picture Du Maurier paints is delightfully twisted (oh the things Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan could do with this story!).  The plot is surprisingly suspenseful thanks to intense character development, tons of secrets, and Du Maurier's brilliant decision (but really the most frustrating thing EVER) to purposefully withhold the narrator's name from the reader.  I can't tell you how carefully I read each page, hoping I would stumble on the girl's name.  It made the entire book incredibly engrossing and I won't spoil it for you by telling you what you'll find.  In fact, I hesitate to go on for fear that I may reveal one of the carefully thought-out plot twists.  I will leave you with this.  Maxim de Winter is extremely attractive (I am sure your imagination will agree).  The narrator is only slightly annoying and self-absorbed (but hey, it's an English period novel; what do you expect?).  Mrs. Danvers is possibly the creepiest villain ever created (I'll clean my own room at Manderley, thank you very much).  And Rebecca is most certainly not who you think she is.  If you've read the book, let me know what you think!

I am looking forward to watching both the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock-directed film as well as the 1997 Masterpiece Theater miniseries version.  I'll be posting on those next week and I cannot wait to see how both versions captured the characters and, most importantly, Manderley.


  1. Great writing, Ali, and great idea!!! Seriously loving it! I too have a problem reading classic books where I tend to watch an adaptation first. So good for you! I must play copy cat!

    I'm afraid I've only read excerpts from Rebecca in high school English. I feel like I'd remember reading the whole thing...? You certainly made it sound like a ZOMGMUSTREADIMMEDIATELY type book and I'm adding it to my list! I distinctly remember watching the Hitchcock adaptation though... I get the heebie jeebies just thinking about it! It's sensational.

  2. This book has been on my list for too long! Your post has inspired me to pick it up and put it at the top of my "reading queue". :)

  3. I read Rebecca a long while ago and loved it! Is is a very creepy, love, sit on pins waiting for what will happen next book. It is very much a classic list book.

  4. I HAVE NEVER READ THIS OR SEEN THE FILM! What's wrong with me??? It's been recommended to me numerous times and you've just made me want to go start on it right this second!