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The Quilty Reader

Lawyer, mother, avid reader. Game host extraordinaire! Partner in crime to Obsidian Black Plague! My bookish weaknesses include classics, fantasy, YA, and agreeing to read more books than is even remotely possible.


Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

This review was previously posted in a slightly altered form on my blog, which can be found at  www.thedeadauthorsclub.wordpress.com. It is one of my favorite reviews, so I am reposting it here. Apologies if you've already read it.


Rebecca has one of the most famous opening lines in literature: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."


Where to begin with my discussion of Rebecca. Let me begin by acknowledging that du Maurier tells a ripping good story. The book, written from the perspective of the unnamed narrator, the second Mrs. de Winter, tells the tale of her whirlwind courtship and marriage to bereaved widower Max de Winter. The second Mrs. de Winter returns to Manderley, where she is ill-equipped by birth, education or confidence to take over the running of the great home. Du Maurier builds suspense as the second Mrs. de Winter clashes with Rebecca's former housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who makes her feel inferior and generally lurks about in a way that is extremely creepy. This part of the book was excellent, and Mrs. Danver's obsession with the beautiful Rebecca and her contempt for Rebecca's replacement is well-drawn and successful.


Unfortunately, I had really high expectations of this book. And, also unfortunately, it did not meet my expectations. Let me warn now - this review is going to get very spoilery in a paragraph or two. So, if you've never read Rebecca, if you don't know what the big reveal is, and if you want to experience the suspense as du Maurier created it, then stop reading now.


I mean it. Stop reading. Now. Because there are spoilers coming. And the rant-train, it is pulling out of the station. Woo-woo.


Don't push the next page button . . . unless you want to know . . . oh, go ahead, you know you want to . . .


Okay, so I am now assuming that everyone left reading this review has already read the book, and knows about the big reveal: Max murdered Rebecca as she taunted him with her infidelity, and then he disposed of her body by scuttling her boat so that it will appear that she was lost at sea. Our narrator, a singularly weak and annoying character, learns this when she weepingly acknowledges that, in spite of her love for him, she recognizes that she can never measure up to Rebecca, and that he will never love her.


Astounded by this great confession, Max disabuses the narrator of her illusions. He hated Rebecca. Rebecca was an evil, two-timing monster.


But how can we present a murderer as a great romantic hero? The narrator, far from being repelled by the confession that her husband murdered his first wife in a hail of bullets and blood, is overjoyed. Her only thought is: he never loved Rebecca. And this brings her great comfort.


In part, I think that Rebecca demonstrates how far we have come as a culture. Because I hope that it is fair to say that it would be unlikely for a writer to write a wife-murderer as a romantic hero in quite the same way that du Maurier did. What, precisely, was the great crime that was committed by Rebecca that rendered her worthy of slaughter in the boathouse? It appears to me that her great crime was that she acted just like a man of that time period. Rebecca is set well before the days of no fault divorce. During that era men of property often maintained mistresses and engaged in other extra-marital sexual liasons without repercussions, and which were accepted by society.


Rebecca, by Max's account (and let's leave aside the unreliability of his version given that he is, of course, a murderer) had affairs. She was promiscuous, slutty. She tramped around, and lived life on her own terms. She was a bloody rotten wife, and it would have been totally reasonable for him to have tossed her out on her ear, cut off without a shilling, for him to have moved to America with all of his money, divorced her and dragged her name through the mud. But he didn't do any of those things. Instead, he murdered her. And then his second wife reacts to the fact that she has married a murderer by rejoicing in the fact that he didn't love his first wife after all.


Are you kidding me? Seriously, are you kidding me? No. Just no.


What makes the second Mrs. de Winter think that she won't end up just like Rebecca if she displeases Max? After all, he's already gotten away with murder.


Now, obviously, I didn't hate Rebecca. It is well-written, and interesting, and a lot of fun to read. And, as you can see from my rating, I gave it four stars. Because any book that generate so much heat, so much passion, such a satisfying rant, about how freaking wrong it all is, is a pretty good book, right?


But I just can't get behind a murderer as a romantic hero. Because, actually, Max de Winter belongs in prison for what he did. What really distinguishes him from someone serving a sentence of 25 to life for murdering his wife? Nothing, actually. Not a thing. Men go to prison all the time these days for losing their temper and shooting their wives - some of whom (gasp) may even have cheated on them - and then trying to hide the body. Honor killing isn't accepted in any country that isn't firmly stuck in the bronze age with respect to their treatment of women.


And yes, I am rejecting the whole "Rebecca really committed suicide" theory. I have seen people commit suicide by using other people to shoot them. It's called suicide by cop, it is a real thing, and the person committing suicide in that way is always either actually armed, or purporting to be armed so as to compel the other person to defend themselves against the actuality or the fear of themselves being killed. Rebecca was not armed. She was not threatening the life of another person. Maxim lost his shit when he was confronted with the irrefutable knowledge of her infidelity and he shot her. In cold blood. That, my friends, is called murder.


So, Rebecca, you didn't work for me. I'm just not up for a book that uses female infidelity as a justification for a domestic violence homicide. As a reason for divorce, sure. But being a woman and having an affair (or three or ten) shouldn't be a capital crime. And murderers are not sexy. Not even in 1938.


Note: At the risk of sounding arrogant, please do not reblog my reviews. I am uncomfortable with the fact that reblogged reviews show in multiple locations on the book pages and therefore have a more significant impact on the book's overall rating than a single reviewer should have. I also do not like the fact that Booklikes does not attribute reblogs in a way that I think makes it clear that the content was created by someone other than the reblogger. I appreciate the compliment inherent in someone wanting to reblog something that I have written, however, I would prefer that you demonstrate your agreement or approval of my review by liking it, rather than reblogging it. In return, I will not reblog your reviews, either.


Thank you.