Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rebecca - a Book Review

A Book Review by Magdalen Aithne Arkwright

Du Maurier's novel Rebecca is a fair example of good literature.  It is a sort of "fairytale gone wrong".  The princess comes from among the peasants, which is common, but she marries a murderer.  More to the point, the plot never veers off course but rather builds the story perfectly.  While in first person, the word 'I' is not overused, whereas actually Du Maurier's choice of words adds to the dramatic feel all around.  She doesn't fall susceptible to the use of humor to break up the heavy reality of the story but makes certain we understand how repulsive the situation is.  The plot is serious and moving; however, it is not ridiculously dramatic.  Without losing the reader's interest, Du Maurier is skilled in inserting long passages of the protagonist's contemplation, lengthening the narrative and adding to the very real feeling of emotional battle - a hard skill to come by.

One thing to take notice is Du Maurier's decision not to mention the main character's name.  The only name she's given is Mrs. deWinter.  Interestingly enough, Du Maurier seems to want to bring this to the attention of her reader.  She mentions that the character's name is unique but never actually gives the name.  Within the confines of the narration, Mr. deWinter never says it either, often calling her 'darling' instead.

The main character, also the narrator, meets Mr. deWinter in France while a paid companion to a a snobby lady.  Mr. deWinter falls in love with her, though in his forties and the young woman just out of school - not to mention Mr. deWinter's wife has been dead less than a year.  Rebecca's death still tortures Mr. deWinter, but the narrator gives light to his life again.  The narrator is very shy and nervous, but trials throughout the story cause a change, however slight, noticeable to the analytic reader.  In the end, she faces the housekeeper, who fights against our protagonist, and reveals her true strength.  Even so, she first has to deal with the reality that Maxim (Mr. deWinter) doesn't really love her after all.  Throughout most of the story, however, our heroine struggles with being the second wife after a very beautiful and social woman.  Still, Rebecca does not turn out to be all she seems to be.  Perhaps Mr. deWinter's moods are not from longing and sorrow.  Perhaps he really does love his new bride.  It's just possible.

Another interesting bit of Rebecca is the conflict would appear to drag a very long time - right to the end of the book in fact.  In reality, for our protagonist, the conflict ends when she realizes Rebecca's real role in both the life she used to live and in the lives of those she left behind.  However, the conflict drags on for others, and the troubles are never really resolved.  At least, not entirely - murder is not something from which someone can simply move on.  Furthermore, the story ends before there is a resolution.  But upon further thought, the reader ought to realize that Du Maurier places the resolution in the front!

As to the correctness of the characters' actions, well, it's obvious that Maxim's murder of Rebecca was wrong; and furthermore, he doesn't regret Rebecca's death - understandable but ugly.  Lastly, he covers it up and avoids the consequences.  On the other hand, I do not approve of capital punishment, as it makes us one like our victims and cuts short the murderer's time to repent and make reparation.  Furthermore, Maxim, while capable of killing someone else, as we all are, wouldn't - for any obvious reason - seem inclined to and so isn't dangerous.  As wrong and morally dangerous as the whole thing is, a different sort of ending would have been disappointing and disgusting.  Morally correct, perhaps, however, but as it is, Maxim suffers for the rest of his life because of his action, which is punishment itself.  Frequently, he turns pale, looks pained, and doesn't want to be reminded of anything concerning Rebecca's death.  Also, his wife, friend, and possibly a man of law also cover up for him.  While the decisions are morally questionable, morality is not the question.  The theme is not a question of whether Maxim's actions were justified or not, but rather, how trials make one tested and true, which is actually mentioned in the second chapter of the book.  All in all, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier is a fine piece of literature with my high recommendation.

I especially recommend the Recorded Books audio version, read by Alexandra O'Karma.

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