6.02.2011

Review: Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca has always been a "thing" in my family. My mother and her mother love the film, and that love quickly passed to me at a very early age. This is a book that I should have bought and read over 10 years ago. But somehow, it eluded me.

If you're not familiar with the film, GET FAMILIAR. It's Alfred Hitchcock, Laurence Oliver, Joan Fontaine, Dame Judith Anderson, Reginald Denny, George Sanders, Gladys Cooper, Nigel Bruce, Florence Bates... and it's amazing.

But in case you're not familiar right this moment, Rebecca is the story of the second Mrs. de Winter - a young thing of 21 who meets a brooding Edward Rochester Maxim de Winter while playing companion to an older lady in Monte Carlo. They marry, and Maxim brings his new wife home to his family's grand estate, Manderley (which, if you're following along, may be Thornfield spelled backwards. Get my drift?) But Jane Eyre the new Mrs. de Winter, lives in the shadow of Maxim's late first wife, Bertha Rebecca, who (by all accounts, a lively and beautiful woman) drowned about a year ago in the bay nearby the mansion. This shadow is darkened by the presence of the first Mrs. de Winter's personal maid-now-housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (who, in the film, is played by Dame Judith Anderson, not to be confused with Billie Whitelaw as the nanny in "The Omen," though I'm pretty sure one of them, if not both, ran the Catholic school I went to as a kid), a skeletal woman of questionable faculties.

The novel pretty much reinforced the way I feel about the film. For the most part, that's due to Hitchcock's mastery: his casting is perfect, his direction is perfect...there's little I can say about the film that would separate it from the book. It's also partly due to the fact that the novel is written in the first person, from Mrs. de Winter's point of view, and therefore is a lot of internalizing and psychological examination, which can be succinctly portrayed in a film.

There are however, some key differences that, while they don't deter, certainly make me see things differently. For one thing, for the most important thing, is Rebecca's death. I won't spoil it for you, but the film refuses to take one final step in her death that the book does not, and that step provides multiple levels of character that are therefore not present in the film.

The other difference is Mrs. Danvers' behavior. In the film, she's made more aloof, more creepy, and it deals with her in the end as you would deal with a living, breathing artifact of the evil Rebecca's presence. But in the book, she's more human... which is almost scarier.

2 comments:

  1. Dame J.A. never smiled in Rebecca, whereas Billie Whitelaw frequently smiled in the Omen. That alone keeps me from juxtaposing the two.

    Adding to your family history of Rebecca: Carol Burnett did a spoof of Rebecca, is where The Grandmother and The Mommy get the screaming REBECCEEEEEEEE game.

    Love Me~

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  2. Must be an enjoyable read Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. loved the way you wrote it. I find your review very genuine and orignal, this book is going in by "to read" list.

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