Dysfunctional Threesome: Thoughts On Rebecca

I just finished rereading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and I have lots of thoughts so bear with me here. You should know there will be spoilers. So many spoilers. If you haven’t read Rebecca, then you need to fix that right now.

The Child Bride

Wow. Let’s just say Rebecca is a product of its time. Boy, is it ever. Especially in terms of womanhood and sexuality. Maxim, a middle aged man, wants a wife who is little more than a girl. He calls her “child” and all the creepiness that is related to that which I spoke of in this post. I won’t go over that again.

Rebecca was published in 1938, just before the start of World War II, yet the events that happen in the novel are years before this date. It seems clear that at this time women are supposed to be innocent flowers, especially new brides. Sexual knowledge was the worst of all, but in Rebecca it gets all rather Freudian. Take this passage…

“Listen, my sweet. When you were a little girl, were you ever forbidden to read certain books, and did your father put those books under lock and key?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, then a husband is not so very different from a father after all. There is a certain type of knowledge I prefer you not to have. It’s better kept under lock and key. So that’s that…”

A husband is not so very different from a father after all. Let that sink in. I beg to differ, Maxim, a husband is very different from a father. The protagonist is actually getting tired of being daddied by Maxim at this point and tells him to stop treating her like a child. He finds this amusing.

prince

Nice going Maxim, you grossed out Prince.

Is Rebecca really that bad?

With this in mind, let’s talk about Rebecca. Rebecca isn’t the perfect wife that the protagonist imagines her being. It turns out that Maxim and Rebecca were an unsuitable couple. Maxim doesn’t get into the details, but I inferred that they were married because of family connections. It was not a love match, yet Maxim expected certain things from his bride; virginity is at the top of the list. Rebecca’s sin is that she enjoys sex. I’m going to guess that Maxim wasn’t setting the sheets on fire. Right from the beginning she tells him about her past escapades and her plan to keep on going the way she always had. She’ll be a perfect hostess but that’s it.

Maxim, unsurprisingly, is appalled. This is not the bride he was looking for. Rebecca makes all kinds of threats, but I have the feeling she was bluffing. It’s still a Man’s World. If he had the balls, he would have called her bluff. I don’t think she would have come out of an annulment or a divorce unscathed.

Throughout the novel, there are hints that Rebecca is ‘unwomanly.’ In many ways, Rebecca reflects the personality of her creator, who considered her writerly self male. She is tall and broad shouldered. She’s called mannish. She conducts her sexual life as a man in her social position would. She doesn’t have emotional attachments to her conquests. It’s only sex she wants. These things Maxim points out to the protagonist as being unnatural. Rebecca is an unnatural woman, and so she must die.

Something terrible happened in the cottage

When Maxim finally has enough of Rebecca’s shenanigans, he confronts her in her sex house, I mean, cottage. He brings a gun. Just to scare her, okay, just to scare her. Rebecca knows she has nothing to lose so she goads him into shooting her. Maxim sees this as Rebecca’s revenge. She made me do it, is basically what he says. I don’t buy it. First of all, he brought the gun and pulled the trigger. Own it, Maxim! As for Rebecca, I suspect she was scared of her cancer diagnosis and saw a way out. Maybe it was revenge (revenge for what??) or not.

Maxim puts his murdered wife in her boat and sinks it, only to have it found just after his second wedding. The first thing Mrs de Winter part deux thinks is not, “Holy shit, he shot his wife!” No, it’s “Maxim never loved Rebecca.” Zip-a-dee-do-da! How messed up is that? Everything is different now because Maxim never loved Rebecca. Shouldn’t she be a bit concerned that he murdered his wife in a fit of anger?

oprah-shakng-her-head

Oprah is not having it.

And how easy it is for Maxim to get away with murder. As the facts start lining up, Colonel Julyan figures it out. He’s not a stupid man. He doesn’t exactly help Maxim get away with it but he doesn’t look into it too hard either. Why? First, Maxim is the gentry, a Big Man in these here parts, there is a certain amount of classism involved here. Second, Rebecca was sleeping around. Bitch deserved it, obviously.

Revengebecca!!!

Maxim will not get away with murder completely. Rebecca had her admirers who are loyal to her memory. As “bad” as she was, she was loved. Favell and Mrs Danvers. One or both of them act on her behalf and destroy the thing he loves most, Manderley. In life, Rebecca made Manderley the showplace that it was and she destroyed it from beyond the grave.

Now he and the second Mrs de Winter wander around Europe. There is a particular passage on the last page that I find interesting. Mrs de W dreams.

I got up and went to the looking glass. A face stared back at me that was not my own. It was very pale, very lovely, framed in a cloud of dark hair. The eyes narrowed and smiled. The lips parted. The face in the glass stared back at me and laughed.

Why does she dream that she is Rebecca? Is it because she now has the power now? The power over Maxim. She knows his secret. Is his constant anxiety related to knowing that his second wife could at any moment give him up to the police? She has a different kind of knowledge than Rebecca had, but it’s still a dangerous knowledge.

On rereading

In the past, I related to and felt sorry for the second Mrs de Winter. Now that I’m older, I can see Rebecca’s side a little better. She was a woman born in the wrong time. She a much more complex and complicated character than I ever considered before. She isn’t just a specter meant to make the protagonist miserable, especially since most of that misery was self-inflicted. One of the most interesting things about Rebecca is that the reader only sees her through others’ eyes, and in the case of the protagonist through imagination. We never see Rebecca herself. What would we think of her if the story was told from her side?

15 comments:

  1. I can't tell you how much I would LOVE this story told from Rebecca's point of view. I'm not a fan of Rebecca - I can get that she was born in the wrong time and wanted more from life than she had; but I do have issues with infidelity, and I felt she had a lack of concern for others. Still, so much of my impression is from the reactions of those who obviously disliked her. Whatever the character, it certainly speaks to the book that so much can be discussed.

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    1. Oh for sure, I'm not down for infidelity either, but she acts just as a man in her social position would. She is painted as evil for it, where a man is just being a man. She was most definitely spoiled as a child too. Someone who knows more than I do should write about Rebecca in terms of class and the gentry. This was a time when there were changes occurring within the classes. I would love to read about that!

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  2. Okay, now I need to reread this.

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  3. Made me LOL: I’m going to guess that Maxim wasn’t setting the sheets on fire.

    Word.

    Anyway, I think my experience re-reading Rebecca will be quite different from my first reading. The first reading was all "HOLY CRAP, this is twisted and awesome." The next will be 'so many daddy issues' and whatnot.

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  4. Confession: I only read the first paragraph because you mentioned spoilers. I still have not yet read Rebecca. Looks like I need to find my copy and dive in sooner rather than later though!!

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  5. I've read Rebecca a couple of times and each time, I seem to appreciate the movie more. I think the movie did a good job of setting the tone. I didn't get the tone so much when I read it the first time. I think I was too young to get it but the second time around, I had no patience for it.

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    1. It took me awhile to finish it this time. The protagonist was driving me a little crazy.

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  6. I read Rebecca as a teenager and really enjoyed it b/c I loved (and love) a messed up gothic story. I think reading it as an adult would be a different experience.
    My favorite memory of the book was actually summing up the plot for my Dad and him saying "But of course he didn't kill the first wife." And me being able to say nonchalantly, "oh, no. He did."
    I could tell my dad was surprised that a "chick book" would get that dark.

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    1. Oh yeah, "chick books" can get pretty dark. He should read some old-timey 19th century gothic lit.

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  7. Oh I need to reread this too! I just bought myself a nice new copy so it's a good time to reread it. I was very very very fond of this book in high school -- I was absolutely blown away by the way du Maurier writes the story to make Rebecca such a more vivid character than the second Mrs. de Winter. But I'm sure that my grown-up feminist self would have more thoughts to think about the portrayal of the "unnatural" Rebecca.

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  8. I've never read Rebecca. Whomp-whomp.

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  9. This is on my TBR list, might make it my read for the April TBR challenge

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