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Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

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Genre: Thriller
Rating: 5/5

'Last night, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.' The epic opening line to Rebecca ushers the unsuspecting readers into the docile, slightly sad life of a young girl, who shall remain nameless throughout. Rebecca is one of the crowning works of Daphne Du Maurier, the others being The Scapegoat, My Cousin Rachel and Jamaica. It can be safely proclaimed that nothing really comes close to Rebecca

Rebecca starts as a meek little story, like its protagonist. It seems as timid as Little Women, wherein a young girl is swept off her feet by the taciturn, kind gentleman Monsieur Maxim de Winter. It ends in the two getting married within a fortnight of their meeting.

The marital life of the girl starts like any other, filled with trepidation, doubt and a lot of love. As days pass, she finds cues in her magnificent marital home - Manderley - and gets acquainted with the household. Not everyone is friendly, certainly not a particular Mrs. Danvers - who is openly devoted to her previous mistress and makes no qualms about expressing her distaste for the new one. Others, like Frank, are pleasant enough.

And yet there is a suppressed energy all around, something to do with the ex-Mrs. De Winter: Rebecca. Rebecca has been everywhere and in everyone. In her death, she has left a trail of awe and grandeur, in whose shadow our little new Mrs. De Winter is being forced to live. She, unlike Rebecca, is too naive, too plain to create a counter-shadow. Maxim doesn't seem to mind either way; but yes, Rebecca does set off some melancholy moments for him. 

Wracked with inferiority complex, little Mrs. De Winter leads her life in Manderley, coping with the scheming Mrs. Danvers and attending to social  niceties and Maxim's genial sister and brother-in-law, tired of how people seemed to lose themselves in the aura of the long-dead Rebecca.

One fateful day, the reverie snapped. It began with a harmless ball and spiralled into a world of deceit. Young Mrs. De Winter realised that every coin has two faces and her real competition with Rebecca had only just begun. Her little sad life was suddenly a maelstrom, and she had no way but to grow up, to conquer it all.

Considering that Rebecca is technically a thriller, it is remarkably slow-paced, right upto the last one-third. For the most part, it only succeeds in the reader empathising with the young, inexperienced Mrs. De Winter and reading about how the elite work. Once the climax explodes though, the story simply tumbles down a steep slope, heading for a definite crash. The reader is caught completely unaware by the force of the events - which have little in common with the homely life described in the page before. From there on, there is no stopping till you turn the last page.

Those acquainted with Daphne Du Maurier's works would know that her stories were always bordering on terror and had something supernatural about them. They were riddled with clues all throughout the seemingly innocuous paragraphs, which came back haunting  by the time the end was near. She didn't seem to have any trouble blending the mundane with the unimaginable, which is an ode to her intense understanding of human relationship and all its latent currents.

 Rebacca was, notably adapted several times on screen and television and for the stage. My personal favourite was the one by Alfred Hitchcock, made a mere two years after the publication. In black and white, Joan Fontaine made for a very apt Mrs. De Winter, with her doe eyes and simple manners. Laurence Olivier was towering as ever as Maxim De Winter. However, both in the book and in the movie, nobody steals the show like Mrs. Danvers (played by Judith Anderson), with the possible exception of the phantom of Rebecca. Danvers is the epitome of distilled evil with a twisted mind, bereft of any humaneness. For such a character to be possible, readers need a Mrs De Winter to compare against.

I resent the first person who must have read the draft, for she must not have known what was coming. Seventy-nine years ago to this month, Daphne Du Maurier immortalised a nameless little wife. Rebecca - 'with the tall and sloping 'R', dwarfing the other letters' is a testimony of love and the strength it demands.

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