Rebecca

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”

One of the most appealing heroines in all of fiction weaves a special magic to enthral every reader.

Known to millions through the outstandingly successful versions on stage and screen, the characters in this timeless romance become hauntingly real  – to be treasured in the memory.

Brilliantly conceived, masterfully executed, Daphne du Maurier’s unforgettable tale of love and suspense is a storytelling triumph that will be read and re-read.

Written by Daphne du Maurier. First published 1938 by Victor Gollancz Ltd. This edition published by Pan Books 1976.

Daphne  du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn is one of my favourite all-time gothics and since there’s a new anthology of her stories due out this week (more on that later) and the Daphne du Maurier Festival taking place later this month, I thought it was  about time I posted a review of what must be her most remembered book, Rebecca

With one of the best known opening lines in literary history and widely believed to be the book that kick-started the revival for Gothic Romance in the 20th Century, Rebecca is Daphne du Maurier’s fifth novel and for many considered to be the quintessential modern Gothic.

Told in flashback, this is story of an unnamed women’s struggle as she adjusts to a new life married to the wealthy owner of a West Country estate and her fight to come out from under the shadow cast by her husband’s first wife Rebecca.

Rebecca was everything the new Mrs de Winter is not – beautiful, charming, self confident and dead. She drowned in a boating accident in the bay, and it was her husband Maxim de Winter who identified the body when it was supposedly washed up from the sea a couple of months later. 

1992 Arrow Edition

Feeling inadequate and unfamiliar with her grand new lifestyle, the new Mrs de Winter finds it very difficult to adjust, becoming less and less confident with each new faux pas, failing to live up to the standard she thinks is expected of her. And then there is Mrs Danvers – the sly, secretive, skull-faced housekeeper who loved Rebecca more than anyone and who just can’t hide her dislike for her new mistress.

The best gothic romances brim with unspoken secrets and emotions. This book is full of such things and more, as the withered claw of Rebecca’s unburied past  reaches out from its watery grave, maintaining its strange stranglehold over the living occupants of Manderley.

Dare I say it however, Rebecca is not my favourite gothic romance – it is not even my favourite du Maurier novel. Though it is beautifully written, I find the voice of the new Mrs de Winter a little too insipid for my tastes and difficult to listen to for long. I’ve picked this book up and put it down again so many times the story has always been a bit of a disjointed blur for me. In my defence though,  I have seen the play and I did watch the Alfred Hitchcock movie last night specially for this review.

Movie poster 1956

And what a fab movie it is too!

Joan Fontaine is brilliant. When reading Rebecca I never developed much sympathy for the new Mrs de Winter – I could never understand what all the fuss was about over the costume ball for example – but watching the film made me cringe in sympathy for her. Laurence Olivier really brings the character Maxim alive too, maintaining an undeniable charm on the surface but with an added aura of menace and control over his new bride. And if gloom-ridden, gothic mansions are your thing – well, the opening shots of Manderley are a treat!

Four out of five stars.

Fans of Daphne Du Maurier will be interested to know that Virago press are publishing a new anthology of her short stories this week. Called The Doll, this collection features 13 ‘forgotten’ short stories written by du Maurier early on in her career. The titular story – lost for more than 70 years – is a macabre tale about a man who discovers that the girl he’s smitten with is besotted with a mechanical sex doll. 

Here’s a description taken from the Virago website:

 ‘I want to know if men realise when they are insane. Sometimes I think that my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror – too much despair …I cannot sleep, I cannot close my eyes without seeing his damned face. If only it had been a dream.’

 In ‘The Doll’, a waterlogged notebook is washed ashore. Its pages tell a dark story of obsession and jealousy. But the fate of its narrator is a mystery. Many of the stories in this haunting collection have only recently been discovered. Most were written early in Daphne du Maurier’s career, yet they display her mastery of atmosphere, tension and intrigue and reveal a cynicism far beyond her years.

More information can be found at the Virago press website HERE.

Virago 2003

And to celebrate all things splendiferously Daphne, I have not one but two copies of Rebecca to give away free to anyone with a UK postal address.

The first is an Arrow edition, published 1992 with a short biography and photograph of the author on the inside cover (pictured above). The second, shown left, is the very nice Virago Modern Classic edition.

Just email me via the contacts page with your preference. First come first served. Enjoy!

My Pan copy - love the colour of that sky!

Uncle Silas

WAS THERE NO ESCAPE FOR MAUD RUTHYN FROM HER SINISTER UNCLE SILAS?

“When I closed my eyes I saw him before me still, dressed in deathly black, ashy with a pallor on which I looked with fear and pain.

…And those hollow, fiery, awful eyes! It sometimes seemed to me as though the curtain had opened, and I had seen a ghost.”

Maud Ruthyn was obliged to live with her mad Uncle Silas in his isolated, terrifying old mansion for four years if she wanted to receive her inheritance. If she ran away she would be penniless. If she dared to stay, then one night she would be found lifeless!

UNCLE SILAS ranks with THE MOONSTONE, THE WOMAN IN WHITE and WUTHERING HEIGHTS as one of the most haunting, terrifying Gothic novels in the English language.

Written by Sheridan Le Fanu. This Paperback Library Edition – January 1967.

Known as the father of the modern ghost story, Sheridan Le Fanu is a Victorian novelist and short story writer whose prose continues to  chill and inspire to this day. Virginia Coffman, creator of the fantastically gothic Moura series, cites him as a major influence of hers, so I was very pleased to happenchance upon this gorgeous Paperback Library edition of Uncle Silas on a day out in Eastbourne the other week.

This is a classic gothic story –  where an orphaned teenage heroine, duty bound to the wishes of her dead father, finds herself having to live with her strange Uncle Silas until she is old enough to claim her inheritance.

So all she need do is live long enough to come of age and claim her money.  How difficult can that be? Well, for Maud Ruthyn it’s an isolated, scary existence, trapped in a gloomy old mansion, haunted by sinister secrets and strange visions,  with naught but the usual cast of crackpots for company. I’m about two thirds of the way through and though nothing too terrible has happened to Maud, I’ve a feeling there’s something more menacing going on behind those crazed, opium-glazed eyes of her Uncle’s than Swedenborgianism.

With three hundred and fifty pages of teensy-tiny typeface (times like this I miss my Lancer Easy-Eyes!) this abridged edition is at least twice the length of most my other Paperback Library gothics and is a treat. Stories like this are written to linger over – I’ve been buried in this book for the last ten days or so and can’t put it down.

They say appearances are everything and this was particularly true within the upper echelons of Victorian society. So long as some semblance of normality is seen to skim the surface of social interaction then all  is well – isn’t it? Sheridan Le Fanu uses this sentiment to great effect throughout Uncle Silas, interweaving deft touches of the macabre and grotesque into the story, building a real sense of foreboding and fear that is not always easy to put your finger on, therefore making you feel all the more uneasy. So I’ll be sleeping with the lights on for a few more nights yet…

Five out of five stars with extra gothic points for this copy since it looks (and smells!) as if it’s been providing  sustenance for the rats while lying on the floor of a dungeon somewhere.