Today, a more serious novel wins out because it's been on my mind. The disturbing sexual themes make it even more fun to talk about.
Don't mistake it as chick lit. The very idea that you might chills my bones, because it is a masterpiece and some of the finest writing I've ever had the pleasure of reading. It's an interesting look into female sexuality, and men's/society's response to it. I've loved it for years, but my appreciation for it changed recently. I'll explain more about that later.
Daphne du Maurier is a fascinating woman. A lot of her writing was ahead of her time. She had an interesting personal life, too, they say. "They" can never fully be counted on, but it's said she was a tomboy as her father had confessed to really wanting a boy, she had the propensity to be a bit distant (especially while writing a story) and that she possessed "male sexual energy." Basically, I guess, she liked to be the person who orders the other one around, who was more dominant in the bedroom. This might have influenced a few themes in Rebecca, as well. She dug other women to an extent, too.
On the surface, you might look at Rebecca and consider it a romance novel. It isn't. Du Maurier wrote about the terrifying, shocking side of life in her stories. I don't think she was preoccupied with love and flowers at all. Rebecca, in particular, seems more focused jealousy, rage, repressed sexuality, death and class. She was heavily influenced by Jane Eyre and the whole gothic theme (she loved the Brontës). This is obvious when you read her careful, elaborate, horrific descriptions of people and places.
Alfred Hitchcock was impressed enough with her to adapt a few of her works to the screen; Rebecca and The Birds are my favorites.
For a long time, Rebecca was the ultimate romantic, suspenseful tale to me. I talked last week about not quite understanding 9 1/2 Weeks when I first saw it as a young teen, and I think that's the same situation here. I was thinking about the novel recently and looked it up on Shmoop, a cooler site than Sparknotes, because I love reading their analyses.
Holy shit, my brain exploded. Everything I thought I knew was wrong, and all of the warped sexual undertones became horrifyingly clear. My poor innocent mind was corrupted--much like the new Mrs. de Winter's by the end of the novel. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I advise you to read the book if you haven't, reread it if you have and then go on to the site and really think about this shit because it's as fascinating as it is scary.
I don't want to go on too much about the sexual themes because a lot of it will be a rehashing of what Shmoop has eloquently, brilliantly pointed out, but I will do a brief version of my what-the-fuck-jesus-christ take. Let me do a little set up.
Rebecca is a novel with a protagonist who is decidedly not Rebecca. Everyone loves to remind her she is not Rebecca, Max de Winter's deceased wife. We never learn the narrator's first name, a plot device to emphasize the shadow she lives in. So, we get it. She's not Rebecca; she's literally a poor substitute (she is of a far lower class than her new husband, and was working as a rich woman's companion when they met). She's also described as far plainer (Rebecca was gorgeous, of course) and of a gentler, more innocent temperament.
Anyway, Max owns this famous home called Manderley, which is very much like a character itself. It has a personality, this house, and Rebecca seems to haunt it. All of the linens have R on them. Fuck, everything has R on it. Rebecca's rooms are preserved (weird). And there's this creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, who worshipped Rebecca and does little to hide her contempt for the new Mrs. de Winter. She even sets her up a couple of times for humiliation and hopes, I think, Max will become furious and divorce her or something.
Max says all these cool lines when they get married and you think he really does love the narrator, but she isn't so sure. They don't have much sex when they get back home. Or any sex at all. And now she's upper-class and feels weird and out of place when she visits the neighbors. Max goes off to be by himself and do whatever rich men do and she's like, "Well, what the fuck do I do now?"
Two other male characters-- Frank Crawley, Maxim's friend, and Jack Favell, Rebecca's cousin and supposed lover--play interesting parts in the story. Supposedly Rebecca came on to Frank and, embarrassed, he ran to Max and told on her. Jack says the opposite happened, and that Rebecca rejected him and Frank was pissed. Jack also suspects Max killed Rebecca. He's the only one. Everyone else is like, "Nah, bro, look at how he grieved!"
He didn't fucking grieve, guys, spoiler alert, okay? Max killed her--shot her-- and was kind of thrilled about it, I believe. And so is the protagonist when she finds out. I shit you not. She starts thinking all these crazy things, repeating over and over in her head that Max didn't love Rebecca and wishing all these people who might be problematic for Max dead. I mean, she's only 21 when this is all going on and I was a bit of a nut when I was 21, too, but I wasn't frantically, passionately wishing people dead. Not really.
And there's the problem. There isn't much passion when sex is involved in the novel. Or romance, because there is no romance. The passion lies in fury and jealousy, in bitterness and competition. And murder, apparently. They become very passionate after Max confesses he killed her. Interesting that his rage, or the confession of a rage-filled moment, yields sex--or passion. Shmoop goes into that further. Have I mentioned how awesome that site is yet? Is all of this anger and rage and bitterness substitutes for sex? Is everyone just super repressed?
Rebecca held a lot of sexual power over at least a couple men. Probably more, like the men who just happened to look at her that didn't even know her. Powerful, grown men. By some accounts, Rebecca was a wanton slut who pursued anything with a dick and who played manipulative games--especially with Max. By others, she was an angel.
You never know what to believe, or who.
When I was a kid, I fucking believed Max. Asshole. Now I think there is far more evidence that Max was a raging, jealous dick who acted in the moment. Makes sense. Maybe Rebecca was cheating on him. Maybe she was a huge bitch. I don't know. We'll never know. Why? Because Max fucking killed her.
Max goes free, but as he and his now twisted wife go back home, they see Manderley on fire. Mrs. Danvers set it, of course, as retribution. The narrator refers to the burning of the house against the black sky as "blood", perhaps suggesting this is revenge. Their dream home--Max's dream home--is gone.
Now they live a blah existence. There's certainly very little passion in their lives now. You're not even sure where they are or how much time has passed because here the protagonist is quite vague--which is unusual for her, considering how precise and descriptive she's been about time and locations before. They eat boring stuff, hardly talk and certainly do not bring up Manderley. Pretty bleak. Perhaps that's justice for the crime Max committed, which the narrator helped him cover up.
Du Maurier peered into the human psyche and knew how to poke at all our sore fears. Love someone fiercely who might not love you back? Poke. Love someone who might still love another? Poke. Love someone who is out of your control? Feel inadequate? Poke, poke. Lust after someone who is unobtainable? Feel inferior to a particular person/set of people? Poke, poke, poke. Feel uncontrollable rage? Someone drive you crazy--particularly a lover? Every just want to kill someone? Fucking poke it all.
There's more within the text I'm leaving out, but there isn't much more for me to say. I find it fascinating that du Maurier wrote a novel so preoccupied with a so-called slutty girl and fucked with our heads so splendidly in 1938. She wrote a wonderful gothic suspense novel twisted with themes of female sexuality and how easily it can be demonized and punished.
Go read it and tell me what you think.
Next week I think I'll do Jane Eyre because there is SO MUCH SEX in that. We can even go a little tawdry, yay.