What the Sotonettes thought of Rebecca…

The Sotonettes’ Book Club read Rebecca for October’s meeting – below is a rundown of what everyone thought.  If this makes you want to take part in our book club, the next meeting is on Tuesday 19th November at 7.30pm in Cafe Creme (the book up for discussion is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein).  More info on our Book Club page.

And now for a little bit about Rebecca… warning… !SPOILER ALERT!

Atmospheric and a real page turner, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is a real classic of gothic literature. The story follows a young woman who is plucked from her life as a companion to an older gossipy and wealthy American woman by the enigmatic and much older Maxim de Winter to his beautiful home at Manderley.

Narrated by the young woman, we follow her experiences as she contends with the overwhelming, and ever present memory of Maxim’s late first wife, Rebecca, the first Mrs de Winter and the increasingly obsessive and disturbing house keeper Mrs Danvers.

We talked nonstop for almost two hours, so here is a little flavour (without giving too much away!):

  • Manderley: a fabulous setting for the story, hugely atmospheric and almost a character in itself.
  • Daphne du Maurier never gives the second Mrs de Winter a name of her own in sharp contrast to the power of Rebecca’s name. We felt this was integral to the story, names and identify defined each character, and this set the two women as polar opposites right from the start.
  • Relationships between men and women at the time (duties and expectations): Rebecca was published in 1938 and we felt some of the behaviours of the characters in the book reflected the time. Rebecca was, on the surface, considered to be the ‘perfect wife’; sociable, organised, beautiful. The second Mrs de Winter was expected to fit in and pick everything up. Maxim seemed oblivious and/or insensitive to the difficulties between Mrs de Winter and the house staff.
  • We felt that if all the characters simply sat down and talked to each other much of the confusion and distress could have been avoided! A classic example of keeping up appearances until breaking point! The second Mrs de Winter has both low self-esteem and is self absorbed. We often saw her over thinking things, going off on tangents but taking no action. We found this frustrating to read – we found our inner feminists really kicking in! Was this due to her age, or perhaps to the isolation of Manderley?
  • How would Rebecca’s behaviours be viewed today? Rebecca’s actions in the novel are said to be ‘evil’. Rebecca’s ‘wild’ behaviour and infidelities would perhaps not be viewed to such an extreme today.
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test? We don’t think it does, and in addition, at the very least, the female characters are defined by their relationship with Maxim de Winter (Beatrice as Maxim’s sister, Rebecca as the first Mrs de Winter and the female lead as the second Mrs de Winter etc…).
  • Comparisons with other literature: Jane Eyre and Twilight – gothic novels and similar themes.
  • Who won? Did Rebecca ultimately win (through the power of her name and memory?), or Mrs de Winter now she finds herself in control? Or Mrs Danvers through the fire? For each we felt it was a hollow victory.
  • What happened to Mrs Danvers?! This prompted a lot of discussion and different theories!

On the whole, we felt this was more of a jealousy story than a love story. After all the twists and turns of the plot we were not sure where our sympathies lay- and this sparked plenty of discussion! All in all, a brilliant read!