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Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Business School Wives Book Club – Part Three (England)

There were times when I had my doubts about whether I was right to propose Daphne du Maurier’s classic novel Rebecca as my and England’s contribution to the Business School Wives Book Club. Maybe you actually had to be a repressed English woman with a fetish for cardigans and a longing for Cornwall to appreciate this book? Maybe my international reading ladies would turn away in distain and incomprehension from this haunting and rather strange vision of the English male.... Maybe also the novel’s presentation of the English female is rather polarised, rather introverted – and completely wide of the mark.

You have probably all guessed that I was, as usual, worrying needlessly. The first clue came when one of our number accosted me the day after I gave her the book to say that she had sat up reading until four in the morning and that since then she had watched the Hitchcock film on the internet. The mood at yesterday’s meeting was very much of the “I couldn’t put it down variety” and tonight we are meeting again to watch the film together – so conscience saved.

For those of you who have not read the book – this review does not contain spoilers, so you can carry on reading. Rebecca is the story of a nameless girl, her strange marriage to an older widower, her discomforting command of a grand house and the overshadowing of her life and loves by another woman. The action of the book opens with our heroine and narrator living the life of a paid companion to a social climbing bore in Monte Carlo. She is a shy and self-conscious girl who is horrified by the vulgarity of her employer, and only too pleased to meet the enigmatic widower, Maxim de Winter with whom she immediately connects. Maxim is twenty years the senior of his new friend and he is a man with a myth. He is the wealthy master of a house, legendary for its grandeur and beauty – Manderley in the heart of Cornwall. He is also recently widowed – his late wife Rebecca, famed for her staggering beauty and charm, having been drowned in a boating accident. In person, he is not charmless, but he is cold, taciturn and clearly keeping much from our narrator. A short romance is followed by a swift wedding and the inevitable return of Mr and the new Mrs de Winter to Manderley.

Here, our narrator will struggle with her new role, appearing to be more of a servant than a mistress, more of a pet than a wife, more of a backcloth than a character. More than anything she will come to be tormented by the spectre of her deceased predecessor Rebecca, convinced that she can never compete with her, never expunge her memory from the house or its inhabitants, and consequently, never be happy. But Manderley is a house within which there are many dark secrets and unexpected turns. The last third of the book is a thrilling tale of revenge and recrimination – a kaleidoscope of reality and mythology – a bearing of souls that will lead to a new, and altogether different love story.

I have called our nameless narrator the heroine, as for me, that is what she is. With her endless struggles, her self-knowing eagerness to please and the unfairness of her position, she rather stole my heart. That is not to say that she does that to everyone. She has an almost total lack of natural authority and her shyness can be infuriating. She does not seem to be armed with the worldly wisdom or the cynicism that she so badly needs. In this, as in everything, she contrasts sharply with the memory of Rebecca. Beautiful, assertive, defiant, imaginative, Rebecca was a perfect chatelaine who seems, through the dark glass of memory to have held effortless superiority and charm in perfect balance. Du Maurier presents these two visions of womanhood – one bright, the other apparently, pale, and the reader will inevitably choose between them.

I have included a few stills from the various dramatisations of this wonderful novel. For Rebecca-aholics I recommend the reviews of Fanoosh at Prolific Living in a Perfectly Ordinary World, Andreea at Passionate Booklover, Amy at My Friend Amy, Trish at Trish’s Reading Nook, Casey the Bookish Type and Jackie at Farm Lane Books Books Blog (warning: spoiler): all excellent reviews with different points of view.

25 comments:

  1. My book club read/discussed the book then watched the old Hitchcock film, too! It was the most popular group read last year. We have been meaning to do another book/movie combo, but got sidetracked (in a good way) with the Gifford Lecture series.

    Rebecca is the only DuMaurier title I've read, but I hope to change that soon.

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  2. Thank you Hannah for this brilliant overview. Rebecca is one of my absolute favourite novels. I first read it aged about 15 and have loved it ever since, it certainly instilled a respect for Daphne du Maurier and in turn a love of Cornwall - I seek out the locations of her books on trips to Cornwall! Both the film and TV series did the book justice I think.

    So glad the ladies at your book group were enthralled - how could they not be?!

    Is the sun shining in your part of France - it's lovely over here today...

    Jeanne
    x

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  3. I have an audiotape of Rebecca, which I've listened to several times over while driving in my car. It is brilliant. I admire Daphne du Maurier's work, especially 'Don't Look Now ' and 'Birds'.

    What a mind she had, what an imagination, and what a capacity to write. Thanks for a terrific review.

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  4. She is a brilliant writer. I have a collection of her short stories, which are just excellent. This is my favorite though.

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  5. Thanks so much for mentioning me. I loved your review! I just love this book and I want to read more of Daphne du Maurier!

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  6. Hannah, thank you so much for the link back here, and thank you for a great review of Maurier's Rebecca....I have read it twice and I hardly ever do that ;)!

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  7. I have never read Rebecca although I am a big Du Maurier fan. I absolutely loved her Rule Britannia. Was actually planning to pick this one up this weekend :) Great review as usual! I just LOVE the sound of your book club :) Do write a post on your club!

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  8. Oh what a coincidence. After you posted on my blog, I replied using Rebecca as an example and I came here to find that you have just read it. How bizarre. I wasn't as keen on this book as much as Jamaica Inn. I loved Jamaica Inn with a passion. I was convinced Daphne Du Maurier stood in the author category as Danielle Steele and Miss Read, boy was I wrong. Someone mentioned Victoria Holt is quite gothic in her writing too and I was convinced she was a romantic novelist too.

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  9. This was a great review Hannah, I absolutely love Rebecca but somehow that’s the only Daphne du Maurier book I’ve read- I’m going to have to fix that! :)
    I haven’t watched the movie but you got me all curious, I’m going to try and find a copy of the film and watch it as soon as I can so thanks for the inspirational review.

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  10. Hannah, I am so pleased to have found your blog and I enjoyed your review of Rebecca very much. I find it a compelling and disturbing read. I love Daphne du Maurier's books - she's a very powerful writer. The House on the Strand is probably my favourite. It's a superb time slip book.

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  11. What a wonderful review. I read Rebecca a few years ago now, and loved it. Despite having a few other DdM books on my shelf, I have been putting these off in case none live up to Rebecca.

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  12. This is one of my favorite books. I can still remember the first time I read it and was so shocked by what was really happening vs. what I thought was happening. I just re-read it some months ago and still enjoyed it even though I knew what was going to happen!

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  13. I loved reading your review and perhaps it will inspire me to read Rebecca--again! I reread it a couple of years ago and was glad it had stood the test of time. It's a classic!

    I actually felt a twinge of sympathy for Rebecca last time. She was dreadful but--!

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  14. Morning all and thank you so much for visiting and commenting.

    JoAnn - we have come to the conclusion that the book/film combo is the way to go - sadly there are so many great books that have not inspired films so not something that we can do everytime - but hey.

    Jeanne - it is a glorious day here in France - sun blazing and quite warm... lovely. Glad that you enjoyed the post.

    Elisabeth - I have not come across Dont Look Now or Birds but will look out for them. I think that she was a marvellous writer.

    Patti - I totally agree - I have also not read the short stories - al of my posts seem to lead to me getting a reading list...

    Andreea and Farnoosh - you're both welcome - they are great reviews

    Vaishnavi - in that case I am really glad that I didn't put in a spoiler! I hope that you get to read it as it is wonderful. the book club is great too - I aim to write about all of our books on here - so far we have done America, Pakistan and England - I think next is Japan and then India...

    Vivienne - guilty secret - I have not read Jamaica Inn even though everyone says that it is great - I must do that. thanks for your visit.

    Lua - there are a handful of dramatisations of the book which are all fun to watch. there is famously the Hitchcock film which is very good but which for reasons of 1940s Hollywood morality changed an element of the story. It is very much of its era if you know what I mean but nevertheless it is good. There are also a couple of UK TV adaptations which are very good... enjoy!

    Nicola - thanks so much for visiting. I shall have to read the House on the Strand now as I want to find out what a time slip book is...

    A Bookish Space - I've done that before and know how you feel. usually it is worth taking the plunge though!

    Kathleen - yes the first time I read it I was about 15 or so and I did not guess the "twist"... obviously once the story is revealed you don't forget it but I think that the writing is so good and the characters are so well drawn that it bears re reading very well.

    Frisbee.... well - you're not the only one. Rebecca is certainly much closer to the modern woman than the second Mrs de Winter - she is assertive and unafraid and so on - but I just loved our narrator and wanted things to work out for her.

    Thanks indeed all for your visits and kind words.

    Bon Weekend!

    Hannah

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  15. I really want to read Rebecca soon-great post as always

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  16. Mel - thank you so much for your comment. Rebecca is very much worth seeking out.

    Hannah

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  17. Really enjoyed browsing your reviews! Have listed your blog on mine to continue perusing :) Good work!

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  18. Hannah, your reviews are always so well done; thank you.

    I really enjoyed this book as well as Jamaicia Inn.

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  19. I wish I had read this book too! I still plan to some time. I loved your review... so beautiful!!

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  20. Birdy - thank you very much indeed....

    Diane - |Thanks for your visit and kind comment. Jamaica Inn is next on my DdM list.

    Aths - it is well worth it and thanks for your visit and kind words.

    Happy Thursday all!

    Hannah

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  21. I originally read this in highschool and felt lukewarm about it. I rememebr the beginning being very boring but it picked up afterwards. I must read this now I am an adult :) THanks for the nudge.

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  22. I have been meaning to read this book. You convinced me that I have to do it soon.

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  23. How could you have doubted? How about trying 'Frenchman's Creek' and 'Jamaica Inn'? and there's nothing like an English girl with a fetish for cardigans and a love for Cornwall ;-) think you may have just described me he he! Karen.

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  24. I totally love this book.. You should try "my cousin Rachel" too..

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  25. One of my favourite books of all time. I was disappointed by the Hitchcock film though, due to the differences surrounding Rebecca's death (trying not to give spoilers!). For me, that was the biggest and most exciting twist in the novel. I liked the TV adaptation though.

    I agree with Divya that My Cousin Rachel is also a fantastic book.

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