I recall this being a favorite when I read it many years ago—probably at least 25 years ago. I picked it up as a used book recently, because I thought it would be fun to read again.
I was right...it WAS fun to revisit! But I found that I had a very different reaction to it than I did the first time around. What didn’t change is the beautiful writing from Daphne du Maurier, as well as that it is a great gothic tale of love, loss, and murder. Maxim de Winter remains charming, if a little aloof, and I was reminded of Laurence Olivier’s portrayal of Maxim in the movie. (Which was perfect!) Mrs. Danvers is as creepy and obsessed as ever, and I found myself reading of her obsession with an expression that could only mean “Holy crap, this old broad is batshit crazy!” There is the great story of Maxim falling in love with a young girl and whisking her out of her dreary, working life to his famous estate, Manderley. It doesn’t matter how old you get, it’s still fun to think about being swept off of your feet, don’t you think?
What did change for me was my reaction to the unnamed young girl that Maxim marries. She is the narrator of the book, and I think it’s interesting that her name is never revealed. Maybe there are deeper meanings to that...perhaps it’s to make her somewhat of a non-entity, a minor personality although the book is written from her perspective. I don’t know, but it strikes me as different and unusual. This time around, I found her absolutely infuriating. She is timid, weak, insecure, and paranoid. She spends her time worrying that people are talking about her, laughing behind her back, judging her, and finding her not good enough. She lets herself be intimidated by virtually everyone, and she is certain that Maxim still loves Rebecca, and that she can never measure up to the standards that Rebecca set.
I’m not kidding, I wanted to grab her and shake the snot out of her.
I had to keep reminding myself that this book was published in 1938; that it was a different time; that she was a paid companion to an old bat, suddenly thrust into a situation where she was the lady of a huge English estate. I realized all that...and I still wanted to shake the snot out of her. Of course, anyone who has read the book or seen the movie knows that she finally grew a pair and managed to ditch her inferiority complex. Until that happened in the book, I was constantly rolling my eyes and thinking, “Oh, for Pete’s sake...stand up for yourself!”
I found it fascinating that I had such a different reaction this time around. My friend Bonnie on Facebook commented that the book hasn’t changed; I have. That is exactly right, and I think it’s very cool to revisit a book you read when you were younger and see if your perceptions of it have changed. I often hear people mention Catcher in the Rye in this regard; feelings about Holden Caulfield often change as you get older. I wouldn’t know about that, because for some weird reason, that was never a book I read in high school. It totally escaped me. It was only a couple of years ago that I read it, and I found Holden self-absorbed and lacking sympathy for others. I don’t doubt that if I’d read it when in high school or college, I would have found him a rather romantic, rebellious figure. In my late forties, I just found him to be a young prick with feelings of entitlement.
I’m happy to say that I still find Rebecca a ripping good yarn. A good story matters, as does good writing, and the book has both. I’m happy I read it again.
I’m thinking that if I want to revisit another favorite from my youth, I might have to read The Bell Jar again. I read that several times in high school, and I loved it. I wonder what I’d think of it now? I’ll let you know when I find out!
How about you? Are there any books that you loved when you were young and reread as an adult? What was your experience? Did you find your perspective had changed? Did you love it all over again, or hate it this time around? I think it’s really amazing how a few years under your belt can really change your perspective on situations and characters.