Rebecca is a classic gothic novel. When it was published in 1938, it was an instant bestseller and since then post-secondary literary departments have lauded it as one of the greatest, bone-chilling, ghost stories of all time. There is certainly no arguing the impact Du Maurier’s novel has had on the genre, but I have to say, for a 21st century audience it is neither a ghost story nor bone-chilling. It’s still very interesting, though.
The term “gothic” is a bit misleading because we tend to think it’s the same as horror, but it isn’t. It refers to the atmosphere of the story, not the content. Gothic tales are dark and foreboding, and a little creepy. There doesn’t have to be any monsters or supernatural beings but there is usually something that keeps the main character up at night. Jane Eyre is a brilliant gothic story so if you like that, you’ll like this.
Rebecca is the late wife of Maxim de Winter, the very wealthy owner of Manderley. Maxim remarries a young, naive woman who is our unnamed protagonist. Her natural shyness combined with a lack of experience and self-confidence, means that she’s filled with self-doubt. She’s highly impressionable, misreads people and misinterprets the things they say and do. The new Mrs. de Winter is haunted by Rebecca’s memory, not her ghost. There’s a big difference. The housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, is usually regarded as the villain of the story and yes, she is certainly an antagonist, but in my opinion it’s the protagonist herself who is her own worst enemy. It’s her lack of maturity and confidence that’s the real problem.
I see this novel as a maturation, or coming of age, story. It definitely has the gothic feel to it, but it’s not spooky the way a horror story is.
Rebecca starts as a regular courtship love story. It’s Cinderella. Maxim and the protagonist meet in Monte Carlo, he sweeps her off her feet, they marry and he brings her home to Manderley. So far, so good.
But when they return to Manderley, things begin to go off the rails for the protagonist. I can’t say too much without spoiling the plot. Suffice it to say, the protagonist feels inferior to Rebecca and this leads to all kinds of problems.
Toward the end, Rebecca becomes a crime story and although I’m dying to discuss it, I don’t want to ruin it for you. When you find out how Rebecca died, and you see how the protagonist reacts to the news, let me know. I would love to hear what you think of her reaction!
The audiobook is narrated by the incredible Anna Massey. It’s available as an Audible exclusive, so if you have an Audible account you’re in luck. There isn’t any risqué content (sex, violence, spooky ghosts, etc) so you’ll be ok to listen without headphones while you’re cleaning the house.