Dare I say it – we got there first… Read of the month for our book group in March 2015 was none other than the British classic “Rebecca”. Some of us were revisiting it, others were coming ‘fresh’ to Daphne du Maurier for the first time, and a few of us even went so far as to gather together beforehand to watch the black and white film in honour of the read, which was entertaining in itself – more on this later.
D du M is the talk of the town at the present – she was front cover culture news for ‘Le Figaro’ just recently, and had a whole article devoted to her in ‘Elle’ magazine to boot. The raison d’être for all this renewed interest is thanks to a new biography of the author’s life, which has just been published by France’s darling, bilingual Tatiana de Rosnay, who wrote “Sarah’s Key” (“Elle s’appelait Sarah”, 9/10, and “Moka”, 9/10) among others, but whose chief claim to fame in my book is of course that she used to go to my Offsprings’s school… It’s called “Manderley For Ever” and have added it to my list, naturellement.
Meanwhile, have just completed Margaret Forster’s biography from 1993, “Daphne du Maurier” (rated 7/10). There is something faintly disconcerting about the stripping away of someone’s private life in non-fiction writing. Reading not even between the lines, the vision you get of Daphne du M is that she was rather a self-absorbed and even a rather selfish character. She lived a fairly sheltered and privileged life, and indeed seemed more preoccupied with remaining the inhabitant of the house of Menabilly than with her own children. She certainly wasn’t particularly maternal or sociable. She was sometimes cruel, and the revelations about her infatuations with both sexes over the years before and during her union with the rather stoic husband ‘Boy’ left me as a reader feeling rather voyeuristic. I clearly don’t read enough biographies… Fascinating, though, to hear her talk on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs back in 1977, highly recommend you have a listen while doing the ironing, or equivalent, each to his/her own…
WARNING – CONTAINS SPOILERS : Back to “Rebecca”, which is clearly very much of its time, and is decidedly dated. The “she-who-shall-be-unnamed” heroine spends most of the book flapping and internalizing, and maddening quite a few of our book reading troops with her hunched over lack of guile. The Gothic undertones won some of us over more than others, and the evil – or occasionally pathos-filled – qualities of skull-faced Mrs Danvers set alongside the invisible yet ever palpable presence of a first wife who is not all that she seems worked to varying degrees. Yet for me the book is, was and ever will be a truly masterful classic. The fact that the authoress manages to win the reader round into not wanting to lynch Max de Winter for potentially being a child murderer, and the way she takes us by the hand revealing each snippet the way she does is quite something in my book. It was a joy to re-read, and it feels good to know that my 16 year old already had her first taste of “Rebecca” when she read it cover to cover a couple of years ago. Hopefully she too will pick it up again and want to revisit it at 50 or before, and it will still be appearing on the Best Ever Lists, details below.
Crikey though! How fascinating to watch the 1940 Hitchock film just recently, and discover that it had been decided to change the story at various points along the way, and in particular regarding the crucial revelation !! Apparently Selznick and co. felt very strongly that the unadulterated du Maurier version would have been too much for the audience of the time. If you haven’t seen it I would recommend it. But be sure to read the novel first. Nothing quite so satisfying as being able to yell indignantly at the appropriate moment : “THAT’s not what happened in the book!”
Read and re-read in February 2015.
“Rebecca” rating : a far from flawless but very affectionate 10/10 – A FAVOURITE READ
Margaret Forster’s “Daphne du Maurier” rating : 7/10
Winner of National Book Award in 1938, Baileys’ Prize #This Book Campaign 2013 – voted 7th best, BBC Big Read 2003 – voted 14th best-loved.