Manderley, again: On re-reading Rebecca, 80 years after publication

(Dublin Review of Books essay, May 2018)

In an essay entitled “Romantic Love”, Daphne du Maurier wrote:

There is no such thing as romantic love. This is a statement of fact and I defy all those who hold a contrary opinion. Romantic love is an illusion.

Yet she has been classified, and dismissed, as a romantic novelist and her best-loved and most enduring work, Rebecca, as a romantic novel. Since its first publication in 1938 it has never gone out of print. As recently as 2013, du Maurier’s son, Christopher, claimed in an interview that it was still selling four thousand copies a month.

One reason for Rebecca’s success is that it tells a good story, in the classic, narrative-driven sense – the sort of story at which it has become quite fashionable to sneer. Another is that the reader is never entirely sure exactly what is going on beneath the thrilling surface. Like all unresolved questions, Rebecca’s powers of suggestion haunt us long after the book has been restored to its shelf.

Du Maurier said it was a novel about jealousy, and so it is. She also said that it was about the imbalance of power between a man and a woman in a marriage and yes, it is that too. Part bildungsroman, part psychological thriller, it is also a crime drama with its conventions turned inside out. Not “how will the criminal be identified, caught and punished?” but “will they get away with it and how?”

Read more: http://drb.ie/essays/manderley-again

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier, Virago (80th Anniversary Edition), 448 pp, €18.20, ISBN: 978-0349010267

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