Review of “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier (and the 1940 Hitchcock adaptation)

Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. 1938. New York: Avon Books, 1997. ISBN-13: 978-0380730407. ISBN-10:  0380730405. Print List Price: $15.99 (price of the 2006 HarperCollins reprint).

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Rebecca. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, performances by Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, and Judith  Anderson, United Artists, 1940.

Book rating: 4.5 stars

Film rating: 5 stars

I did the  read the book, watch the film, read/watch a review or two process completely out of order for this one, so that may have colored my perception of the book. As YouTube film/adaptation critic The Dom says in his review/comparison of the book and the film, the book relies heavily on a balance between the tension and the plot twists for its appeal. Yet, being a fan of his insights into books and films, I watched it, then watched the film, and then finally picked up the book. So, this is just as much a review of both as it is a response to his review.

This is the second problematic book I’ve covered, but it’s problematic in a slightly different way. The narrator remains unnamed, because the Du Maurier “could not think of one, and it became a challenge in technique, the easier because I was writing in the first person.” (388) The Don alternatively suggests that it is due to the lead having “no sense of her own identity,” which fits well with the concept of jealousy and the concept of the phantom of Rebecca so completely oppressing the lead.

Which brings me to another point: she has these weird fantasies all the time, and seems to be a textbook case of psychological issues, which miraculously go away when she finds out her husband, who she loves for no apparent reason (at least in the book), loves her and never loved Rebecca.

The other major characters are hardly any better in that respect, especially Maxim. The Dom goes into the massive changes that were worked into Maxim’s character, to make him a more sympathetic character, as in the book he is “a total wanker,” who is distant from the lead, and has no interest in doing romantic gestures for her, due to the way his first marriage so quickly went sour. And I am unsure if I was meant to feel sympathy for Maxim at all after finding out he killed Rebecca, even once I knew she goaded him into unknowingly assisting her suicide. But to be fair, in the coming decades, so-called “heroes” in romance novels would do awful things to the heroine for no reason, so by comparison, Maxim’s past behavior is pretty tame, and regardless of the political reasons Hitchcock had to change Rebecca’s manner of death in the film, the book’s version is much simpler.

The one character who I was surprised to like more in the book was Mrs. Danvers. Due to more of the politics of Hollywood, her behavior in the film is whittled down to her obsession with Rebecca (with the lack of explanation of their history together), with her meeting a grisly death of her own making in the end. But the inclusion of the backstory of their relationship made me feel for her and her loss.

 

 

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