Book Club: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

rebecca

I read Rebecca when I was a teen, but haven’t read it since so I added it to my book club’s list of possibilities thinking that it would be a wonderful way to slip a classic into our selections. The August host chose it because she hadn’t read it before and really likes Gothic novels, but I don’t think it went over as well as I thought it would.

What struck me this time around, and did the other book club members as well, was the absolute passivity of the narrator. I think her submissive and timid personality really bothered them, although most of us were able to see how she developed into such a doormat. It was also hard for many of us to believe that the narrator would continue to live with Maxim after the truth about him is revealed. But what other choice does she have, really?

I think this novel is probably the least successful choice my book club has read so far. It did not inspire a good discussion and left most of us feeling flat and ready to move on to the next book.

Though Rebecca is not one of my favorite classics, I think it is incredibly suspenseful and darkly atmospheric, qualities that I enjoy but that might not make for the best discussion.

Next up for my book club in September is The Submission by Amy Waldman.

How do you feel about Rebecca?

 

24 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I read Rebecca when I was in school, one of my teachers lent me her copy. I enjoyed the atmospheric setting of the book but like you the heroine bothered me. I recently tried to read another Du Maurier – Jamaica Inn – as she’s one of my dearest friends’ favourite authors but I couldn’t finish it as there’s just so much abuse – verbal, physical – directed at the heroine it was nightmarish to read. I don’t know why Du Maurier is so loved, to be honest. I feel her strength is in atmosphere, not so much characterization. I’d be curious to see what Du Maurier fans have to say about her.

    1. I agree with you! I liked her books as a teen, but as an adult I don’t understand the fervor. They are good, but not on my list of favorites. Perhaps people have a sentimental attachment to her books?

  2. I’m sorry to hear Rebecca didn’t turn out to be a good book club read. I adore this novel. I love the suspense, mystery, and gothic feel of it. While I agree the narrator is passive and there were moments I wanted to scream at her to do something I did like her. If she wasn’t the way she was Maxim wouldn’t choose her and the novel probably wouldn’t exist! I hope your next book club read is more successful for you.

    1. Rebecca is one of my favourite du Mauriers; it works best if you don’t think about it as a “realistic” novel but rather as purely fictional. It’s an artificial construct; the characters are not meant to reflect real people, or to serve as “good examples” of logical behaviour. Because if they did, the whole thing would dissolve, right?
      I’ve always assumed the heroine stayed with Max because she was deeply in love with him. Even after she was forcibly confronted with his deep flaws she stayed on; she grew and matured and learned how to justify her choice to stay on to herself; I would hazard a guess that she got a lot of comfort out of her “us against the world” situation. One can, you know, if you are utterly sure of your partner, as I do believe she and Max were by the end…
      There, that’s my little attempt at analysis, for what it’s worth! 😉 And Rebecca would be a tough book club novel. It doesn’t stand up to too much analysis; it just is what it is!

      1. No, it doesn’t stand up to analysis for some of us, but you made it work! I think many of the women in my book club just couldn’t get beyond the narrator’s unquestioning nature.

  3. I’m currently reading this, so I skimmed over your post here a bit, but I’m looking forward to revisiting with my own thoughts when I’m done! I’m about halfway through right now and hope to finish up ASAP. It’s very involving, for sure.

  4. I love Rebecca and have re-read it quite a few times since I first read it when I was about 12. On the first reading the narrator seemed absolutely normal to me. Later readings she annoyed me a bit but she is as she has to be for the story. I have to say that I’m completely with Max and think that it’s a miracle that he didn’t throttle the first Mrs de Winter years before. I would have in his situation!

    1. Rebecca is evil, for sure, and Maxim too concerned with public opinion. It adds up to a lethal end. I do like the book and I understand the narrator – being a shy and reserved person myself – but she drove some of the book club members insane.

  5. I have loved Rebecca ever since I read it when I first joined the adult library. But I see it as an entertainment, a book to make you ooh and aah, and not a book that would stand up to too much analysis. The passivity of the heroine has never worried me unduly; I see her as the kind of person who doesn’t give up on others, and who maybe recognises her own weakness and accepts that we all have failings of one sort or another.

    1. It is an entertainment! And it fares well as just that. We do have a high school near the library that assigns Rebecca every summer and I’ve never understood why – I think that is partly why I chose it for the book club.

  6. Spoilers!!!

    Oh Mrs. de Winter 2 – what can I say about you? You are ridiculously passive, have a small personality, are more concerned that your murdering husband didn’t love his first wife then you are that he is well – A MURDERER! – and by the time you were almost talked into jumping out a window, I was just done with you.

    I agree Anbolyn, not our best book discussion. I think we were too much in agreement. Maybe if we had had one Maxim advocate in the group, there would have been more discussion. It was a fun read though. I loved the stifling, suspenseful atmosphere. I forgot in book club, but I think I mentioned to you, that I think Mrs. de Winter 2 has OCD. She has these horrible thoughts and scenarios that play out in her head; she has already played a whole scene in her head before anything has ever actually happened.

    1. Hahaha! I love it. I think I can accept her passivity more than I can accept her love for Maxim. I just think he was a rescuer from her horrible life as a companion and she felt she owed him for that deliverance.

  7. This is why I worry about rereading books that I loved many years (and many books) earlier. That said, I did love Rebecca for its spookiness. I think perhaps I accepted the narrator without too many reservations because of the influence of the film, which I saw first.

  8. I have vague memories of reading Rebecca in high school, but maybe I’ve just read a lot about Rebecca. Du Maurier is certainly a favorite on many blogs, so I decided to try Rebecca (either again or for the first time!) . I gave up in the second chapter. Maybe it was just the wrong book and the wrong time. I did watch a few minutes of the film on Turner Classics the other night – it has such wonderful actors.

    1. The film really stands up pretty well – the combination of Olivier, Fontaine and Hitchcock is magnificent. To be honest, I probably would have given up on Rebecca in the first few chapters, too, if it hadn’t been for book club.

  9. Her passivity is irksome but at the same time I don’t think it helped that the era she was in, nor the sudden change of fortune, were there too. She really was a fish out of water and combined with (can’t remember the name, her ex-employer) she seemed quiet from the start anyway. I don’t think she ever gets too far though, the way the other factors are woven in you can keep reading about her.

    Interesting point about Max. I suppose I saw all the things he’d had from Rebecca and that his love for the heroine was true. It would’ve been interesting to know if she had considered it later on, though. I like the book, but don’t love it. When it goes into the detective section I do lose a bit of interest.

  10. My book club read Rebecca several years ago and watched the old Hitchcock film for our meeting. It was a fun evening, but not sure how it would have turned out if we only discussed the book.

    I read The Submission for book club last fall… an excellent choice!

  11. I like the gothic atmosphere, the colour red theme, the echoes and reflections of Rebecca everywhere at Manderlay. the fact that the narrator has no name.

    Heroine is annoyingly passive – even more so than Fanny in MP – and I often wonder about the Max’s finances. Does he have unlimited money? How did he earn it? Why doesn’t she ask more questions?!

Thank you for reading and commenting.

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