I was really looking forward to reading this classic by Daphne Du Maurer, but I was sadly disappointed.
The narrator (whose name we never learn) is young, yes, but she’s still a grown-ass woman and I really wish she had acted like it.
When the story starts, she’s a hired companion to a wealthy American woman, and so she has no choice but to go where her employer goes. They are in Monte Carlo when they meet the mysterious, but very handsome, Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter, who is still in mourning for his wife, Rebecca, who died about a year earlier.
Maxim strikes up a romance with the narrator, although I think calling it a “romance” is being generous. She falls for him, but he’s so distant and removed that it’s hard to see why. I guess nothing says “heartthrob” like a guy who barely talks to you.
Eventually the narrator’s employer gets ready to move on, so the narrator goes to say goodbye to Maxim, at which point he proposes, she accepts, and they go on a honeymoon all over Europe before finally getting to Manderley, Maxim’s family estate where he had presumably spent so many happy years with Rebecca.
The new Mrs. de Winter has absolutely no idea how to act like a noble lady and makes the mistake of relying on Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, who remains loyal to Rebecca and sees her new ladyship as an inferior interloper and she’s not shy about letting Mrs. de Winter know exactly how she feels. She delights in tormenting Mrs. de Winter with stories of how happy Maxim and Rebecca were and tricking her into wearing a costume worn by Rebecca in her last year of life, thereby making Maxim and everyone else mad at Mrs. de Winter because they think she did it on purpose. Because she was supposed to know … how?
This is where the book lost me, because if you cannot trust your housekeeper, FIRE HER! It’s that simple.
But Mrs. de Winter just goes on and on about how she’s like a child and therefore incapable of doing anything and I was just like:
Like I said, Maxim isn’t big on talking to his new wife, so it’s really easy for Mrs. Danvers to drive a wedge between them. Finally he decides to actually have a conversation with his own wife *gasp* at which point he tells her what really happened to Rebecca.
While we had previously been told that Rebecca had gone out sailing alone and drowned in a squall, it turns out she and Maxim had hated each other almost as soon as they were married and she was openly having affairs with other men. On the night of her death, she had taunted Maxim by laying out all the reasons he couldn’t leave her, so his answer was to shoot her and make it look like she had drowned in a sailboat.
Mrs. de Winter seems fine with this explanation, but I’m all, “Your husband just admitted to killing an unarmed woman and you’re OK with this?”
Apparently her answer is, “Yeah, that’s cool.”
But then a boat crashes against the shore in sight of Manderley and everyone rushes out to help, at which point some divers discover Rebecca’s body, along with her boat, so they’re all like, “Wait, if this is Rebecca, then whom did we bury last year? And why are there holes drilled into the bottom of this boat?”
So Maxim is taken in for questioning, but somehow manages to get off and return home with his new wife, only to realize that Manderley has gone up in flames and that’s the end of the novel.
I realize this is supposed to be a kind of retelling of Jane Eyre, but Jane Eyre was so much better than this! I realize Rochester had his issues, but at least he and Jane actually talked to each other and I believed they had a real connection. And at least Jane had some guts. You can blame Rochester for locking poor Bertha in the attic, but given the state of asylums at the time and how little was known about mental illness, I really think it was the best he could do for her, given the circumstances. I do blame him for trying to marry Jane without telling her about Bertha, but that’s still not the same as shooting and killing an unarmed woman.
What did you read this week? Any other classics you found intensely disappointing?