Rebecca

Rebecca, a novel by Daphne du Maurier, is an engrossing tale told through the eyes of an imaginative young woman as she marries a wealthy English man, and discovers many sinister truths at his beautiful country estate of Manderly.

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A copy of Rebecca

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again”

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again” a simply but haunting line that sets the tone for the narrators recollections. The novel is also teeming with  quotable lines by the way. We never learn her first or maiden name, she is simply called Mrs. De winter after she is married. Even while her narration has just begun, and she still serves as companion to the tactless Mrs. Van Hooper, her tendency to present herself as a very naive, doubtful and imaginative girl is apparent. Well, she never really calls herself imaginative but hardly a chapter goes by where the narrator does not stop to immerse herself in fantasy. If these things irritate you, I doubt you’ll enjoy the novel.

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A still from Alfred Hitchcock’s’ 1940 adaptation

Like everything else in the novel, things take quite a while to unfold, but eventually the narrator finishes her tales of how she married Max, or Maxim de Winter as he’s popularly known. She is still very doubtful and cautious, and Max isn’t very open about his emotions. With their large age difference, Max’s’ reserve, her constant worry and the shadow of Rebecca (Max’s’first wife) hanging over them  you’d assume their relationship was doomed to fail.

When the narrative reaches the vast, beautiful estate of Manderly, where Rebeccas’ presence threatens to leap from every corner, every fear that the narrator refuses to forget seems to be justified. This stretch of the story also introduces Mrs. Danvers, a character who instills the fear of propriety like no other. All is not as it seems in Manderly and the people are more sinister than the narrators many flights of fantasy dared imagine.

Mrs. De winter and Mr De Winter seem to develop a real relationship only as things threaten to get worse for them. It isn’t hard to see the major twists coming (I won’t give it away) but reading it is still thrilling. The many characters introduced, their kindness, their love for Rebecca and Manderly all become sources of tension, of a tragedy just waiting to unfurl itself. A friend declared I was reading this part so hard my eyes threatened to pop out.You’ll probably expect the ending and maybe even accuse it of being a conveniently happy one but Daphne du Maurier is able to translate the many quirks of the narrator into an endearing figure who you’ll be rooting for all across the end.

Some might argue that the ending wasn’t all that happy, the fate of Manderly, and the narrators craving for tea might have been the cause of many future worries and flights of fantasy but I disagree. It isn’t as threatening as the other problems the couples faced,it is no ultimatum, and it is nothing they cannot live without. And I have a feeling that the tragic is something the narrator craved deep down. Perhaps that’s why she loved those fantastic day dreams, those long looks back into the past.

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A young Daphne du Maurier

Dream of The Fishermans wife

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Who would have though that a three century old woodcut of two octopi performing cunnilingus on a woman could inspire you to write a great story instead of just giggling like a 13 year old?

While looking at Japanese woodcuts one day, I found that image. A woodcut by Hokusai associated with the Kinoe No Komastu [young pines] from a three volume book of Shunga erotica published in 1814. It is the most famous shunga Hokusai ever produced. Wood-prints like this were popular during the Edo period when the merchant class [the lowest in Japanese pecking order] found themselves growing more wealth and able to afford woodcuts of stories,landscapes,erotica, and flora and fauna.

But the story by A.C Wise, which I found after more reading, that appeared in Shimmer magazine did something that seemed to give the silly woodcut far more meaning than anyone seemed to have intended.

“Dive.

The word slams into him, sudden certainty. He must follow his wife down; he must find her under the waves. They must find each other. As the sun passes the apex of the sky, the fisherman strips and describes a perfect arc into the blue.

The water slices him open, steals his breath. Cutting knife-clean through the dark, he swims down”

The story isn’t particularly long. A fisherman’s wife becomes enthralled with the ocean, while the small town where they have struggled to make a living, is slowly abandoned. They decide to stay[and possibly kill themselves]. This is used to symbolize love, belonging, loss and freedom.

Firstly the manner in which we know the wife- as something that belongs to the fisherman- is a deliberate attempt to make a statement on the condition of women in 18th century Japan. More interesting is the fact that it is the wife who leads the husband to the ocean. It is the wife and not the husband who drives the story. It is the wife who is able to stop their suffering.

The husband is in the role that women are usually cast in. He seems to exist to offer support to his wife, but the loyalty and dedication he shows makes him compelling in his own right. The ocean which radiates atmosphere ever time it is mentioned seems to gleam with possibilities. you wonder why they hadn’t thrown away everything else and dived in earlier.

 The octopi in the image aren’t just octopi anymore. They’re just symbols of the oceans of a world below that seems to be growing more preferable as the wife and husband look at their fading lives and passion interrupted by the world they live in.

That is the best way I can describe the story, but the story loses much of its appeal when you strip it down to its plot. The gears that drive the story are the symbols lurking in ever corner. Wise takes women in the 17th century, the wide possibilities and freedom the ocean expresses, the changing social structure of Japan and mixes them up to make a statement on passion,love and freedom. With rich, enticing images and poetic descriptions The Dream of the Firshermans wife makes you wonder how something so beautiful could have been written based on a rather perverted woodcut.