Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…
The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.
Rebecca is one of my absolute favorite books ever since I read it as part of a Jane Eyre course, so I was delighted when I got my friends to read it with me and then spend a couple hours discussing it while stuck in a car driving from Seattle to Portland. The book is beautifully and lovingly written while still having the suspense and non-stop drama of a modern thriller. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.
Discussion questions below the cut!
Do you think Rebecca is a sociopath? How does it influence our reading of her if we do classify her as a sociopath rather than treating her as a “normal” human being?
Note: In case you aren’t very up on your sociopath knowledge, here are some facts for you. (source)
- Antisocial Personality Disorder results in what is commonly known as a Sociopath. The criteria for this disorder require an ongoing disregard for the rights of others, since the age of 15 years. Some examples of this disregard are reckless disregard for the safety of themselves or others, failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, deceitfulness such as repeated lying or deceit for personal profit or pleasure, and lack of remorse for actions that hurt other people in any way.
- People with this disorder appear to be charming at times, and make relationships, but to them, these are relationships in name only. They are ended whenever necessary or when it suits them, and the relationships are without depth or meaning, including marriages.
- They seem to have an innate ability to find the weakness in people, and are ready to use these weaknesses to their own ends through deceit, manipulation, or intimidation, and gain pleasure from doing so.
- They rarely are able to have jobs that last for any length of time, as they become easily bored, instead needing constant change. They live for the moment, forgetting the past, and not planning the future, not thinking ahead what consequences their actions will have. They want immediate rewards and gratification.
What do you think are the possibilities for what horrified Maxim so much in regards to Rebecca’s history and actions? What would have horrified a man like Maxim?
Jane Eyre and Rebecca are often linked, with the latter often being called a retelling (ie. appropriation). What similarities and differences do the two books have? What impact do you think any changes have on the story’s effect?
In the Victorian era, most novels centered around one person took that person’s name as their title. Male-centric novels used both the first and last name, while female-centric novels used only the first (since most novels ended with marriage, changing the woman’s last name). Jane Eyre is titled after the book’s narrator and uses both her first and last name, whereas Rebecca is titled after the dead wife and uses only her first name. Discuss.
What are some Gothic tropes you can see in this novel? How is du Maurier employing them effectively? How is she adapting and transforming them?
Is Rebecca a ghost story? Why or why not?
The real separation between the narrator and Maxim is class, but the narrator focuses instead on her age. What other problems does she blame on her age? Why do you think she does this?
Did you find anyone in this book likeable? If the answer is no, is that a problem for you as a reader? Why or why not?
The narrator frequently imagines the events someone else has described, thereby giving us vivid imagery as readers. However, this convincing and memorable imagery is only the narrator’s imagined creation, and is frequently shown later to be wrong. How much are we able to step outside our 1st person narrator in this book? Can we really escape her perspective when reading, even as we criticize it?
How is the word “companion” used in this novel, particularly by the narrator? Is it romantic or platonic? Is it a positive or negative relationship? Is it a balanced relationship?
How is gender used in this novel? Is Rebecca feminine, masculine, or a mix? How about the narrator? What power can we see accompanying gender performance?
The narrator undergoes a strong change following Maxim’s confession of murder to her. How would you characterize this change, and what reason would you give? Do you think the change is positive?
Frank Crawley, as well as other characters, often use the word “creature” to describe Rebecca, most memorably in Crawley’s statement: “She was the most beautiful creature I’d ever seen.” Why do you think he uses this word?
In the film directed by Hitchcock, because it was made in the code era, Rebecca’s death is made into an accident as opposed to a murder—although Maxim still talks about how he wanted to kill her. What is the importance of that direct violence for the story? How might you compare it to Rochester keeping Bertha Mason locked in the attic? How does the removal of that violence in Hitchcock’s film affect the story being told?