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"I went to Manderley again…"

I first read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier in the eighth grade and loved it for its romance, but more for its darkness and mystery. Now, about forty-six (yikes) years later, I loved it again, but obviously with a new view.

This English romantic suspense written in the 1930s features a protagonist whose first name is never revealed. Du Maurier later stated she just couldn’t think of one. However, the very young lady’s companion falls into company with the older, more cultured Maximillian de Winter, master of the country estate, Manderley. The two meet in the south of France where he is recovering from the tragic death of his wife, Rebecca.

They fall in love, marry, and return to the beautiful, yet oppressive manor house. There, when compared to the fabulous Rebecca, the new Mrs. de Winter falls painfully short in the eyes of the servants, friends, and family of her new husband. She finds the memory of her “perfect” predecessor an overwhelming obstacle to happiness. And then things go bad.

The second Mrs. de Winter is meek, unsure, and eager to please–a good description of my eighth-grade self. She is not beautiful or classy like Rebecca had been; it seems she has little fashion sense or charm of any kind. Again, a good description of me at thirteen. I could feel her humiliation at each faux pas and snide remark about her hair, her skirts, even her reticence to offer opinions.

Now, closing in on sixty, I read the book from my post-menopausal perch and mentally urged the character to speak up, ask questions, talk to the more friendly characters, wishing on her a confidence I only learned over years. Yet, I fully empathized with the girl and pulled for her every step of the way.

Another difference is the lifetime of experiences that helped me comprehend the complications and deep personal risks for the players. My goofy little grade-eight self had no reference for such emotions–except fear and humiliation. But the story grabbed both “me’s” with equal passion.

Rebecca, it seems, has the greatest trait of a classic story: it holds up over decades. Here is a book I loved as much at thirteen as fifty-nine, albeit for different reasons. It has a depth that appeals to many aspects of the reader and never disappoints. I cannot recommend this book more strongly.

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