Thursday, July 4, 2013

Thoughts on Re-reading Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca

On certain mornings, the composition of a thousand words—the indelible part of the self-inflicted writing routine—disgorges easily and effortlessly out of the system. It just takes a spark of a thought, an iota of an idea, and the vision of the lightest hue of the spectrum to get things going for me. On such days I cannot help but wonder if there is anything better than a life devoted to writing. The composition of these daily documents are preparatory steps gently leading me to a poem or a story perhaps, and this thought  rejuvenates the wilting soul when inspiration is remote and the long face of a long day stares at me with exasperation. It is the hope of a better creative life that might enlighten my existence some day that gets me going.

Having spent half of last night finishing Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, I feel both tired and excited this morning. The cup of steaming Dutch coffee offers refreshing assistance. I sip it and dream of Manderley. In fact, I have been dreaming of the marvelous mansion since last night. I wonder if I ever ceased thinking about it. Surely, Manderley has been nestling in my subconscious mind since the time I first read about it years ago as a naïve undergraduate student of literature. At that time, I was really close in character and personality and in my aimless juvenile ways to the nameless heroine of the novel who speaks the famous opening line of the book: “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

I find the aforementioned line particularly fascinating. This simple sentence is so as thickly encrusted with deep esoteric meanings as the woods neighboring Manderley are covered with irrepressible foliage. Apart from the unforgettably witty opening lines of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, it has been Du Maurier’s Gothic romance whose first lines I never forgot. I find myself again in pursuit of the unmistakable something that paints this little line, the mysterious ingeriedent that strikes the ambiguous note of thrill. A reader can imagine things and so I did half of last night. I found myself susceptible to the eerie and cold atmosphere of mystery surrounding the book encroaching upon me with its “long, tenacious fingers;” I yielded under the pressure of its cachectic fingers.

The real heroine of the story of course is Rebecca, the dead wife of Max de Winter. Despite her death and consequent physical absence she lives on in Manderley. Manderley is a living citadel of her haunting presence. It is she and not the narrator, the second Mrs. De Winter who remained anonymous throughout the story, who steers the story along. Rebecca is conspicuous by her absence, we don’t see her but we know she is there, in Manderley. As Mrs. Danvers the frightening housemaid said she could still hear the rustle of her dress or her gentle footsteps in the hall, we too can hear Rebecca, her laugh, her voice, soft yet firm and unyielding. I feel I could close my eyes and imagine her standing in the threshold separated from me by the thick miasmic fog of death, her ectoplasm slowly generating form like a magician’s vanishing-reappearing trick working slowly, listlessly.

Having read the book in the silent hours of night under the white light of my table lamp in my own rented-castle, I found myself more sunk in the mystery. The discrepancies in the text especially the portrayal of the weak and feeble narrator has disturbed me. I didn't quite like her thinking she was a quadruped whenever her husband played with her hair and her habit of sitting at his knees. Evidently, she lacks the force of personality and her display of weakness only strengthened the already well-nourished character of the dead Mrs. de Winter. Rebecca seemed like the blood-sucking fiend who abstracted the life-blood from the nameless heroine and further weakened her. The two Mrs. de winters are binary opposites, one weak, good, morally potent; the other evil, licentious and dark-haired. Now, here we can raise several intellectual queries: first, does a woman who is free-spirited and adventurous deserves to be killed, especially when she has made her position clear to her husband upon honeymoon? Does a woman who is forceful and upright deserve to be nullified? Why did Maxim de Winter hate her; was he himself like our nameless heroine wilted and de-manned by Rebecca’s masculine adventurous ways? Seeing the story from this angle, we can safely say that Max de Winter suited the nameless feeble wife than Rebecca.

To tell you the truth, I am fascinated by Rebecca. I guess I belong to the devil’s party too. After I’ve close my book and rested in bed, it was Rebecca I tried to see and not the naïve heroine, a vignette of yester-year better forgotten. It’s she and Mrs. Danvers, the Lady Macbeth type housekeeper dressed in black who keeps Rebecca alive despite her untimely demise by keeping her quarters in the exact order as it used to be when she left, that we remember. I would say this that the somnambulistic housekeeper who finally incinerates the Manderley edifice has succeeded in keeping Rebecca alive for us; in our mind she will live her mysterious-adventurous life.

Finally, in the end, we cannot but give credit to Daphne Du Maurier for crafting this exquisite Gothic romance. The writing is excellent and effortless; you can see she was inspired the time she wrote it. So deftly she wielded the plot and placed her characters therein that you’d be left wondering at her creative potential and wishing one day, after years and years of perseverance, you too would think of something close it. Of course, it all dreams, the stuff we are made on, that cloud my eyes right now; nevertheless, I prefer to marinate myself in the salty-sustaining fluid of reverie and rest awhile in peace away from the demands of the world and its serious un-fictive ways. Building a glass palace may be a mark of weakness and escapism, but fiction always never fails in giving me the opportunity to superintend the building of one in the sprawling green grounds of my mind.