15 January 2011

Rebecca Readalong: Post #1 (Chapters 1-15)

I am currently participating in the Rebecca readalong hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey.  These are my thoughts on the first half of the book, and there may be some spoilers.

The first thing that really struck me about this book was how totally 19th century it feels.   Rebecca was published in 1938.  To put that in context as a literary historian, that is two decades after James Joyce began publishing the serialized version of Ulysses in 1918.  Rebecca was a wildly popular novel, but isn't often read by scholars (at least not for scholarly reasons:).  It just seems incredible to me as I read it that modernism in the literary world had happened, everything was different in terms of what novels could be and could do, and here is Rebecca, a novel that is perfectly in line with what the 19th century novel was all about: social mores, and class issues, with perfectly generic Gothic tropes (the uncanny domestics and vague sense of uneasiness that permeates novels as far back as Radcliffe).

Now, I'm not necessarily saying there is anything wrong with that.  But my first question as I read it was: Why are people still reading this? 

However, if I put my literary snobbery aside, I can see some of those reasons.  It is a really great example of Gothic literature.  I love those old Gothic novels (well, not Radcliffe, but I digress).  One common trope in Gothic lit is the uncanny domestic, or the scary servant, and Mrs. Danvers is terrifying with her skull-like features and creepy obsession with the deceased Rebecca. Also, the  labyrinthine Manderley is a great backdrop for and reflection of the narrator's internal confusion and unease.  Finally, there is the narrator herself, an innocent, unfamiliar with the lifestyle of the aristocracy that she has stumbled into, unprepared.  She is an effective narrator- but I don't like her.  Her lack of assertiveness and her lack of ability to "read" others is irritating to me. 

Finally there is the action in the novel.  It starts out with a bang, with the famous lines that tell us that eventually the narrator will go to Manderley and then leave again (talk about a spoiler), but then there aren't too many surprises through most of the first half.  If people read this because of its plotting and readability, I am hoping that picks up in the second half.  So, overall, my review so far isn't glowing, but I am still optimistic.  After all, this is still one of the most popular novels of all time- talk about hype- and the second half is already feeling more lively than the first.  So, here's to more mysteries being revealed.

7 comments:

  1. I was *forced* to read this as a freshman in high school. Now, I am an English teacher who teaches freshman Eng. and have no desire to teach it. But, I might give it another try someday. Or not. : )

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  2. @Mrs. DeRaps- Interesting. I've never heard anyone say they read it in school. The people I knew who had read it in grad school read it because they studied 19th and 20th century British literature and they were comparing it to other Gothic novels, etc. I'm not sure if I like it yet.

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  3. I hope it picks up for you! I read this in High School for ENglish and have never loved a book so much before. It was my first true favourite book - the first book I remember being blown away by and I still am, no matter that I have read it over 100 times probably. Can't wait to see what else you think of it

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  4. I enjoyed Rebecca, it definitely picks up in the second half, so hopefully it can redeem itself for you.

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  5. I'm starting to wonder about this one - a lot of posts seem to say that it's slow to start with but really gets going in the second half..but nobody who has previously read it ever says that! So I'm hoping it gets to such a pace later on that the memory of that drama eclipses the slow beginning...I'm also hoping that the narrator can learn to be a bit stronger - I do sympathise with her but I'm starting to find her habit of hiding around corners/behind doors when she hears anyone visiting more than a tad annoying!

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  6. I think it is interesting you say the narrator can not "read" people. Because it is what I thought often too: How could she have not seen this coming? And then something she could really not know is to be revealed.

    I think du Maurier used this to surprise us all even more.

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  7. I really like the points you raise about the 19th century feel of this novel. I ended up liking the book...it does pick up in the second half, honestly!

    P.S. I had never heard of this book being taught in high school either!

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I love your comments. Thanks for making me a happy blogger.

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