Friday, December 7, 2018

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's The Rebecca Notebook

The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1981
Format: Paperback, 180 Pages
Rating: ★★
To Buy

From first hearing of the abandoned estate to several failed attempts to finally glimpse the house, Menabilly captured Daphne's imagination. She would eventually sit for hours on the lawn, gazing at the boarded up house imagining what once was and what ghosts might lurk there still. The seeds for Rebecca were thus planted and came to fruition years later while stationed with her husband in Cairo. She mapped out her story, staring an unnamed heroine and her husband Henry and the ghost of his dead wife haunting them still. Du Maurier was inspired by Cornwall and Menabilly, but her inspiration came from her family as well. The lauded author and grandfather she never knew, George Du Maurier, to her father, the famous stage actor, Sir Gerald Du Maurier, to her "uncle" J.M. Barrie. She was surrounded by artistic genius and it almost seemed predestined that she would make a name for herself in her own right. But seeing her name in lights? That was a humbling experience for the author. She longed for the days when authors would disappear behind their work and let it speak for itself. Yet, if called upon to give her opinion, despite her caustic wit tearing other authors to shreds for doing so, she would give it, without censor. Daphne Du Maurier might be remembered most for Rebecca, but that's not all she was.

Years ago, when I rediscovered Daphne Du Maurier by stumbling on a hoard of books at my local used bookstore I took to the Internet to see what other works she had written that were no longer in wide release, especially in the United States. That is when I first heard of The Rebecca Notebook. Not only is Rebecca the seminal work of Du Maurier, but one of my most favorite books ever. Therefore I needed The Rebecca Notebook to get further insight into Du Maurier's masterpiece and was willing to pay the exorbitant shipping from England in order to learn more about one of my favorite books. So was it worth it? Yes and no. There are insights to be learned but with the "other memories" there is a lot of filler, which is saying something as this slim volume is only 180 pages. I felt that seeing as Du Maurier cherry-picked essays from her back catalog she should have stuck with pieces relating to Cornwall and the house that inspired Manderley, as "The House of Secrets" is a wonderful little piece showing the genesis of Rebecca and has the lyricism of her fiction, which is sadly absent in her non-fiction, making it clunky and often painful to read.

As for "The Rebecca Notebook" itself? It's interesting to see how she plotted her writing chapter by chapter, showing what big reveals needed to happen when with snatches of dialogue she had hoped to use. Yet at the same time I feel this only truly interesting to writers or lawyers. Why lawyers? Because Rebecca was at the heart of a plagiarism case and "The Rebecca Notebook" was brought forward as evidence for the defense. This fact makes me leery of the veracity of the notebook. I don't doubt that Du Maurier wrote Rebecca and it was all her own creation, but I do doubt the notebook... it's a bit too convenient to have a chapter by chapter breakdown of the book being questioned. Yes, it could be real, but it could also be fabricated. I know this might seem very cynical of me, but Du Maurier was talented but also, as evidenced in her writing, she was devious. So it's more a compliment then a criticism to say that she fabricated this entire notebook just to win a court case. As for the book that supposedly was similar to Rebecca? Edwina L. MacDonald's Blind Windows? I'd really like to get my hands on a copy to see for myself the similarities but the book is lost to the mists of time.

Yet for how technical "The Rebecca Notebook" is and how depressing Rebecca's original "Epilogue" with the second Mrs. de Winter and Maxim, originally called Henry, were disfigured by a car accident, there was a very interesting reveal. Between these two pieces you see that Du Maurier had originally planned Mrs. Danvers to be insignificant. She is almost irrelevant until they need her to dig out Rebecca's planner and show that Rebecca had an appointment in London on the day she died leading to the reveal that Rebecca was dying and her greatest fear was pain. While this is very important to the resolution of the story not having Mrs. Danvers looming over the second Mrs. de Winter the whole time makes Rebecca an entirely different book! That this mousy second wife would just accidentally choose the same portrait Rebecca did to emulate at the masquerade? That seems unlikely. To have Mrs. Danvers push here to do it? Evil genius! There's a reason Hitchcock took Mrs. Danvers even further to her fiery end, it's because he knew that she is the linchpin that holds Rebecca together. Of course I disagree with what he did, but that doesn't mean he wasn't right in the significance of this one character.

As for the filler that makes up the rest of The Rebecca Notebook? In my mind it's best avoided. It's not just the fact that Du Maurier isn't the best writer when it comes to nonfiction, it's that she sometimes reveals things you really didn't want to know. A theme she keeps returning to is her family, from the more direct tales about her grandfather and father, "The Young George du Maurier" and "The Matinee Idol" respectively, to her ideas on love and the importance of family in "Romantic Love" and even to what it is like to lose love in "Death and Widowhood." While she tries to paint it as a lovely family unit, it's really a fucked up family unit. Seeing as she views Emily Bronte dying months after her brother Branwell from a cold she caught at his funeral romantic and just, because obviously Emily couldn't live without her "genius" brother, an opinion only held by Du Maurier I might add, gives you a hint at where she's going. And yes, she's going straight towards incest. And it's interesting to point out here that the only time she refers to it directly and not obliquely she refers to it as something "denied to us." Like we'd all be clamoring like Lannisters if it wasn't a sin? Eww. Just no.

Even putting aside the whole yeah incest, she has a lot of politically incorrect views. Yes, you could say she's a product of her time, but her stance against religion would have been viewed divisive even in it's day. As for comparing the stigma of widowhood as similar to the oppression suffered by people of color, I'm going to pretend I never read that. It's just SO offensive I can't even and that's why I've now categorized her as one of my favorite authors with reservations. I have many authors on this list, Lewis Carroll is one because he was a pedophile. J.M. Barrie, interestingly enough the adoptive father of Daphne's cousins, is another pedophile. Daphne's cousin Michael Llewelyn Davies, the favorite of Barrie's, committed suicide, which should easily prove the whole pedophile charge to any doubters. But my problem is I had already read and fallen in love with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Peter Pan, and Rebecca long before I learned anything of these authors personal lives. And unlike authors like Orson Scott Card and the dog whistles peppered in his writing, these authors work stands apart. You wouldn't know anything about the ick factor of their lives unless you read up on them, or in the case of Du Maurier, read their non-fiction. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. But I prefer in the end to be an informed reader.


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