Oh, Rebecca, how you are a prime example of a book that can be seen from very different viewpoints at different stages in life. I read this book over and over in my teens and early 20s, and thought it so terribly romantic.
But now? A few decades later? I love it as much as ever, but for entirely different reasons. I no longer think it's romantic, not in the least. In fact, it's a very fitting October book in that it's so creepy. Now, I am going to give some spoilers here, but since this was published in 1938, I'm not going to apologize for that.
We've got a young, naive, unnamed narrator who gets swept off her feet in Monte Carlo by Maxim de Winter. The narrator is alone in the world, stuck in the role of paid companion to an irritating American busybody. Maxim seems dashing, and yet troubled. But you know how it is with young girls being swept off their feet--they only see romance.
And that's where the true trouble of the book begins. She's so willing to view everything through the idea of true love that some of the odder aspects of Maxim's personality don't bother her. Or if they do, she finds ways to talk herself through them.
That becomes more difficult when they return to England from their honeymoon and move into his grand estate, Manderley. Here, our narrator cannot avoid what she sees as the real truth: that Maxim's first wife, drowned in a sailing accident the year before, still holds sway over servants and townspeople. Our narrator cannot compare to the magnificent Rebecca. And the longer she's at Manderley, the more she becomes convinced that Maxim doesn't really love her, he still loves Rebecca, and the marriage was a mistake.
It doesn't help that the head of the household staff, Mrs. Danvers, clearly was close to Rebecca and resents the intrusion of the newcomer--so much so that she nearly convinces the young girl to commit suicide at one point.
Um, what now? Romantic? No.
And I don't say that as a criticism.
But where it truly got creepy is when the narrator learned the truth: Rebecca's death was no accident. She had been, it turns out, a terrible wife, and Maxim finally killed her and sank her boat to make it look like an accident.
Our little narrator, rather than being horrified at his actions, is immediately relieved: "He does love me! He didn't love Rebecca!"
That is just so twisted.
I remember reading somewhere that author du Maurier was very disappointed at the way this book was touted as a romance. She felt--correctly--that it was not. It's a mystery of sorts, and a psychological study of some very troubled people and how they affect each other. So yes, I still love it, but not as a romance.