I Discovered I’m Ambivalent About Daphne


Had Simon and Polly not hosted Discovery Daphne this month, I am not sure I would have ever picked her up. I have already told that story, but even setting aside my unfounded anti-Daphne bias from high school I am not sure I would have ever gotten around to her.

If you would have asked me after Hungry Hill–my first du Maurier which I finished earlier this month–I don’t think I would have been too positive about her.  Certainly nothing wrong with Hungry Hill. A perfectly acceptable and readable multi-generational family tale. But also nothing that made much of an impression.

So how do I feel now that I have finished Rebecca? Well, at the risk of annoying lots of readers and bloggers whose reading tastes I respect and often share, I’m left wondering what all the fuss is about. My reactions as I experienced them (and spoilers galore):

1. I almost gave up three different times trying to get through the first ten pages. Something overly flowery or impressionistic, or something I couldn’t ever put my finger on. It wasn’t until the unnamed narrator (let’s call her Miss Narrator) mentioned Mrs. Van Hopper that I began to feel like I may want to continue.

2. My interest deepened as I began to read more about Miss Narrator’s role as a paid companion to the rich American Mrs. Van Hopper. It felt promising. Like she was going to break free from her depressing future. And when she started to be courted by Mr. de Winter I started to care about her and what happened to her.

3. There was a scene where Miss N and Mr. de Winter are riding about the coast in his car. Something in this scene struck a chord with me that made me glimpse some part of my past and gave me a kind of happy/sad nostolgic groove.

4. And I certainly got caught up in the excitement of Miss N marrying Mr. de Winter and leaving her drudgery behind her. But my joy turned to annoyance when she gets to Manderly and seems completely incapable of adjusting to her new situation. Sure, a young twenty-something is going to be clueless about many things about being in a relationship with a man 20 years her senior. But I feel like a character like Miss N who was making her way in the world as a paid companion of rich gentleladies would  have better perspective on the ways of society. She certainly seemed perceptive enough when it came to the follies of Mrs. Van Hopper’s social climbing. And her frequent daydreams about what she thought people thought of her certainly indicated that she was perceptive, yet she seemed utterly clueless about how to steel herself against the situation. I guess maybe I am blaming the victim, but it annoyed me nonetheless.

5. I also felt like Miss N should have been more up to the challenge of her situation at Manderly given that she could have still been at the beck and call of Mrs. Van Hopper.

6. Everyone’s Rebecca obssession was just way too over the top. Rebecca this, Rebecca that. Yeah we get it Daphne, you want us to understand how fantastic Rebecca was. My annoyance was only exacerbated by the fact that millions of pages later du Maurier lets us know that Rebecca was actually a big ol’ bitch of a liar. And I get the fact that Miss N’s problem was that she projected way too much of her own insecurities on both Max and the others who did (or seemed to) worship Rebecca.

7. Despite all of her imagined scenarios about what people thought, Miss N takes way too much at face value. After having experienced a bit of life in Monte Carlo, did it never occur to her that Mrs Danvers was overstepping her bounds in a million different ways? I am not saying Miss N should have had the courage to tell Mrs D to go fuck off but she could have at least imagined that scenario. God knows she imagined everything else.

7a. And why in the world would she take Mrs. Danvers’ advice about what to wear for the fancy dress ball. She knew how freaky deaky Mrs D was by that point, why in the world would she listen to her at that point.

8. At some point when I figured out something in the plot sooner than I was probably supposed to, I did skim about 30 pages or so until it actually happened. I wish I could remember what the plot point was…

9. I should also admit, however, that once Rebecca’s body was found I did find it to be quite the page turner until the end of the book.

10. Why are we supposed to accept that Frank, Miss N and the Colonel are all okey dokey with the fact that Max killed Rebecca? Really? Max didn’t know she had terminal cancer when he killed her so even after we learn that fact it doesn’t exonerate him. at all

11. I did enjoy the ups and downs of the investigation, vacillating between wanting Max to get caught and wanting him to get away with it.

12. Are we supposed to feel something when Manderly goes up in flames? Dude, you just got away with murder, a torched house seems like a small price to pay. It would have been better if the deranged Lesbianic Mrs Danvers dressed as Rebecca had slit your throat and then set the place on fire. Or she could have made Miss N dress as Rebecca, made out with her, and then forced her to kill Max. I mean, you want creepy, gothic? Lets really make it a Halloween mess up in there.

As you can see there were a few things about the book I enjoyed but the annoying bits kind of neutralize them. In the end my overall feeling is ambivalence. I think I would  have to be pretty bored to pick up another du Maurier. Just not my cup of tea.

10 thoughts on “I Discovered I’m Ambivalent About Daphne

  1. Laura October 30, 2011 / 4:57 pm

    I love this! I sort of had to suspend disbelief but having done so, enjoyed Rebecca.

    Whatever you do, don't read My Cousin Rachel. It's the same story, with dudes, and frustrated me no end.


  2. betsy October 30, 2011 / 7:57 pm

    I would have to disagree with Laura. I think “My Cousin Rachel” is a better and more memorable book than “Rebecca”. And sadder. The rest of Du Maurier's books were forgettable. I would re-read “My Cousin”- but none of the rest.


  3. StuckInABook October 30, 2011 / 9:34 pm

    Oh Thomas, I have rarely been more surprised and disappointed by a blog review… I am shocked that you didn't love Rebecca, it has made me completely incapable of ever recommending a book to you again. It just doesn't make sense, given what I thought I knew about your taste!

    The moment you discover that Rebecca had cancer, and thus that she had still been in control all along, wanting him to kill her… chilling.

    My Cousin Rachel is good, but if you don't like Rebecca much, you'll loathe My Cousin Rachel.


  4. Karen K. October 30, 2011 / 10:13 pm

    I love Rebecca, but I first saw a TV adaptation (and then read the book) when I was 13, so I guess I will always sympathize with how young and scared the narrator was, and how little self-esteem she had. I'm now old enough to be her mother, so I'd definitely want to kick Mrs. Danvers' ass.

    It's true, though, they are all pretty horrible people for wanting Maxim to get away with it.

    I did read My Cousin Rachel recently, and I think it's a bit more ambiguous, but I did find the main character's naivete a bit unbelievable. I still got caught up in the story. However, I found Jamaica Inn to be hugely disappointing. I haven't given up on du Maurier yet, will still give her another try. She did write some amazingly macabre short stories including The Birds and Don't Look Now which are excellent. NYRB Classics has a good collection.


  5. harriet October 31, 2011 / 4:02 am

    I love Rebecca but I also loved your review — it's always refreshing to see someone being honest, even if you don't actually agree with them, and so many people have gushed about the novel that a different point of view is entertaining, to say the least. I also think My Cousin Rachel is a great novel but I'm guessing Daphne just isn't your cup of tea so why waste any more time on her?


  6. Desperate Reader October 31, 2011 / 5:08 am

    At the risk of upsetting Simon I'm going to admit I've never got into Daphne. I've been told umpteen times how much I'd enjoy 'Jamaica Inn' or 'Frenchman's Creek', thought 'The Parasites' sounded just my cup of tea – and failed with all of them.

    My problem is that the books sound great, I start them and read 20 or 30 perfectly satisfactory pages – and then never pick them up again. I need to finish at least one book before I can put her behind me but increasingly it feels like a chore – though who knows, it might be that if I did finish one I might love it.


  7. Steph October 31, 2011 / 9:54 am

    I skimmed most of this post because I still have hopes that I will read Rebecca one of these days… but like you, I too have been thwarted by the overly flowery language every time I try it (twice now). I guess I'll have to be in a particular mood (what that is, I'm not sure!) if I'm ever going to finish that book!


  8. Thomas at My Porch November 1, 2011 / 5:59 pm

    Laura: I think if I had a better understanding of the kind of book I was about to read I might have been more successful suspending my disbelief.

    Betsy: Forgettable doesn't seem like a strong endorsement.

    Simon: In time I trust you will forgive me my transgressions.

    Karen: I think I have given up on du Maurier. Maybe I will check out the film.

    Harriet: I think you are right, that it just came down to not quite being my cup of tea.

    Hayley: Nice to know I may not be alone.

    Steph: It will be interesting to see what you think when you do get around to it.


  9. Jessica November 10, 2011 / 4:30 pm

    Its worth giving her short stories a go as I think she shines more in those.

    However on Rebecca, I loved it but I think I saw it differently to alot of people as I thought that the unnamed narrater ended up in a life not worth living, I certainly didnt see it as any kind of love story. I thought it was interesting how she started the novel as a companion to a rich old lady abroad and ended the novel as a companion (cos there was no way they were having sex) to a rich old man abroad.


  10. Relish November 12, 2011 / 4:13 pm

    I haven't read enough Du Maurier yet to comment however … since others people have suggested alternatives above, I have heard that her other books are quite different to Rebecca (which, incidentally, I loved) which you might enjoy? Particular the short stories which I bought myself as a treat the other day.

    I had a shot at a review of this classic as well and I have to admit that I did get rather frustrated with our spineless 'Miss N' at times :-D .. Get a grip woman!!!


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