PMJ Book Club Discussion: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Updated: Dec 5, 2020
This is our first book club discussion for The Postmodern Journal Team. We may do our future club discussions differently, but we thought we'd try out this format first thing. Let us know in the comments which format you'd like to see our future club discussions in.
We hope you enjoy reading our thoughts on Rebecca and that maybe you'll join us for our next book club discussion.
- J.E Stanway, Editor of The Postmodern Journal
1. What were your initial thoughts going into the novel? Did you have a good idea of what the story would be?
J.E: "Because I watched the 2020 film before reading the novel (and looked up the book spoilers well before that), I already knew where the plot was heading. Nevertheless, I never expected du Maurier's gorgeous writing style. Some of her prose is so beautiful that it almost makes the story feel that much more ominous because the romance in the novel could have been written so differently."
Kathryn: "I had high expectations of this novel, knowing it was many people’s favorite and that it was compared to Jane Eyre. However, I knew next to nothing about the story, which I actually preferred. I was initially confused within the first couple of chapters but felt immediately entranced by Du Maurier’s beautiful writing style."
Addison: "I had already seen the 2020 film before reading the book, so I had a good idea of what would happen. I had heard that it stayed pretty accurate to the original, but I was curious to see what it would be like to experience the story in the form of a novel, rather than a film. I expected it to be quite suspenseful and well written."
M.T: "I really didn't know what to expect going into the novel. I hadn't heard of Rebecca until I saw the trailer for the film on Instagram one day. After I found out that the film was based on a novel, I did some research and found out that the novel was based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë. I wasn't sure exactly how closely the two plots were related, but this and the trailer gave me a general idea of what was coming."
2. Maxim de Winter is a very morally grey character. What was your first impression of him, and were you able to be on his side towards the end?
J.E: "I had a very difficult time liking Maxim, even well before you learn that he murdered Rebecca. I found his treatment toward the second Mrs. de Winter to be insulting at best, frequently referring to her as "a little idiot." He never treats her as his equal in marriage, but rather speaks to her like a dominating father figure. As much as I'm all for age gaps in a marriage, I had a hard time rooting for Maxim in this relationship. I had a hard time believing in him toward the end."
Kathryn: "My first impression of him was that he seemed distant and unattainable, which actually didn’t change much throughout the book. He did have his charm, which definitely felt similar to Jane Eyre’s Mr. Rochester, but I still couldn’t bring myself to side with him."
Addison: "My first impression of him in the book was that he was an iconic masculine lead of old Hollywood. The gruff mannerisms, matter-of-fact speech, and mysterious backstory are all so typical of male leads in films from the 30s and 40s. I kept picturing Humphrey Bogart, with his stiff radio voice and rumpled brow. I would not say that I was on his side near the end; I can’t really condone murder. However, I did sympathize with him. Hearing his story of all those miserable years married to Rebecca and what was essentially emotional abuse, I felt so sorry for him and his situation that seemed inescapable. It was so sad to realize that he had never been happy from the moment he married her, and it made me wish for him and the new Mrs. de Winter to succeed in their marriage. She is certainly so different from Rebecca."
M.T: "I honestly wasn't really enjoying the novel until Maxim entered. My first impression of him was that I was going to like him very much. I was so happy when I heard what the age gap was between him and his new fiancé that I shrieked. I always love this type of literary "hero" because they are not too overly romantic. It takes a special type of woman to fall for them, and I tend to relate to these women and also fall for them myself. I was still able to be on his side towards the end. I think being invested in his character from the beginning was a big help in this regard."
3. The murder and cover-up of Rebecca is an emotionally confusing plot point. Did you have a hard time sympathizing with the de Winters, or did you think that Rebecca got what she deserved?
J.E: "As we find out in the story, Rebecca was practically a sociopath. It's understandable how her actions would have drawn someone to desperate action, but there was a line in the book that made me wonder how much of the marriage was her fault. Maxim remarks that he almost killed Rebecca right after they were married when she began telling him all the terrible things she had done. At that point, she hadn't done anything to Maxim, so it begs the question - was Maxim really the victim in this marriage?"
Kathryn: "For me, this isn’t a conflict. I can see why Maxim hated Rebecca and wanted her gone, but murder is murder. If he was that unhappy, he should’ve separated from her instead of worrying about what the public would think. And for the second Mrs. de Winter, it just seems too easy to forgive her husband just because she doesn’t have the hanging dread that he doesn’t love her anymore."
Addison: "As I said before, I cannot excuse murder. It's horrible that it happened that way. Rebecca was a cruel and brazen person and no doubt very hard to live with. I understand how Maxim must have felt; how it must have seemed that killing her was the only way to escape. Though it was a terrible thing to do, Rebecca is certainly still the villain of the story. I don't excuse the de Winters, but I do understand their actions, and they make for a very interesting novel. Imperfect humans, surrounded by terrible deeds and cruel people, often do terrible things themselves."
M.T: "I was surprised by only one major plot twist in this story, and that was the fact that Rebecca was murdered. I had my suspicions that Rebecca wasn't the best person throughout the novel, but this still came as sort of a shock. I was able to quickly adjust to this idea and not feel any resentment toward the killer, however, because I did ultimately feel like Rebecca got what she deserved. While murder is never really justified, Rebecca was such a terrible person that I could understand the desire to have her gone and not feel sorry that she was."
4. What is your opinion of the second Mrs. de Winter? Did you find her character to be too weak, or do you think her innocence was to her benefit?
J.E: "I believe she needed to gain more of a backbone, and, honestly, I couldn't really tell what her personality was. She had no interests beyond Maxim, which is concerning for a young woman who has little experience in life."
Kathryn: "I remember multiple times saying to myself I wish she had more of a backbone. There’s nothing wrong with innocence, but even innocent people can see red flags and can stand up for themselves."
Addison: "I thought her character was perfectly natural. I did not think her too weak, nor was she too bold near the end. I think in the context of everything that was happening to her, and all so quickly, her soft-spoken nature and meek attitude made perfect sense. I don’t blame her for not wanting to cause a fuss around Manderley and get in Danvers’ way. And Maxim was a strange, intimidating person whom I wouldn’t want to provoke further than she did at certain points in the story. The whole world she found herself transplanted into was completely unknown to her, and she was simply trying to navigate her way through the best she could."
M.T: "I don't think I've ever related to a character more than the second Mrs. de Winter. I didn't find her character to be too weak, because her innocence was so relatable and understandable given her situation in the story. I did find myself feeling at times she was a bit too much of a pushover when it came to taking control of her new home, but then again I'd be the same way."
5. Mrs. de Winter wasn't given a name, because Daphne du Maurier couldn't come up with one that fit the story. How do you think this decision affected the overall story? Would Rebecca's impact be as strong if Mrs. de Winter had a name?
J.E: "Rebecca's presence in the novel is almost overwhelming. She has no dialogue, there aren't any flashback scenes, but she is still the main character of the book. The very fact that our so-called main character doesn't have a name just reiterates that fact. I believe if Mrs. de Winter had been given a name, Rebecca's presence would not have been nearly as effective and all-encompassing."
Kathryn: "I don’t believe it would. It’s one of those things that can be left up to the readers, which I admire. I prefer the mystery of our heroine's name, and it definitely gives Rebecca a larger presence that she seems to demand."
Addison: "I think the decision to not give her a name, though it makes book club discussions quite complicated, was brilliant. I think it emphasizes the bizarre, suspenseful tone of the novel. It also makes the reader feel the protagonist shrinking into the shadow of Rebecca just as much as she does. Hearing other characters say her name could’ve made her insecurities seem not quite as valid. You start to wince at the mention of her name and all that it stands for, and all the while Mrs. de Winter struggling with her own identity and sense of worth."
M.T: "I loved that the main character wasn't given a name because of how much I related to her. I could see myself being her quite easily. However, I don't think this decision affected the overall story. Rebecca's impact would be no less strong if Mrs. de Winter had a name."
6. What were the highlights of the book for you? Favorite scenes, characters, quotes, etc?
J.E: "Frank was the highlight for me; he's so loyal and caring. Despite his suspicions towards Maxim, he never abandons him. He was also Mrs. de Winter's ally, which enabled her to settle into Manderley without feeling totally alone."
Kathryn: "The opening line, 'I dreamt I went to Manderley again.' That may be the only quote I will ever remember from this book. At first glance, it’s such a dreamy sentence, until after reading the story and realizing how haunting it sounds. It’s an epic introduction. As far as scenes go, I couldn’t help but fall in love with the car rides in Monte Carlo. I can’t say I have a favorite character, though."
Addison: "I think some of my favorite parts of the book were those with Beatrice. I really grew to like her as a character. Something about her honesty and kind heart was very endearing in the midst of so many who were often unpredictable or menacing. I think the most gripping and well-written parts of the novel were the scenes between Mrs. Danvers and Mrs. de Winter. She is the embodiment of resentful pride, and with her presence comes the constant reminder of Rebecca. I think it is amazing how du Maurier wrote these scenes and conveyed so much fear and dread, even though they just consist of two women interacting in a big house. It is a testament to the power of descriptive writing and context."
M.T: "My favorite scene in the book was Maxim's proposal. I love how casual he was about asking the question and how he just waited for her answer while feeding her fruit as she sat there making her decision. Maxim was my favorite character by far even though he was far from perfection. My favorite quote would have to be the opening sentence, 'I dreamt I went to Manderley again.' I love that they start right off with words that show that the main character will be looking back through the years with this story. Once you finish the novel, you realize the reason why she is at Manderley no longer."
7. What is your overall opinion of this novel?
J.E: "I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I wasn't really in the headspace for it (total mood reader right here), so my opinion of it will most likely increase over time. It was interesting, atmospheric, hard to read at times (in a good way), and overall a very intelligent story. As a fan of gothic fiction, I feel this book rings incredibly true to its genre. If I had to rate it out of 10, it would fall between a 7.5-8 on the scale."
Kathryn: "I think that it’s a modern classic masterpiece. However, to me, it’s not really a romance story; there may be a message about love, but it’s interwoven with the idea about the hold a person can have over us. I found it to be intellectually challenging, and I loved that aspect of it."
Addison: "It is chilling, fascinating, and unforgettable. The story is one that will never be forgotten by any who reads it; it is one of those iconic books that brings to mind imagery and deep emotion rather than simple words and story beats."
M.T: "I'm so happy to have found this novel. It's so refreshing whenever you find a story where you can relate to a character so completely. I'm so proud of myself for being able to guess so many of the plot points without the aid of the film. I love that this novel has similarities to Jane Eyre and yet is still its own thing entirely. It's a captivating read that leaves you wanting more."
We all highly recommend Rebecca to our readers. Let us know in the comments what you thought of this fantastic novel!
The Postmodern Journal Team