Picturing Rebecca

Friday, 18 May 2012


I was planning on re-reading Daphne du Maurier's classic Gothic novel, Rebecca, this weekend, but it looks like I'll be working instead. Never mind, it's good work. But since I can't enjoy the book this weekend, I felt like indulging with it in other ways today. One of the most remarkable things about Rebecca is that it's a book about a character we never actually get to 'meet', as she's dead right from the beginning of the story. Nevertheless, Rebecca the character fascinates the reader, the narrator and all the other characters in the book, despite hovering on the margins of the text like a ghost. She is one of the most alluring non-characters to appear in print, and by the end of the book, you feel as if you both know her well and that she's a complete mystery.

Rebecca is one of those fictional beings whom I always want to 'picture': whenever I re-read the novel, I imagine her scent, her clothes, her face, her hair, her mannerisms. And yet, I care nothing about the real 'heroine' of the story: the second, unnamed Mrs de Winter who marries Rebecca's husband, Maxim. Even though the second wife is the supposedly 'good' character, while the first wife is cast as the 'villain', Rebecca remains the most vital and interesting character who captures your attention and sympathy the most. I keep thinking her real story lies buried somewhere in the novel, waiting for the reader to tease it out through the imagination. I usually try to tease it out with words, but today, I imagined Rebecca through images. If you want to know why there is so much sea and water imagery here, especially the first image, Ghostly Galleon, which perfectly summarises Rebecca for me, you'll have to read the book - I promise, it's great. I hope you like the way I 'saw' Rebecca (image sources are below each set) ...


: : Vivien Leigh : : English Channel : :


: : Screen-grab from the film Cracks : : Amelia Rope Pale Lime and Sea Salt Milk Chocolate Bar : : White azaleas : : Screen-grab from the film Atonement : : Ael Mat Eau de Toilette by Lostmarc'h : :


: : Screen-grab from the film Cracks : : 'The Sea' (1963) by L.S. Lowry : : Screen-grab from the film Angel : :


: : English Breakfast Tea : : Royal Albert Blue Polka Vintage Tea for Two Set : : Blodwen Teal Cwlwm Throw : :


: : “Bound Hand with Lover’s Eye” by Fatima Ronquillo : : Screen-grab from the film Angel : : Take me back : :

P. S. I also wrote an article on Pushkin's Eugene Onegin for the Australian Ballet, which was a lot of fun. Have a great weekend everyone!


Nit said...

My grandmother had an extraordinary love for this book (and Zweig's '24 hours in the life of a woman') but I've never managed to read it (one of those things I suppose that I'll have to remedy really soon), and she always talked about Rebecca too; as you say, the "good wife" never really interested her XD

I really like how you *picture* your thoughts about the book.

Kate said...

I'm envious of Nit having Rebecca as a new read. I agree absolutely that it's Rebecca who compels throughout: I was fascinated with her when I first read it as an early teen. Your illustrative images are so lovely together and apart. And beautiful Vivien Leigh. sigh. Off to read your piece on Pushkin...

cluelesspixie said...

When re-reading the book, I had been so absolutely convinced that Rebecca actually "appears" somewhere in the story, that I remember feeling cheated afterwards - I had this vivid image of Rebecca walking the grounds of Manderlay with no other character in sight!

Ivana said...

I love this book! And movie too ;)

T C said...

I`d like to read it, seems it would be a good way to spend this weekend. Thank you for sharing!

Sally said...

Agree, such an evocative book. Although as I read the novel (and then saw the film) when I was quite young, it was Mrs. Danvers who haunted me the most. Shudder!

Stephanie said...

This is beautiful...and so perfect.

When I write (just for fun, sometimes) I always find pictures of characters and places, images that are close to what I imagine them to look like. It always helps the characters become more real to me. : )

Have a great weekend!

Allie said...

This is so beautiful

Kelly said...

Beautiful post, and now I want to go back and re-read the book this summer. It's been a long, long time, and honestly it's the movie, and Joan Fontaine that sticks most in my head. But I do remember that wonderful first sentence.

Sundari said...

You know it's interesting how the 'non-character' or the absent character seems to be captivating. I can definitely relate to that on a personal level.
I haven't read (or even heard of, until just now) this book. Maybe this is what Laura Marling's song 'Rebecca' refers to?

A said...

Putting this on my to read list. :)

Amelia said...

Putting this on my to read list.

─░pek said...

Rebecca has been on my to-read list since forever. Everybody says that it's such a well written and powerful book and after your review and beautiful post, I guess I won't be delaying it any longer. As soon as I finish my book, come to me Rebecca...

My feelings about the movie Angel is terribly mixed, by the way. I can never decide if I liked the movie or not.

Luis said...

Hermoso blog (Beautiful blog)

Becca said...

I was named after Rebecca, but actually have never read it. It's been on my list for years but I keep putting it off. This post has re-kindled my motivation!

B said...

Goodness, Hila, it has been such a long time since I visited your blog. But what a pleasure it is to be reading you again. Rebecca is one of my favourites; it is just spectacular on so many levels. Personally, I always identified very closely with the second Mrs de Winter and hers was the story that I cared about the most. The beginning of the book is utterly tragic - I mean, how she and Max live now. She is trapped, her life is somehow empty, and that is a thought that terrifies me. Anyway, I love your image collection; it does a wonderful job of capturing the essence of Rebecca's character. Very sensual and decadent, with a certain hint of longing.

Hila said...

Nit: the 'good' wife was a such a shadow of a character, I always thought Rebecca was far more interesting.

Kate: I was fascinated by her too. And I know what you mean about being jealous of Nit - I'd love to re-read this book with fresh eyes, like someone who has never read it before.

cluelesspixie: That's one of the best things about the book - the way it convinces you that Rebecca 'appears', but never actually materialises her in the pages.

Ivana: I loved the movie too - Laurence Olivier was the perfect Maxim.

TC: It's a great way to spend the weekend, in my opinion :)

Sally: oh she was totally creepy - agreed, shudder!

Stephanie: I find that good characters almost demand you picture them and give them an expansive 'life'.

Allie: thanks!

Kelly: Joan Fontaine did such a good job of acting the role of the second wife as an innocent, without making her seem too insipid.

Sundari: I honestly have no idea if the song refers to this book - I wonder if it does, it would be great to find out. I haven't listened to it, so maybe I should.

Amelia: I hope you enjoy it :)

Ipek: hmm, I didn't totally love Angel, but I did like it. I think if you approach it as a satire, it makes more sense.

Luis: thank you!

Becca: oh really? That's so great, I wish I were named after a famous literary character.

B: I'm so sorry, it's been a long time since I've visited yours too - I've been so busy these days. I did feel very sorry for the second Mrs de Winter, but she didn't fascinate me like Rebecca. What interested me about the character of Rebecca is the way her strength and lack of stereotypical femininity is demonised, but you still get a sense that somewhere is a deeper woman whose real story hasn't been told. But yes, I can definitely understand what you're saying about the second wife being trapped, and the tragedy of her own life.

odessa said...

I'll definitely add this to my reading list. Thanks for the intro!

Hila said...

Odessa: Please do tell me what you think of it when you read it, I'd love to know!

Gisela said...

It is one of my favorite stories!

Love this post :-)


Hila said...

Gisela: Thanks, it was fun to compile :)