AP Senior English—3rd
May 16, 2012
Wild Child (Crazy Wife)
Rebecca, a gothic romance novel by Daphne du Maurier, is a special kind of novel in its
genre—it both follows the fads of this genre almost strictly, while deviating completely from
these aspects that are generally used in gothic romance novels. These deviations and twists are
what are wild in Rebecca. The most famous gothic romance novel would be Jane Eyre, by
Charlotte Bronte, and some major plot points include the concept of the former wife, hidden
away, that influences the lives of the living; a romance between an older man and a younger
woman; and a mansion that is burned to the ground. Rebecca contains all of these. Rebecca,
however, is wild in the sense that the twists in the mystery are not only unexpected, but are
unheard of. That is why this novel was a bestseller in the 1930s, when it was published.
The narrator, the heroine, is nameless, and we know that she married a rich man called
Maxim de Winters, and that their home has burned to the ground, leaving them destitute.
Through flashbacks, we learn that the heroine met Maxim in Monte Carlo, married him, but
never knew whether or not he truly loved her—her employer tells her that he only married her
because he could not stand being alone. This doubt, along with talk of his late wife, Rebecca,
causes her to see herself as unworthy and inferior. Rebecca seemed perfect—clever, charming,
beautiful, and powerful. The heroine had, according to her, none of those qualities. When she
arrives at her new home, traces of the last mistress remain; including a shrine devoted to
Rebecca, kept by the obsessed housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. In fact, she continually tries to
undermine Maxim’s second marriage; she despises the new mistress and takes advantage of the
narrator’s inability to assert herself as the new Mrs. de Winter. She even tries to convince her of
suicide, saying “Why don’t you go? We none of us want you. He doesn't want you, he never did.
He can't forget her. He wants to be alone in the house again, with her. It's you that ought to be
lying there in the church crypt, not her. It's you who ought to be dead, not Mrs. de Winter” (246).
Mrs. Danvers keeps the spirit of Rebecca alive in the Manderley estate, and this spirit keeps the
heroine from realizing Maxim’s love for her.
The wild aspects of this novel come from the unnatural ways that du Maurier wrote the
novel, as well as the twists. The fact that the main character, the narrator, is nameless
dehumanizes her and dissolves her identity. Indeed, the search for her identity, and the strange
integration of Rebecca’s, is a major theme of the novel. Rebecca’s presence in everyone’s
memories keeps her from becoming the new Mrs. de Winters. For most of the novel, the dead
Rebecca is more the mistress than the narrator is, and the fact that a dead character has more
precedence than the main character is wild.
Another crazy twist that really changes the entire book is the fact that for the majority of
the book, Rebecca is seen as perfect—the glamorous wife with a happy marriage—and Maxim is
interpreted as a man still in love with his dead wife. These two things lead to the insecurities that
the heroine faces throughout the novel—and she seems to fight a losing battle; however, the wild
twist that no one not only anticipated but was innovative in this line of storytelling was the fact
that Rebecca was not the perfect wife; in fact, she was quite the opposite: pure evil. While there
were plenty of clues throughout the book, the point of view of the narrator is narrow and in
denial—she hears the clues but never actually connects them. One clue is when she speaks to a
retarded man, who, through his simplicity, realizes Rebecca’s true nature. He says, “ Tall and
dark she was. She gave you the feeling of a snake. I seen her here with me own eyes. By night
she'd come” (154). This revelation along with others showed that the late Mrs. de Winters was
evil. The second innovation that was wild is the fact that she did not just drown, but was
murdered by Maxim. To believe that he loved Rebecca dearly for the majority of the book, only
to have the entire paradigm shattered with one confession, was incredibly unexpected. What
makes this wilder, though, is that readers realize how absolutely horrible Rebecca is to Maxim,
making the second-half of the book unheard of as well: a reverse detective story, where the
readers sympathize and root for the murderer—Maxim—and do not want him to be caught for
the murder of his evil wife. To his second wife, he explains, “‘‘You thought I killed her, loving
her? I hated her, I tell you, our marriage was a farce from the very first. She was vicious,
damnable, rotten through and through…Rebecca was incapable of love, of tenderness, of
decency. She was not even normal’” (269). Though the word of a murderer may be debated, the
clues throughout the novel allow for all the pieces of information to fit into place, arriving to the
conclusion of Maxim’s story. Yet another wild twist occurs when we find that Rebecca was
terminally ill and sterile, and wanted Maxim to murder her, so that she may not only get her swift
death, but that Maxim would be punished after her death once the murder was found out. Maxim
knows this, and says to his wife, when the murder seemed to be inevitable solved,
Her shadow between us all the time. Her damned shadow keeping us from one another.
How could I hold you like this, my darling, my little love, with the fear always in my
heart that this would happen? I remembered her eyes as she looked at me before she died.
I remembered that slow treacherous smile. She knew this would happen even then. She
knew she would win in the end (265).
Maxim and the narrator did finally live “happily” together—the terminal illness allowed for a
motive of suicide—but the price for eliminating Rebecca from their lives meant the burning of
Manderley, the estate that both Maxim and the narrator loved, despite their experiences there.
They were left destitute and scarred, but the end of the novel finds them healing.
Daphne du Maurier’s novel would not have been so famous if not for these wild twists
that were innovative in the gothic romance genre, as well as complex psychological applications
to the entire story. Within two years of publications, Alfred Hitchcock produced a film based on
the novel, which was nominated for Best Film in the Oscars in 1940. This immediate popularity
was due to the novelties that du Maurier invented in her novel. This plot is now seen almost in
every detective show and has impacted modern media quite a bit. The novel itself is still very
popular today, and this endurance of the tests of time demonstrates the novel and du Maurier’s