The Narrator of de Maurier's Story

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1734

No one could ever reasonably question the popularity of British romance and mystery writer Daphne du Maurier. An author who sells books in the millions is rare enough, but her fans took their enthusiasm beyond simple purchases. In an age before the internet made conversing with fellow enthusiasts as easy...

(The entire section contains 6978 words.)

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No one could ever reasonably question the popularity of British romance and mystery writer Daphne du Maurier. An author who sells books in the millions is rare enough, but her fans took their enthusiasm beyond simple purchases. In an age before the internet made conversing with fellow enthusiasts as easy as sitting down at a keyboard, there were several societies devoted to her, like the fan clubs that movie stars tend to attract. Most of this cult of du Maurier centers around one book: her 1938 neo-Romance, Rebecca. The book attracts new fans every year, with thoughtful readers of literature beaming about how hard they found it, after the last page, to shake off their involvement in the lives of the dashing Maxim de Winter, the repressed Mrs. Danvers, catty Bee, and all of the rest of the larger-than-life characters who roam the halls of Manderley.

It is tempting to give in to du Maurier, to congratulate her posthumously for creating a world that has lasted over a half of a century. There is, however, another side of the argument, a side that would describe Rebecca as nothing more than a work of really competent trash, which owes its popularity to its appeal to the least common denominator in literary tastes. To critics of this inclination, the book's continuing popularity is no sign of the author's talent, but of her willingness to corrupt her considerable skills to be all things to all people, ending up with nothing particular to say.

It is an age-old debate: is it mere snobbery to say that what sells is trash, or is it delusional to say that what sells is art? One way or the other, in the case of Rebecca, it seems impossible to separate the book's overwhelming popularity from its merit.

The question becomes even more compelling when the focus of inquiry is narrowed to one particular aspect of the book, such as du Maurier's handling of the narrator. For the first third of the book, she has no name, a mystery that the author is clearly willing to go out of her way to preserve. It is not as if there are no opportunities to have the character's name revealed in dialog, or in a memory of something once said to her, or any of the countless other tricks that authors use to reveal such information. Du Maurier knows that she is teasing readers about it, and she makes her teasing quite clear. "But my name was on the envelope," the narrator says of a letter de Winter sends her in chapter 3, "and spelled correctly, an unusual thing." This story takes the time to draw attention to something, without going on to say what that something is.

Artistically, this coy act should not work. It usually does not. Beginning writers often try leaving out specific details about crucial characters, hoping that, without names or faces, it will be easier for readers to relate to the characters, as if anonymity is the same thing as universality. Usually, avoiding the obvious just results in weak writing because readers tend to feel less, not more, involved when details are left out. The book may work because of this technique, or it might work in spite of it. The general rule against obscurity just might be wrong, but anyone who has read much amateurish writing that tries to stir up suspense by leaving out facts will swear that it is right. The other two likely explanations are difficult to unwrap from one another: either du Maurier just happened to find that one-in-a-million recipe of the precise amount of characterization needed, without one atom over, or else readers are willing to let her get away with underwriting her main character because the rest of the book is just so much fun.

There is plenty of reason to believe the first option, the one about du Maurier's precision in molding a credible human being of the second Mrs. de Winter. It is, after all, not as if the character is entirely left up to readers' imaginations. Some facts are given about her. She is supposed to have artistic talent, although this is always brought up in the negative, in terms of the sketching that she has not been working at. She is young, as the other characters always point out, with short black hair and pale skin. At Monte Carlo, talking about her father, she thinks of herself as "so much of a schoolgirl still," which is an attitude readers see reflected in the way others behave around her.

The narrator's father, in fact, is considered by her to be her "secret property," but readers never really find out why. All that is explained is that she has told Maxim de Winter about her childhood, but the facts of that childhood, and what made it special, are not shared with the reader. A critical reader has to wonder why du Maurier chose to provide, as an indicator of the narrator's past life, only a shell of a father, without filling in the details. If readers feel that they know this narrator, then the author's work is done, but if they are being asked to accept the relationship between de Winter and the narrator as a standard father fixation, with stereotyped behaviors from a psychology text taking the place of true characterization, then the author has not done her job but is getting away with cheating. Throughout the book, details about Mrs. de Winter seem to indicate that she is oversimplified, an incomplete character type. Readers are not given enough facts to consider her as a person.

One more consideration makes it even more difficult to judge how well Daphne du Maurier has rendered this very important character: offsetting the lack of details provided is the full richness of her voice, which readers hear from the first page to the last. So well is the voice rendered, through word choices, sentence structure, and the nature of the specific details she chooses to dwell on, that it is easy to know her feelings about any particular issue mentioned, whether she explains her thoughts or not. In effect, the entire book is a trip taken from within her mind. There may not be much said about her past, nor is there much reflection on her own identity because she simply is not the introspective kind. If this is her intention, then du Maurier actually defines this character's personality by refusing to say much about it, by letting her exist in the present rather than being the sum of her past.

The other way that it is possible to say that the book's imprecision about this one character works would be to consider the narrator's place in the book as a whole. Whether it was du Maurier's intention or not, this character seems to take up just the right amount of place, proportionally, in the overall story. If one looks at Rebecca as a whole world, and not as the story of this one character, then too much about her might take away from another part of the story and throw the whole finely-tuned machine out of balance. For instance, there is obviously a balance between the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca, and the second, the book's narrator. More about the narrator and she might overshadow Rebecca; if more were said about Rebecca to keep her equal to the narrator, the secret of de Winter's feelings about her might fail to surprise. Knowing too much about the narrator might make her sympathetic, thereby making readers less likely to believe that de Winter could love Rebecca's memory more than his wife. More about her past could help readers decide whether her uneasiness about Rebecca is paranoia or legitimate fear, which would diminish the book's overall effect. This is not like most literature, which is character-driven; it is suspense. Just knowing the narrator's name could potentially wake readers out of the trance that du Maurier's writing casts so successfully, making the situation too real, even though the book relies on taking them away from common reality.

Rebecca's detractors call the book mechanical, pointing to the wooden characters and situations that could exist nowhere except Manderley. It is true that these characters are not filled in as great authors can do, not given lives of their own. They exist as tools. Mrs. Danvers, for instance, is unimaginable beyond her job in the book, which is to react to Maxim de Winter and his new wife. She could hardly be imagined with an existence outside of that setting because she has no real personality. This may be the author's intent in creating her; if so, it is not necessarily a well-chosen plan. Even Maxim de Winter, moody and tortured, is such a non-entity that readers, like the narrator, can ignore his shooting down a pregnant woman. What he does matters very little because he has such little substance.

The other characters may or may not be put together sketchily, but one cannot think of du Maurier as doing sloppy work in creating the narrator. She obviously chose to direct attention away from this character, rather than letting readers know who she is and what she thinks. Rebecca, the character, is a mystery because the narrator knows little about her and is too overwhelmed by the grandeur of Manderley to find out more. Rebecca the novel is effective to the extent that readers are just as willing to forget their questions about the new Mrs. de Winter.

Literature often relies on readers playing an active role, and the measure of Rebecca's success might just be found in how one defines "active." If being distracted, if having one's curiosity stifled and not fed, is active, then the book works as literature. On the other hand, there is much to be said for the charge that hiding Mrs. de Winter's personality is a trick, one that might be amusing but does not make for good, lasting fiction. Sales records do not establish a book's true value, but the continued admiration of wave after wave of fans just might be enough to prove that Daphne du Mau-rier's unorthodox presentation of Mrs. de Winter is effective.

Source: David Kelly, Critical Essay on Rebecca, in Novels for Students, The Gale Group, 2001.
Kelly is an instructor of creative writing and composition at two community colleges in Illinois.

Daphne du Maurier

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4771

During her long, distinguished career, Daphne du Maurier has tried her hand successfully at both fiction and nonfiction—biography, autobiography, historical romance, short stories and celebrations of place—but her auctorial reputation rests most firmly upon six romantic suspense novels whose plots stem from some crime or crimes. The novels are Jamaica Inn, Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek, My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat, and The Flight of the Falcon.

Central to the du Maurier tradition are sound, exciting, workable plots: an orphan seeks refuge in her aunt's home only to find it the center of a smuggling ring; a young wife lives under the shadow of her predecessor and of her husband's secret; a noblewoman abandons family responsibilities to become lover and cohort of a pirate; a youth falls in love with a distant relative who is not only his beloved cousin's widow but also a suspected poisoner; an Englishman exchanges identities with a Frenchman and lives his double's life for a time; and an aimless young man finds his long-lost brother who is engaged in what may be a diabolical scheme. All of these basic plots are thrilling, all allow for abundant complication and all offer good possibilities for quick pace and great suspense.

Though even so swift a summary of the plots reveals variety, there are elements of commonality shared by all six titles under discussion here. For critics, that commonality has sometimes been dismissed as "formula fiction," and this term (often perceived as demeaning) has contributed to some misapprehension of the skill with which the author combines formulaic elements with experiments in established literary forms, especially variations of the Bildungsroman, to create the freshness and innovation which account for so much of her appeal. Indeed, the many, many modern gothics which echo Rebecca are good evidence that du Maurier tends to set trends rather than to follow them.

Certainly, it is no disgrace either to establish or to follow a popular, even beloved, literary formula. Du Maurier has done both; she tends to capitalize on some very old, established patterns (some reaching back into folk literature)—the worried, self-conscious second wife, the dangerous dark-haired beauty, the ineffectual male seeking self-definition and power, the dark, mysterious male— and bend them to her will and to her skill.

The cultural images and symbols du Maurier employs in her romantic adventures are very closely allied with the cultural myths or themes which she explores. Rebecca, for instance, opens with one of English fiction's most famous lines, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." Manderley, the named house which has become so indispensable to modern gothic fiction, is a very important socio-cultural symbol in the novel, for it represents all the pleasures, perquisites, comfort and standing of the powerful upper class to which Maxim de Winter belongs. Manderley is Maxim's heritage both in fact and in symbol and he will do almost anything to protect it.

Similarly yet differently, Jamaica Inn is the central sociocultural symbol of the novel named after it. Normally, an inn represents a safe harbor for the weary traveler. Jamaica Inn, however, is an ironic symbol: there, plans for theft and bloodshed are laid; there, the spoils of shipwreckers (criminals of the lowest class) are stored. Not only the seat of criminal activity, the inn is also personally dangerous for Mary Yellan, the young woman who seeks refuge there. The emotional impact of both Manderley and Jamaica Inn is very great, for one represents a form of "the good life" any reader can recognize (and many desire) and the other represents all the false hopes and failed refuges most human beings encounter during the short journey between the cradle and the grave.

The cultural materials du Maurier most frequently employs in her romantic crime fiction also indicate elements of social convention. The British class system conflicting with the concept of upward mobility (for females via marriage; for males by assertion of control over lands and money); the idea that outside marriage a young woman has almost no identity; and the importance of retaining one's good name (no matter what reputation one deserves) are all central to these works. In Rebecca for example, Maxim de Winter resorts to extreme violence to preserve his reputation and it is the consensus among those of his peers privy to his secret that he acted properly in doing so. Mrs. de Winter and Mary Yellan desire upward mobility and believe that marriage is their vehicle to security and status. Philip Ashley, the narrator of My Cousin Rachel, genuinely mourns Ambrose, the cousin from whom he inherits a vast estate, yet Philip is aware that as the master of the family holding, he enjoys power and position which would have been unattainable in a secondary or even a shared mastery.

Beyond those socio-cultural images and symbols lie others, even more pervasive and more powerful than those based upon class, property and reputation. Du Maurier also explores universal problems which take on the aura of cultural myth. The difficulty of distinguishing between good and evil and the impossibility of purging certain kinds of guilt are important in almost every story. Mary Yellan nearly falls prey to a very wicked man because she mistakes cultural trappings for his real nature. Armino Donati (The Flight of the Falcon) wants to trust his brother's charm, poise, and attractiveness, but he suspects that vicious intent lies beneath Aldo's attractive exterior, and John, the protagonist-narrator of The Scapegoat, must learn that even the most crass codes of behavior can generate redemptive action.

Maxim de Winter not only hides his crime successfully but also involves his current wife and others in the concealment; he pays with years of misery, the loss of almost everything he sought to protect, yet guilt remains a constant in his life. Philip Ashley weighs the evidence against Rachel, his beloved, judges her—and lives out his years pondering his own guiltiness. Like Maxim de Winter, he has been both judge and jury; like Maxim, he must forever bear the memory and the weight of his actions.

The universal, mythically proportioned problems lying at the heart of du Maurier's most important novels are, indeed, basic. They are also, however, problems with which most human beings are expected to make their peace fairly early in life. One of the most important lessons learned by the very young is the ability to look behind disguise and to discover the essential decency or corruption of others, and very early on, people generally learn to assuage, ignore, or expiate guilt. Though these lessons may well have to be relearned or modified as maturing individuals confront new problems, people and situations, the groundwork, the basic principles of choice and evaluation, ought to be established during adolescence.

Though the du Maurier characters are no longer teenagers, they are, nevertheless, curiously immature for their years. Preoccupied by hard work and secluded in a small, friendly community, Mary Yellan has missed the experiences she needs to develop her judgment. Carefully protected, Philip Ashley has depended upon his cousin Ambrose for guidance. Both Armino Donati and John, the sur-nameless hero of The Scapegoat, have simply abdicated responsibility; they refuse to act. Maxim de Winter, seemingly an adult in full control of his powers, is caught in the grip of an obsession, Man-derley and all it stands for, and is actually the most immature character of the lot. And Dona St. Columb, protagonist of Frenchman's Creek, a wife, mother, noblewoman, is frozen into unmaturity, for she has substituted social activity and petulant rebellion for awareness and growth. Thus, these important characters are, for all narrative purposes, youngsters, and in her stories, du Maurier exposes them and many of their fellows to the maturation tests and experiences most commonly found in stories about adolescents. This device adds considerably to the novels' suspense, for it is, in a sense, a plot within a plot. Not only do readers wonder when and if the dangers and courtships will be resolved happily, but they also wonder if the characters will be able to come to terms with the worlds in which they must live. Readers are keenly interested in discovering whether or not the characters will ever resolve the question of who they really are.

This question is also linked to another cultural artifact du Maurier exploits widely. She uses one of the oldest of western European tales, the Cinderella story, in various ways throughout these six novels. Almost mythic itself, it becomes the vehicle for the ethical questions (of good and evil, of guilt) upon which the plot complications turn. Various elements of the Cinderella story appear in each of the novels under discussion here and all of them hinge upon the character's discovery of who he or she really is, the discovery at the heart of Cinderella's adventures.

In du Maurier's romantic suspense novels, as in Cinderella, the major question is not detection but justice. It is important that Cinderella's triumph include the public humiliation of her wicked relatives because, in the eyes of many people, public punishment is equated with justice. Because the evils which Cinderella confronts, overt cruelty, jealousy and selfishness, are easy to identify and are subject to social disapproval, the wicked are punished; justice, seemingly, is served.

But the evils which the du Maurier protagonists confront are more complex; simple, obvious punishment is not always meted out. Instead, the irony which colors du Maurier's social commentary also affects her portrayal of justice, for while justice is always imposed, it is often served secretly, privately. To du Maurier, the impact of a crime is of far greater interest than the solution of a puzzle and this interest demands sophisticated modes of punishment.

The crime motif in du Maurier's novels is also enriched by another element of the Cinderella story, the disguise pattern. Frequently, the novels' protagonists appear in disguise; Lady Dona St. Columb, for instance, dresses as a boy when committing piracy. To her bitter dismay, Mrs. de Winter unwittingly disguises herself as Rebecca, her predecessor, for she is tricked into duplicating the costume Rebecca once wore to a fancy-dress ball and this scene lays the groundwork for the revelation of Maxim's crime. These disguises are fascinating and useful plot complications, lending action, adventure, or ironic foreshadowing to the stories.

Even more useful, however, are the disguises worn by the other characters, and these disguises exacerbate the difficulty of separating evil from goodness, one of the mythic themes which pervades these works. In each of the novels, at least one very powerful personality is examined and explored; these characters are charismatic, mysterious, disguised. Several are not what they seem to be and are unmasked. Frances Davey, the Vicar of Altar-num (Jamaica Inn), is not really a devout pastor ministering wholeheartedly to his flock but a dangerous criminal. Maxim de Winter is not a man emotionally crippled by the death of his beloved but rather a man tortured by guilt and the refusal to pay for his crime.

Others among these disguised charismatics are better than they first seem. Jean-Benoit Aubéry, the French pirate, is actually a criminal, but he is more decent, caring and nurturing than all the nobles among whom Dona St. Columb has lived. Jem Mer-lyn (Jamaica Inn) who makes no attempt to hide his career as petty criminal and horse thief, is far more honest with Mary Yellan than are the other inhabitants of the Bodmin area.

A third group, most notably Rebecca de Winter and Rachel Sangalletti Ashley, are essentially unknowable—one is never sure just which guise is mask, which reality. The world perceived Rebecca as the epitome of feminine grace and beauty, the perfect mistress for Manderley. To Maxim, her husband, she seemed a corrupt monster. To Mrs. Dan-vers, the housekeeper, and to Jack Favell, Rebecca's lover and cousin, she appeared to be a free spirit, capable of commanding devotion even from beyond the grave. Though most of the characters choose to believe Maxim's interpretation of Rebecca's character, the puzzle is never resolved. Nor is the mystery surrounding Rachel's character dispelled; she may be tragically accused of and punished for a crime she did not commit, a crime which was, indeed, never committed by anyone, or she may be a grasping poisoner who kills for wealth and position. These characters not only drive forward the action, but they also complicate the process of distinguishing between good and evil, sometimes beyond the capacity of the protagonists (and some readers). Unlike the disguises of the Cinderella figures, these enigmatic masks are meant to be impenetrable.

The disguise motif, then, establishes the most difficult tests the Cinderella figures must pass in order to win better lives. Further, because the enigmatic figures may mislead the protagonists, the element of disguise also strengthens the other fictional pattern du Maurier exploits. The education or maturation novel, the Bildungsroman (for which Cinderella is one of several important prototypes), is deeply embedded in both "serious" and popular fiction throughout western culture. Itself enormously popular, it is prime material for a writer like du Maurier who seeks a very wide audience.
In the traditional Bildungsroman, a young person who has great faith in his own power and potential tests his mettle as a means of initiation into maturity. He often takes a journey, acquires mentors of varying levels of reliability and engages in dangerous adventures. Ultimately, he emerges sadder but wiser, ready to take his place in adult society. He has compromised with the ideal and settled for pragmatism. Du Maurier uses this treatment of the Bildungsroman, most commonly found in "high culture" novels, very successfully in both Jamaica Inn and Frenchman's Creek.

In Jamaica Inn, Mary Yellan dreams of security and hopes to find peace and opportunity living with her aunt and uncle at the inn. Instead, she finds danger to her life and honor and a host of false mentors. Among them is her criminal uncle, Joss Merlyn, who presents a sexual threat; he finds Mary attractive and to her dismay, she is somewhat drawn to him. For relief, advice and comfort, Mary turns to a local minister, one of du Maurier's masters of disguise, who does, indeed, advise her but who is actually also a false mentor.

Because of his abusive treatment of her aunt and because of his criminal activity, which she slowly comes to recognize, Mary has little trouble recognizing Joss as an evil person; indeed, he represents the worst that life can offer her: sexual excess, constant danger, shared criminal behavior. Dark, mysterious, violent, Joss symbolizes trouble and degeneration. The Reverend Mr. Davey, however, seems to represent redemption until his mask is finally stripped away during a melodramatic series of events that include an abduction and wild chase over the moors.

Not only does the final unmasking of Davey leave Mary without a functioning mentor, it also forces her to question the basic rules of social convention. She has hoped to establish a very normal, secure life on the Cornish coast, and obviously one means of doing so would have been to marry well, preferably, like most of the Cinderellas, to marry up. The revelation of Davey as villain and exploiter removes him from the ranks of potential mates and also, importantly, calls into question the viability of Mary's dreams of security and status.

A poor girl with modest dreams, Mary is barred, finally, from upward mobility by the rules of the class system. Tainted by her low birth, her poverty, her association with criminals (she is even an unwilling spectator and thus marginally a participant in one raid), Mary cannot change her status. She shares in the guilt for this last raid because she was there and because willful blindness as well as circumstance have stopped her from preventing it.

Though Mary has learned not to trust outward appearances, her fate lies, finally, in the hands of yet another masquerader. Jem Merlyn, Joss' younger brother, is an enigmatic man who reveals little of his true emotion, a sexually attractive person who prefers liason (when he can get it) to marriage. Nevertheless he loves Mary and is the only individual who acts effectively to save her from rape or murder. Despite the tensions which exist between them in the early days of their acquaintance, Mary "believes" that she loves Jem, that he is her true mate and she rides off with him, " 'Because I want to: because I must; because now and for ever more this is where I belong to be.'"

The real world for which Mary, chastened and tempered, settles is a marginal world in which she will always hover between poverty and security, social acceptance and rejection, love and danger. Ironist that she is, du Maurier gives no guarantees that for this young woman there will be any "happily ever after." Though Mary is a successful Bil-dungsroman protagonist (she has learned, she has matured, she has compromised), she is a failed Cinderella; the class system prevails and Mary Yellan is frozen into the fringes of accepted society. She has love but little else, and du Maurier refuses to promise that that will be enough.

On the surface of her life, Dona St. Columb is, at the opening of Frenchman's Creek, Cinderella leading an enchanted life after the glass slipper has slid smoothly onto her foot. Chronologically an adult, Dona is nevertheless a rebellious child. Disgusted with her dull husband, often irritated by the demands of motherhood, and bored with London life, Dona disguises herself and engages in dangerous, illegal pranks, "playing at" highway robbery, until, restless and annoyed with herself as much as with her world, she runs away to Navron House, the family estate, fleeing both her obligations and her escapades.

There, however, she moves even more deeply into disguise and danger, for she comes to love a French pirate who is raiding the Cornish coast. A kind of nautical Robin Hood, Aubéry, the Frenchman of the title, teaches Dona what love and sexual satisfaction really are, and she revels in the relationship. Initially disguised as chic matron, polished noblewoman, Dona believes she has found her true nature when disguised as a thieving boy or sensual lover and she discovers that she is not only a competent thief but also a clever schemer when she undertakes to save her lover from imprisonment and death. During this period, Navron House continues to stand for the positive qualities of whatever is decent in Dona's public life, everything opposed to the corruption symbolized by London. The nearby creek where the Frenchman moors his ship and La Mouette itself symbolize freedom, love, the right to break—social codes in order to achieve happiness—everything children imagine that adulthood allows.

Eventually, Dona must choose between life with the Frenchman and life as Lady St. Columb and in the end, social convention and family obligation claim her. For her, life as a constrained, post-ball Cinderella is reality whereas life on the fringes of society is dream. Except in memory, she will truly become,

a gracious matron, and smile upon her servants, and her tenants, and the village folk, and one day she will have grandchildren about her knee, and will tell them the story of a pirate who escaped.

Dona will not live happily ever after, but she will live responsibly.

She, too, has been tempered and chastened and like Mary, she responds, however hesitantly, to the lessons she has learned. If Mary Yellan cannot penetrate respectable levels of English society, no more can Dona St. Columb abdicate the upper classes. These young women come to know themselves very well; they find out precisely who they are, but they are, finally, defined by the social roles assigned by birth. Their very traditional Bildungsroman journeys, culminating in compromise and pragmatic acceptance, are complete.

In popular fiction, two variations of the traditional Bildungsroman occur frequently and du Maurier experiments with these varieties just as she does with the traditional pattern in Jamaica Inn and Frenchman's Creek. As feminist critics have pointed out, the modern gothic novel is a form of the Bildungsroman whose youthful protagonists, usually females, are, either consciously or unconsciously, engaged in a quest for advancement as well as for adulthood. They want power, selfhood, love and maturity and much of the time, they tend to perceive these desirables as interchangeable if not synonymous.

In a sense, they feel that they will be forever unworthy if they are not loved by some greatly desirable person, but also, secretly or even unconsciously, they feel themselves to be the equal—if not the superior—of most of the characters surrounding them. This conflicting sense of self-worth (obvious in Cinderella) is often painful and almost always results in the protagonists' maintaining a kind of public guise of meekness which hides a fiery, judgmental, or even arrogant personality. Cinderellas, they are not only disguised initially by their lowly positions, but also they actively parade a mask of humility.

The second Mrs. de Winter, the protagonist-narrator of Rebecca, is precisely this sort of person and because of the confessional nature of the novel, readers are privy to the seemingly meek, the genuinely humble and the bitingly judgmental elements of her nature from the outset. Though she maintains a quiet, obedient exterior, she denounces thoroughly (and with some good cause) Mrs. Van Hopper, an American of abundant financial means and absolutely no taste, whom she serves as companion. She feels distinctly superior to the Van Hopper world but too inexperienced, uninteresting and plain to be a likely helpmeet of Maxim de Winter. Both attitudes cause her considerable trouble. Ironically, she accepts Mrs. Van Hopper's evaluation of her personality and assumes that to Maxim she is merely a toy, a pet, that she can never truly be his equal. Yet, inwardly, she weeps and rages, for she yearns to be his true companion, to move beyond the shadow of Rebecca and into prominence as the mistress of Manderley, with which she has been entranced since childhood.

Maxim, enigmatic, preoccupied with keeping secret the crime he has committed, withholds a large part of himself from his second wife even though he senses and deplores her unhappiness. In turn, Mrs. de Winter, unaware of Maxim's true thoughts, assumes he is still grieving for Rebecca. Both marriage partners maintain disguises, acting out a "happy" married life, refusing to share, pretending before outsiders and one another.

This Cinderella temporarily acquires both her prince and her castle, but she can genuinely enjoy neither, and when truth does finally prevail between the de Winters, it is too late. The prince, the princess and the marriage survive, but the castle, Manderley, symbol of all the perks of upper-class life, is destroyed. Once again, du Maurier's irony intrudes and the class system prevails. Mrs. de Winter deserves her tainted prince only ifthey are exiled from the social circles to which Maxim was born and to which Mrs. de Winter aspires. Cinderella finds that compromise dominates adulthood and the real world; she acquiesces and endures the consequences of fallen pride. Society has preserved its aura of respectability by protecting Maxim from disclosure of his crime, but nevertheless, it has firmly punished the de Winters. Though this Bildungsroman hero has learned her lessons all too well, there is nowhere to use her education.

We can never go back again, that much is certain. The past is still too close to us. The things we have tried to forget and put behind us would stir again, and that sense of fear, of furtive unrest, struggling at length to blind unreasoning panic—now mercifully stilled, thank God—might in some manner unforseen become a living companion, as it had been before.

Instead, the de Winters drift through Europe, maintaining the social façade, marking time until death releases them.

In traditional adventure-suspense fiction, the protagonist takes a slightly different view of himself than do gothic heroes such as Philip Ashley and Mrs. de Winter. They do not perceive themselves as better than others and they do not yearn for status. Usually, these characters have seen something of life, have become aware of its stresses and pitfalls and, as protection, have disguised themselves as "small," inconsequential persons. Each must stretch his capacity, admit his own potential, abandon insignificance, expand in order to meet and conquer some criminal threat. Doing so will signify emergence from a willfully chosen, prolonged adolescence into full maturity. Generally, they pass their exacting tests and emerge stronger, more confident, no longer hiding their capabilities from the world.

Du Maurier's experiments with this variant of the Bildungsroman, The Flight of the Falcon and The Scapegoat, allow their protagonists much more promising futures than do her treatments of the traditional Bildungsroman or of the modern gothic, even though the events are just as melodramatic, the assessments of human nature just as uncompromising. Furthermore, in these novels, the questions of guilt and evil are expanded considerably, a fact underscored by the use of non-English settings.

Though matters of social class and its privilege remain important in The Scapegoat and are echoed by allusions to earlier times in The Flight of the Falcon, these novels are allegories and du Maurier uses St. Gilles, the French village dominated by the de Gué family of The Scapegoat, and Ruffano, the Italian university city in which The Flight of the Falcon is set, as microcosms. In the first novel, she examines the political and economic impact of one man's criminality, selfishness and arrogance. In the second, she explores the effects of a clever, ambitious man's manipulation of oppressive political systems.

Because du Maurier is chiefly a storyteller and not a philosopher, dramatic action dominates theme in these novels; the political implications are not particularly profound and they are certainly not unique. However, these implications intensify the suspense in both books, just as they later intensify her futuristic political study, Rule Britannia (1972) and they continue du Maurier's examination of the conflict between personal ambition and one's duty to others which is the subject of such novels as I'll Never Be Young Again (1932) and The Progress of Julius (1933), novels outside the boundaries of romantic suspense fiction.

Du Maurier complicates the problems of distinguishing between good and evil and of guilt and emphasizes the allegorical nature of The Flight of the Falcon and The Scapegoat by using Christian symbolism in both. Crucial action in The Flight of the Falcon takes place during Easter Week, for instance, and a priest, a character in The Scapegoat, states the theme of both books:

'There is no end to the evil in ourselves, just as there is no end to the good. It's a matter of choice. We struggle to climb, or we struggle to fall. The thing is to discover which way we're going'.

Both novels also depict Satanic and Christlike figures who are very much alike: in The Scapegoat, the men are identical in appearance and in The Flight of the Falcon, they are putative brothers. Further, the Donati brothers share a kind of Doppelgänger, the spirit of Claudio, a long-dead Duke of Ruffano, who is depicted as both tempted and tempter in an old painting, "The Temptation of Christ." These devices help du Maurier move beyond questions of personal complicity and individual destiny around which Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Frenchman's Creek and Jamaica Inn center and focus attention, instead, upon the basic duality of human nature.

An examination of her treatments of the Cinderella story and of her experiments with various forms of the Bildungsroman, then, indicate that Daphne du Maurier brings a rich imagination, a sound sense of story line and action, and a great willingness to experiment to her fiction. Though individually the novels considered here—Jamaica Inn, Frenchman's Creek, Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, The Flight of the Falcon and The Scapegoat—match Cawelti's definition of formula fiction, together, they demonstrate that any formula— or any literary convention—can be reinvented fruitfully. In the hands of a true storyteller, the old is always new and the "du Maurier Tradition" demands bold inventiveness, intelligence and a special awareness of the roots, artifacts, strengths and weaknesses of the culture from which it springs, toward which it is directed. Du Maurier blends all of these requirements into the heady compounds of the expected and the surprising which are so pleasurable to her readers. In achieving these ends, she surpasses her competitors and her imitators. Others may emulate Daphne du Maurier, but she remains dominant.

Source: Jane S. Bakerman, "Daphne du Maurier," in And Then There Were Nine, edited by Jane S. Bakerman, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1985, pp. 12—29.

Sinister House

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 473

So Cinderella married the prince, and then her story began. Cinderella was hardly more than a school-girl, and the overworked companion of a snobbish woman of wealth; the prince was Maximilian de Winter, whom she had heard of as the owner of Manderley in Cornwall, one of the most magnificent show places in England, who had come to the Riviera to forget the tragic death of his wife Rebecca. He was twice the little companion's age, but she conceived a starved girl's adoration for him when he was kind to her, and there was something about her freshness that seemed to please him. Then to her astonished rapture, he proposed marriage to her, and carried her off to the splendors of Manderley, in its forest of azaleas, sloping down to the sea that had drowned Rebecca, the first Mrs. de Winter—"Mrs. de Winter," simply, as every one still calls her. For slowly and subtly the girl's dream changes to a nightmare. The great house where she cannot find her way, the first wife's shuttered bedroom, the servants who say that in Mrs. de Winter's time there were no complaints, and above all the old housekeeper, who keeps for the first Mrs. de Winter the ghoulish devotion of Phaedra's nurse or Electra's old slave—they all close in on her, like the monstrous azaleas. There was some mystery about Rebecca's death, too, as the village idiot knows; but the book is skillfully contrived so that it does not depend only on knowledge of it for its thrill; it can afford to give no hint of it till two-thirds of the way through. But the revelation, when it comes, leads to one of the most prolonged, deadly, and breathless fencing-matches that one can find in fiction, a battle of wits that would by itself make the fortune of a melodrama on the stage.

For this is a melodrama, unashamed, glorying in its own quality, such as we have hardly had since that other dependant, Jane Eyre, found that her house too had a first wife. It has the weaknesses of melodrama; in particular, the heroine is at times quite unbelievably stupid, as when she takes the advice of the housekeeper whom she knows to hate her. But if the second Mrs. de Winter had consulted with any one before trusting the housekeeper, we should miss one of the best scenes in the book. There is also, as is almost inseparable from a melodrama, a forced heightening of the emotional values; the tragedy announced in the opening chapter is out of proportion to the final outcome of the long battle of wits that ends the book. But it is as absorbing a tale as the season is likely to bring.

Source: Basil Davenport, "Sinister House," in Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. XVIII, No. 22, September 24, 1938, p. 5.

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