Social Class or Something More: Relationships and Motivations in Rebecca and Tess of the d’Urbervilles

Both Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Rebecca are texts in which social class proves to be a factor in the relationships between lovers. Tess is born into a low class poor family, which significantly alters the outcome of events in her life. Contrastingly in Rebecca, the narrator marries into a different social class, which poses a strain on her relationship. Despite this, it is evident that social class is not the most important factor in relationships between lovers, as other factors in the novels prove themselves to be more significant.

In both Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Rebecca, the main female character are of a lower social class than their male partners. In Rebecca, the narrator sees herself as ‘ill bred’ and in Tess, she is described as ‘simple Tess Durberyfield’ which portrays both of the characters’ low social standings. Their partners in contrast are all of high social classes, Alec’s family living in a place where ‘Everything looked like money’ reflecting his wealth and high social status. Angel’s family are also described as ‘middle-class people’ and when Angel describes Tess, he says ‘she is not what in common parlance is called a lady.’ portraying that Angel too recognises Tess’ lower class. Similarly, in Rebecca, Maxim’s class is made clear from the beginning, when Mrs Van Hopper poses the question ‘I suppose your ancestors often entertained royalty at Manderley, Mr de Winter?’ These harsh contrasts between the social classes of lovers are a common occurrence in novels of this era: men were typically presented as the stronger (and therefore wealthier) characters, and women as more vulnerably (and therefore poorer) characters. The social divides between lovers in both novels cause strains that wouldn’t exist without these divides, and social class in therefore depicted as being an important factor in relationships between lovers.

It is arguable, where Tess is concerned that Alec’s social class was the reason for Tess’ rape. Tess, due to her social class and position as a woman in the 19th century, felt as if she could not fight back or resist Alec. Even after the rape, Alec is shown to be entitled due to his social class, for example when he says to Tess, ‘Remember, I was your master once! I will be your master again.’ Since Alec’s rape is Tess’ biggest demise in the novel (everything after this seems to be a downward spiral for Tess), this portrays that social class is the most important factor in relationships between lovers. Contrastingly, in Rebecca, it is not Maxim’s social class that takes the biggest toll on the narrator, but rather the class of Maxim’s ex-wife, Rebecca. The narrator becomes increasing paranoid that she is not good enough for Maxim due to her social standing. She is told by Maxim’s sister that ‘you are so very different from Rebecca.’ which leads to the narrator’s eventual self-hatred. She is seen comparing herself to Rebecca constantly, ‘the things I lack, confidence, grace, beauty, intelligence wit – Oh, all the qualities that mean most in a woman – she possessed.’ This portrays social class to be an important factor in relationships between lovers as it caused the narrators ultimate paranoia and self-hatred in the novel.

As presented by Hardy, Tess in encouraged by her mother to be with Alec due to his social class. If she had not, it is arguable that the rape could have never occurred, and nor would have Tess’ ultimate demise. Tess’ passive nature, instilled by her class, also played a part in her going to Alec. ‘I suppose I ought to do something…’ she says. Her mother previously said that Alec would ‘make a lady of her; and then she’ll be what her forefathers was.’ portraying that restoring the family to it’s original wealth and status was important in Joan’s decision to send Tess to Alec. This shows that social class is an important factor in relationships between lovers.

Unlike in Tess, the narrator of Rebecca feels that she has changed from being put into a different class group. She says, ‘At any rate I have lost my diffidence, my timidity, my shyness with strangers. I am very different form that self who drove to Manderley for the first time, hopeful and eager…filled with an intense desire to please.’ This quote portrays that the narrator has lost some of the most essential parts of herself, which would in turn alter her relationship. This therefore portrays that social class is an important factor in relationships between lovers.

Despite social class being a defining factor, the factors of honesty and secrecy are presented as being the most important factors in relationships between lovers in Rebecca. The secrecy and lack of honesty surrounding Rebecca and her death in Rebecca cause the narrator’s paranoia to spiral out of control to such an extent that she doesn’t believe Maxim loves her. Maxim’s secrecy causes him to alienate the narrator. ‘Are you worried about something?’ I said. ‘I’ve had a long day.’ He said.’ this quote suggests that Maxim is with-holding information from the narrator. She also seemingly hates herself for not being good enough for him, to such a point where Mrs Danvers convinces her to consider suicide because she believes Maxim to be unhappy in their relationship. She says, ‘He doesn’t want you, he never did.’ and goes on to coax her to jump out of the window, ‘Why don’t you jump?’ It is clear that if Maxim had been honest with the narrator from the beginning, she wouldn’t have gone through such paranoia and self-hatred. Although their relationship does conquer their issues in the end due to Maxim’s eventual honesty, the relationship would evidently been much more smooth if honesty was implemented from the beginning.

The factors of loyalty and acceptance are presented as being the most important factor in the relationships between lovers in Tess of the d’Urbervilles. This is because, although it can be said that if Tess was honest about Alec’s rape to Angel initially, things could have gone better, it is evident that the social pressures for women to be pure in this time meant that Angel’s reaction would have likely been the same. The deep rooted hypocrisy against impure women in the novel, but also in this era, meant that honesty would not make this relationship work. Although Angel eventually forgives Tess, it is too late – Tess’ emotional trauma causes her to commit murder (as the land lady finds Alec, she says ‘the gentleman in bed is dead!’). If from the beginning Angel had been loyal and accepted her past, perhaps Tess’ ultimate demise would not have occurred. Due to this, it is evident that loyalty and acceptance are the most important factors in the relationship between lovers in Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

Although not the most important factor, acceptance and loyalty are presented as a significant factor in the relationship between Maxim and the relationship. Without them, the narrator would not have been so supporting in clearing Maxim of Rebecca’s murder. After his confession, the narrator reacts loyally and affectionately, ‘My darling…Maxim, my love’. Therefore, it is clear that acceptance and loyalty are a significant factor in the relationship between lovers in Rebecca.

While the theme of social class takes a predominant position in both novels, it does not ultimately become the demise of any relationships in either novel. Both novels contain stronger factors which defy the relationships between lovers: in Rebecca, the relationship between the narrator and Maxim depended ultimately on honesty, and in Tess, Angel and Tess’ relationship could have only truly succeeded if Angel had shown loyalty and acceptance to Tess from the beginning.

Narrative Structure and the Narrative Manipulation in ‘Rebecca’

A narrative is a spoken or written account of events and the structure is the order that the author organizes events; though these definitions may seem simple, much of the interest in a narrative can arise from the distortion or manipulation of key information. The narrative of the novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is first-person, and the structure is a flashback after introducing the story in the present as if she is recalling what happened to her at Manderley. As readers, we trust that her version of the story is precisely what occurred because there is nothing that suggests otherwise. However, the narrator’s memory is subjective; for example, in her eyes, Rebecca is the villain and Maxim is the victim – even after he admitted to the murder of his former wife.

Rebecca can be characterized as bildungsroman – this means that throughout the novel, the narrator matures. At the beginning of her story she recalls what she was like when she was a companion to Mrs van Hopper, ‘I remember well that plate of ham and tongue. It was dry, unappetizing, cut in a wedge from the outside, but I had not the courage to refuse it.’ and says ‘how young and inexperienced I must have seemed’. However, by the end of the novel, she has matured and become more confident in herself:

‘I have lost my diffidence, my timidity, my shyness with strangers. I am very different from that self who drove to Manderley for the first time, hopeful and eager, handicapped by a rather desperate gaucherie and filled with an intense desire to please.’

By writing in first person, it means that we don’t learn the name of the narrator. The absence of a name means that it doesn’t give the narrator her own identity especially at the beginning of the story when she is a companion to Mrs van Hopper. When she marries Maxim, her name becomes Mrs de Winter but she isn’t comfortable with this name because she doesn’t like the idea of following Rebecca. It gives a sense of competition between the narrator and Rebecca, for the right to bear the name.

An advantage of writing in first person is that we know what the narrator thinks and feels; the reader feels a connection to the narrator, creating a sense of reality. It also allows the narrator’s view to come through more clearly, as it is expressed directly and portraying her personality and views more easily. A good example of this is when she is recalling her time with Mrs van Hopper and the embarrassment she feels: ‘I would feel like a whipping boy who must bear his master’s pains when I watched people laugh behind her back’. This is an asset to the novel because it gives a sense of intimacy, allowing the reader to empathize with the narrator.

However, a disadvantage of first person narrative is that all the information we get is biased because it’s only from her point of view. All the information we know about Rebecca is either what the narrator imagines her to be like or second hand (what she hears from other people) and what other people think about Rebecca is also filtered by their own opinions and motives. For example, in chapter 11 she asks Frank ‘was Rebecca was very beautiful?’ to which he replies ‘yes, I suppose she was the most beautiful creature I ever saw in my life’ and in chapter 13 when the narrator meets Ben, he says of Rebecca, ‘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’. Therefore, we get an unfair representation of Rebecca because she doesn’t get to speak for herself, and the image of her that we build up in our minds is purely brought together from bits of information from other people. This allows the reader to understand the events that occurred with Rebecca at Manderley, but not get a true representation of what she was like only the narrators interpretation of what people tell her.

Throughout the story, there are also a series of imaginings, where the narrator pictures an idyllic future at Manderley. For example, after Maxim proposes to her, she says:

‘I would be his wife, we would walk in the garden together, we would stroll down the path in the valley to the shingle beach. I knew how I would stand on the steps after breakfast, looking at the day, throwing crumbs to the birds, and later wander out in a shady hat with long scissors in my hand, and cut flowers for the house’.

She also imagines what people must think about her or say about her behind her back, particularly the servants of the house ‘I wondered why I minded that, and why the thought of the servants talking about it in the kitchen should cause me such distress.’ Linked to this focus on imagination is another key aspect of the structure, the passage of time. The novel begins with the narrator in a hotel room with Maxim, living nomadically; the narrator is aware that Maxim killed Rebecca, and Manderley has burnt down. Time has passed between the events that occurred at Manderley and when she recalls them and even though we don’t actually know how long ago it happened, it still makes the story less reliable. This is because the narrator may have filtered the events in her mind over time and therefore slightly changed the overall story.

The narrative and structure of Rebecca thus limit the viewpoint of the reader. After all, readers only experience one character’s point of view; therefore, this selectivity impacts on what the reader will feel about a character. Although the narrator speaks to others in the story to find out about Rebecca, so that we get other points of view on her, we are still only receiving her interpretation of what they tell her. Throughout, the novel uses structure to deliver a strongly biased opinion.

Mrs Danvers: A Foil for the Narrator of “Rebecca”

In the novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, the character of Mrs Danvers is presented as a foil to the narrator: a character who provides a contrast to the narrator in order to highlight her attributes. Mrs Danvers is the housekeeper at Mannerly and looked after the title character, Rebecca, from Rebecca’s youth; she then moved to Manderley after the marriage to Maxim de Winter. Mrs Danvers was devoted to Rebecca and despises the narrator, because she doesn’t want her to replace Rebecca. She therefore takes great pleasure in undermining the narrator and making her feel as though she is inferior to Rebecca.

One of the most obvious contrasts between Mrs Danvers and the narrator is their physical appearances. When the narrator first sets her eyes on Mrs Danvers upon her arrival at Manderley, she describes her as: ‘Tall and gaunt, dressed in deep black, whose prominent cheek-bones and great, hollow eyes gave her a skull’s face, parchment white, set on a skeleton’s frame.’ By pointing out her skull’s face and comparing her to a skeleton, things that are associated with death and decay, makes the reader believe that Mrs Danvers is someone to be afraid of. It is as if she was so connected to Rebecca that she died with her; the only time she ever seems to really come alive is when she reminisces about Rebecca to the narrator. In contrast, the narrator is youthful and naïve, she doesn’t have much experience in the world. As she says in chapter two, when looking back on the events at Manderley, ‘I can see myself now… bobbed hair and youthful, unpowered face… like a shy, uneasy colt’. She also later states ‘how young and inexperienced I must have seemed’.

There are also considerable contrasts in the personalities of Mrs Danvers and the narrator. Mrs Danvers is very bullying, and her manipulative and sly behaviour first came to light when she suggests to the narrator that she should dress as Caroline de Winter for the notorious costume ball. She knows that by doing this, it will humiliate the narrator, because it is the same costume that the late Rebecca wore to the last costume ball. Despite having no reason to trust Mrs Danvers following her previous hostile behaviour towards her, the narrator agrees to wear the costume, believing that it will gain her approval. This shows how the narrator is insecure and self-conscious because she doesn’t even question Mrs Danvers motives as she is so desperate to please.

Despite this, Mrs Danvers and the narrator do have some things in common. For example, they are both very loyal characters – Mrs Danvers has her devotion to Rebecca and the narrator is committed to Mr de Winter. Mrs Danvers often speaks of Rebecca lovingly, despite knowing about her perversely malicious and cruel nature. Through her actions, Mrs Danvers could even be seen as carrying out the role of Rebecca after her death. This unconditional devotion that Mrs Danvers has for Rebecca is similar to the narrator’s devotion to Maxim, even after she finds out the truth that he killed the former Mrs de Winter. She vows to ‘fight for Maxim’, she would ‘lie and perjure and swear’ for him. This shows how both the characters of Mrs Danvers and the narrator are similar: they are quite selfless, and would do almost anything for the people the love.

Though Mrs Danvers is a good representation of a foil to the narrator, a better example of a foil to the narrator is Rebecca. As Maxim’s wives, both of these characters are constantly being compared to each other. At the beginning of the novel, the narrator feels that she is inferior to Rebecca; that Rebecca is everything she isn’t – alluring, self-assured and charismatic. They are even physically different: Rebecca is tall, slim and elegant, whereas the narrator is short, boyish and clumsy. By the end of the novel, when we learn the true nature of Rebecca, she and the narrator still differ, however the narrator’s unsophisticated and naïve manner are more of a breath of fresh air when she is compared to Rebecca’s callous and manipulative ways.

The character of Mrs Danvers does, in major respects, provide a contrast to the narrator; however, they do have things in common. A more stark foil to the narrator is Rebecca, as they are a direct opposite in their characters. Thereby showing that beneath the surface there are many contrasts which could appear to be a foil to the narrator not just the one of Mrs Danvers.

Jane Eyre and the Unnamed Narrator of Rebecca as Innocent Victims

A female victim in Gothic literature is typically innocent, unworldly and powerless, a useful stereotype creating tension and drama as well as encapsulating ideals of male desire. Jane Eyre has lived a sheltered life, unexposed to worldly dangers such as evil, insanity and true love. However, her demands for equality and responses to mistreatment show her to be independent and passionate. Similarly, the unnamed narrator of Rebecca embodies many characteristics of the conventional Gothic victim. Being self-deprecating, she experiences regular feelings of inferiority, both within her marriage and within society. Yet, by the end of the novel, she emerges as a headstrong, determined character who colludes with her murderer husband to achieve happiness.

Both characters develop during the course of the novel, overcoming their potential victim status. In the opening chapters of Jane Eyre, Bronte presents Jane as an innocent victim. She is mistreated by her aunt and John Reed who constantly remind her of her inferiority: “You are a dependent….you ought to beg and not to live here”. In Gothic style, she is punished by being locked in “the red-room” which Jane believes is haunted. Thus Bronte shows Jane as an innocent victim. She’s weak, powerless and unable to escape from her “prison”. Her reaction to the imprisonment is shown using short sentences and monosyllabic diction: “My heart beat thick, my head grew hot; a sound filled my ears”. Bronte’s tactile language demonstrates Jane’s terror and panic; the characteristic response of an innocent victim unable to control her fear. Furthermore, Bronte uses Jane’s defeatist attitude during her childhood to demonstrate her victimization as she accepts her powerlessness. She is self-pitying and self-deprecating when she speculates, “Why was I always suffering…..always accused, forever condemned?” and grows up without feeling love or approval.

The red-room becomes a recurring symbol. Jane is described as haunted by “the spasm of agony which clutched my heart when Mrs Reed….locked me a second time in the dark and haunted chamber”. Again her response is described in physical terms, almost melodramatically intense. Some structuralist critics have persuasively seen the red-room as a symbol of menstruation and suffering femininity, a place where Jane must learn to be submissive and obedient. Furthermore, Bessie’s threat to have Jane “tied down” in the red-room significantly parallels the experience of Bertha Mason, both female victims who have to be controlled. These structural similarities imply that Bertha is Jane’s passionate, sexual and fierce alter ego, suggesting that Jane learns to repress her culturally unacceptable wilfulness and rage. Jane as represents the ego whilst Bertha represents the id. Bertha acts on her natural urges and desires without thinking of the consequences. On the other hand, Jane restrains her passions and always makes a moral choice.

Jane’s time at Lowood contributes to her status as innocent victim. She is persecuted by Brocklehurst who calls her a “liar” and humiliates her by forcing her to “stand half an hour longer on that stool”. This episode presents Jane as a victim as, accused of being sinful, she is unable to defend herself. Jane is ensnared by oppressive 19th century beliefs about religion, women and social hierarchy. Bronte makes clear that her closeted existence at Lowood means she has lived a sheltered life and is therefore naive. Rochester realizes this and says “You have lived the life of a nun”. Jane’s education does not prepare her for later life due to Brocklehurst’s view that his girls must not “conform to nature”. This supports the assertion that Jane is presented as an innocent victim as her inexperience means she is powerless against the dangerous reality of the outside world.

Jane’s journey to find freedom, self-respect and acceptance ultimately allows her to overcome the patriarchal oppression characterized first by John Reed, then Brocklehurst and finally Rochester; an embodiment of Gothic masculinity which assumes power and control over an innocent female.

Jane is presented as a victim in her relationship with Rochester as well. He manipulates her into revealing her feelings towards him, cunningly trying to trick Jane into admitting her love by disguising himself as a gypsy. Later, Bronte shows Rochester goading Jane into accepting his marriage proposal with his urgency and reiterated commands: “Jane, accept me quickly. Say, Edward – give me my name”. Jane’s unhappy life means that she is suspicious of romantic affection and believes Rochester is joking: “I thought he mocked me”. When Jane attempts to escape from Thornfield after she discovers that Rochester is married, Rochester says he will “try violence” to stop her.

On the other hand, Jane does not fully embody the stereotype of innocent victim. Bronte presents a character that is passionate, independent, and ambitious although she struggles against the 19th century expectations of women. A woman was supposed to be passive and submissive to masculine authority; she was not meant to reveal anger or sexual desire. With the character of Jane Eyre, Bronte challenges these expectations by creating a heroine who is at least, if not more, intellectually ambitious and passionate than her male counterparts. She refuses to live a loveless life with Rivers, rejecting his attempts to make her feel guilty: “It was my time to assure ascendancy. My powers were in play and in force”. This language of power reveals the recognition of Jane’s autonomy. The balanced cadences and the god-like, magisterial imagery show how Jane is assuming authority. Furthermore, the burning of Thornfield and Rochester’s blinding symbolizes the ascent of female power and male emasculation. It seems Bertha, that transgressive female, is successful in her revenge on her oppressor: “She was on the roof….waving her arms above the battlements”.  

Throughout the novel Bronte presents Jane as strong and determined with her regular demands for equality: “Women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties…as much as their brothers do”. Although Jane is shown as passive and obedient in her role as a governess, having learned to confine her egotistical desires within the provenance of duty, she stands up for her beliefs and demands justice for all. The child Jane retaliates against John Reed’s mistreatment of her: “What a fury to fly at Master John!” Here, she is not passive and docile like the stereotypical Gothic victim although arguably the character is then the victim of punishment for refusing to acquiesce to her own humiliation. Again, Rochester meets his equal in Jane and his paradoxical assertion, with its undercurrents of sexuality, “Jane, you please me and you master me”, shows that Jane satisfies his desires and yet he feels her power over him. Bronte shows Jane refusing to submit herself to his authority. When she leaves Thornfield, Rochester attempts to emotionally blackmail her by saying she is “the instrument of evil” to the one she “wholly loves” and Jane responds by demonstrating her independence: “I am a free human being with an independent will, which I now exert to leave you”. Bronte shows the reversal of the power relationships and, exerting her own will, Jane achieves authority unheard of in her cultural context.

The unnamed narrator of Rebecca also seems to embody many characteristics of an innocent victim in a Gothic romance, Radway perfectly summing up the character: “she’s obsessed with her unexceptional appearance….sexually innocent and highly romantic…..marked by a self-deprecatory tendency”. The Girl suffers many of Jane Eyre’s social disadvantages, being impoverished and orphaned but a lady’s companion rather than a governess. Simple and unappealing, with her “straight, bobbed hair and youthful, unpowdered face”, the narrator is an ugly duckling, presented as the antithesis of glamorous Rebecca. Unlike Jane, the narrator is shown to be unadventurous when Beatrice asks “You don’t sail by any chance, do you?” and the Girl responds “No”. Similar to Jane Eyre, the text uses the physical environment to dramatize the protagonist’s situation; Maxim locating the Girl’s bedroom over the cultivated flower garden while Rebecca’s room overlooks the restless sea, implies that such passivity is desirable for the mistress of Manderley.

Du Maurier’s protagonist is regularly overcome by feelings of inferiority arising from frequent comparisons with Rebecca and the stress of Maxim’s unfamiliar, upper-class lifestyle. Clearly, like Jane, marriage is not one of social equals with Maxim prosaically stating that, “instead of being companion to Mrs Van Hopper you become mine, and your duties will be almost exactly the same”. The formal language and use of the word “duties” suggests a commercial transaction rather than a declaration of love.

Rochester’s marriage to the socially inferior Jane Eyre parallels this familiar theme of romantic novels in which women are presented as advancing through marriage. Like Jane, the Girl could be seen as being an innocent victim in her relationship with the older, more powerful Maxim, who continuously refers to her as a “child”. The narrator reveals that she has no concept of love and her response to Maxim’s proposal, “Yes of course. Romantic…….It was all very sudden and romantic”, highlights her naivety. The narrator is established as easy prey as, like Jane, she lacks the experience to realise when she’s being mistreated by Maxim. In the face of his exclamation, “To hell with this”, the Girl merely cries, reinforcing her status as a helpless victim.

Maxim is sometimes cruel and heartless in his mockery of the narrator which, Du Maurier suggests, worsens her feelings of inferiority: “be Alice in Wonderland…….you look like it now with your finger in your mouth”. Maxim infantilizes the Girl, comparing her to “Alice in Wonderland” reinforcing her status as an innocent victim as similarly, the character of Alice is child-like and curious. Du Maurier sustains the Gothic impenetrability of Maxim’s mysterious nature as the reader, who as in Bronte’s text, essentially shares the protagonist’s narrative perspective, is never certain whether he is joking.

There is a subtle threat of violence surrounding Rochester and Maxim which emphasises Jane’s and the Girl’s vulnerabilities. Maxim’s threatening presence makes tangible the Girl’s vulnerability; to the narrator’s request that he would treat her “like other men treat their wives”, Maxim replies “Knock you about, you mean?” The reader wonders whether Maxim is capable of physical cruelty which foreshadows his potential for murder.

Both texts use female characters to tempt the main protagonists to despair of romance, though to differing extents. As Jane’s insecurities are played on by Blanche’s hostility, the Girl is completely victimized by Danvers who is determined to keep Rebecca’s presence alive. Danvers manipulates the narrator into wearing the same dress that Rebecca wore to a party and this causes the Girl to believe her marriage is over: “Rebecca was still mistress of Manderley….I should never be rid of Rebecca”. Rebecca is a revenant in the Gothic tradition whose existence is felt throughout Manderley and it could be argued that the narrator is victimized by Rebecca’s immortal presence.

Danvers goads the narrator into jumping out of the window because her life is meaningless: “What’s the use of your staying here in Manderley…There’s not much for you to live for”. The Girl’s subdued response to these taunts reinforces her status as an innocent victim as she is weak and powerless to stand up to Danvers: “I stared at her…..stiff and wooden like a dummy.” Like Bertha, Danvers could be viewed as manifesting the protagonists’ repressed self. Rebecca has been seen as reflecting the Girl’s unfulfilled desires, an idea implied by the description of the Girl looking in the mirror and seeing Rebecca’s face smiling back.

Finally, it is implied that Danvers, another mad woman in the attic perhaps, sets fire to Manderley in an act of revenge for Rebecca. The narrator does not achieve her happy ending; she becomes homeless with a husband who has lost his identity and status. However, in each novel, the house (a symbol of patriarchal power) burns down and in each case, the female protagonist assumes an authoritative role on new ground. This seems to perhaps challenge the patriarchal narrative that success for women lies in marriage to a successful man who is part of the “Establishment”.

Like Jane, the narrator of Rebecca does not fully embody the stereotype of innocent victim in a Gothic text as she too develops throughout the novel. The turning point is when she learns Maxim’s secret and he notes that the Girl has lost her innocence: “It’s gone forever, that funny, young, lost look”. The Girl becomes stronger and, determined in her efforts to protect her husband, becomes murderous in desire, praying “Please God make Baker be dead”. The narrator now understands Maxim and demands that they go through Rebecca’s trial together. Like Rochester, Maxim is blinded and dependent on the Girl. When Maxim loses hope the narrator emerges as a cool-headed, capable woman and the traditional power relations are reversed: “Rebecca is dead. She can’t speak…..she can’t harm you any more”. The repetition of “She can’t” demonstrates the Girl’s confidence and defiance of the woman she previously admired.

In both novels, the journey from ingénue to powerful, married woman gives hope of transformation and creates drama and suspense. Undoubtedly, Jane Eyre and the unnamed narrator of Rebecca embody many characteristics of the innocent victim. Both novels exploit similar Gothic elements, in particular, the revenant who haunts the heroine and who is created by the protagonist’s socially unacceptable desires. For the first part of each story, Jane and the Girl are self-deprecating, submissive and powerless. Furthermore, they both have relationships with men who can be cruel, cold and threatening. However, as the novels progress, both characters emerge as intelligent, determined and capable, challenging Gothic stereotypes of victimhood. However, at the end of both novels, the characters have developed into more powerful females who have gained control of their lives and circumstances.

Memory and Recollection in Rebecca: A Close Reading

Daphne du Maurier’s gothic romance novel Rebecca touches on a young woman, who remains unnamed throughout the novel, and her self-inflicted life of misery. Being recently married into a high social class, the protagonist, Mrs. De Winter, faces internal and external struggles with her new surroundings. She must deal with her husband, Maxim, continually showing signs of indifference to her, Ms. Danvers, the head housekeeper, who is the physical form of her deepest fears and insecurities, and Rebecca, Maxims late wife, who’s memory cast an everlasting shadow upon her as she is being introduced to her new life. Throughout the novel Rebecca there is a lot of focus on the compelling memory of Rebecca and Mrs. De Winter quest to overcome it, as seen in chapter two, when Mrs. De Winter mentions “we have both known fear” and “we all of us have our particular devil who rides us and torments us”(Du Maurier, 5). This focus is provoking because it foreshadows Mrs. De Winter disposition, in regard to Rebecca, throughout the novel. With the eerie presence of Ms. Danvers, the constant tales about Rebecca, and innuendos the author gives by naming the novel about Rebecca, is it easy to recognize how Rebecca’s memory is so compelling it will always be a constant tormentor and driving motivation behind every action of Mrs. De Winter.

Shying aways from the memory would insinuate as an easy task but with the help of Ms. Danvers, a considered physical form of Rebecca, Mrs. De Winter couldn’t deter Rebecca’s memory. Ms.Danvers did not see Rebecca as just a mistress or even friend, but more of an idol. It is easy to assume Ms.Danvers has become obsessed with her and keeping her memory alive. As the antagonist of the novel, Mrs.Danvers constantly opposes Mrs. De Winter and belittles her any chance she approaches. Mrs. De Winter is insecure in the fact that she will never be like Rebecca and in Chapter 14, Ms.Danver demonstrates her obsession and confirms her antagonist status by using Rebecca’s reminiscence against her. While showing the narrator Rebecca’s old room she says, “That was her bed. It’s a beautiful bed isn’t it”(Du Maurier. 168), Ms Danver mocks Mrs. De Winter with, what would seem as such an insignificant item, as an extraordinary rarity. Ms. Danvers use this unordinary bedroom item to further boost Rebecca’s already elevated persona and with this now instilled belief that Rebecca can make even a bed, beautiful. Mrs. De Winter’s sanity and confidence are challenged and again, defeated.. Ms.Danvers ensures that all of Rebecca’s house habits remained the same, even down to the way the menus are arranged. With each reminder of Rebecca, Mrs De Winter loses herself more and more. Mrs.Danvers makes a mission out of ensuring that Mrs.De Winter will always feel Rebecca around her, and recall that she can’t and will never be like Rebecca. Mrs. De Winter’s self-resilience is so lost in Chapter 14, Ms. Danvers near drives her to suicide, and digging deeper in the chapter the reader can tell Mrs.De Winter is literally and figuratively forced to see, smell, and feel Rebecca’s memory. It is in this chapter that the idea of Rebecca “haunting” Mrs. De Winter becomes an actual conscious thought. Ms.Danver depicts Rebecca almost as a living ghost instilling the thought of “the dead come back and watch the living”(Du Maurier.172). Within the scene, Mrs. Danvers managed to diminish any confidence Mrs. De Winter had left.

Along with the ill-disposed Ms.Danvers to enforce Rebecca’s memory in the physical sense, Mrs. De Winter must face the constant rumors of Rebecca, even in their dramatized manner. Rebecca is remembered as beautiful, graceful, talented, elegant, etc woman. Not only does Mrs. De Winters insecurities not allow her to recognize these adjectives within herself, but stories of Rebecca and Maxim’s everlasting love takes a toll on her conscious as well. Maxim admits himself “No one would guess meeting her that she was not the kindest, most generous, most gifted person in the world.” (Du Maurier .271). Through rumors of Rebecca her memory lives on, and she will forever be known as “so lovely, so accomplished, so amusing” (Du Maurier. 272). Although these stories may have fabricated, like Rebecca’s memory, the stories linger and constantly remind Mrs. De Winter of what she is not. Being second place to such a highly talked about person is a constant pester on Mrs. De Winters mind, and those rumors constantly plague her even after knowing the ugly truth about her. To emphasize her torment, Mrs De Winter can’t expose the real Rebecca because the truth will expose Maxim. Rather letting the public know what Rebecca has really done, tarnish Rebecca’s reputation forever, and finally prove that she is the superior wife and woman of Mandery, Mrs.De Winter has to accept Rebecca as the idolized figure that she can’t compete with and play along as if she doesn’t carry the secrets that could finally smear Rebecca’s perfect memory and put an end to the constant rumors about how perfect she once was.

Although it could be argued that Mrs. De Winter’s torment is self-afflicted and Rebecca’s shadow is exaggerated by the unreliable narrator, Mrs. De Winters herself. The author discredits this theory by naming the novel after Rebecca. Much like her personality, Rebecca is so influential she manages to be the title of the novel. She is so dynamic Daphne du Maurier gave her a name rather than the protagonist. Mrs. De Winter is instead given the already used named, of course by Rebecca, of just Mrs. De Winter. There are constant reminders of Rebecca on every page and it seems that if Mrs. De Winter wasn’t the narrator, Rebecca would be talked about more than Mrs. De Winter because everything in the book is about Rebecca or her influence. This shapes Mrs.De Winter as a character to the reader because it is apparent she is not the main focus of the novel. From the title being named after Rebecca, the reader is able to make the connection that the entirety of the novel about Rebeccas memory.

This memory lives on through constant gossip and overgrowing rumors about Rebecca. They are spreading and flourishing so greatly that Mrs.De Winter was even able to compare how she has less rumors about herself then Rebecca did. In Chapter 12 on page 144 Maxim’s reactions to this confession makes Mrs. De Winter even more uncertain of herself. From this the reader is able to see another insecurity of Mrs.De Winter. She is worried that even after she is gone, unlike Rebecca, no one will remember her, or have anything to say about her. Dead or alive Mrs. De Winter is tormented by Rebecca long withstanding memory, and it becomes apparent Rebecca is the cause and affect of everything Mrs. De Winter seems to do or think of, and with this, more power is added to her rumors making Rebecca’s even more of a dominate character.

So along with Mrs. De Winter living in Rebecca’s memory, not being able to expose the fraud within Rebecca’s memory, and constantly hearing how even though she does everything with Rebecca in mind, she is still not like Rebecca, Mrs. De Winter torment is further injected in Chapter 16, when Ms. Danvers strikes again. In this chapter Ms. Danvers maliciously persuades Mrs. De Winter to wear the same costume Rebecca wore last year. Ms.Danvers knew who the last person to where the white dress was and she knew the exact reaction Mrs.De Winter would get from wearing the dress, yet to further Mrs. De Winter’s self-destruction and torment, she allowed Mrs. De Winter to embarrass herself. For Mrs. De Winter, the dress symbolized her ultimate fear, and what can considered a huge lose in the internal match she plays with Rebecca’s memory. Until this scene, Mrs. De Winter was in denial of the obvious conclusion that, even though she does everything like Rebecca, she will still face rejection because, regardless, she is not Rebecca. After the matter, Ms. Danvers even went as far as to smear Maxim’s love for her when she said, “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.” (Du Maurier. 246). At this moment Mrs.De Winter is forced to face her deepest insecurity head on, and realize that even though she is dead, Rebecca is still at Manderly.

Everything Mrs. De Winter’s has done in the novel was to live up the overcasting shadow that is Rebecca’s memory. Even after Manderly has been destroyed and Rebecca’s body has been identified, Rebecca’s memory stays with her.

References

Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. New York: Avon Books, 1971.