Friday, March 19, 2010
Does duMarier's Rebecca stand up to today's rules?
“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderly again.”
Dana Mentink here and last night I finished listening to a spectacular audio recording of Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel, Rebecca. I was riveted of course, through all 12 disks, but I found myself wondering if Rebecca, arguably one of the best romantic suspense novels ever written, follows the tried and true rules of modern day romantic suspense novels. Let’s just check it out, shall we?
Rule #1: No flashbacks. Good novels are action packed, moving forward without plot devices that stop the forward momentum.
Rebecca is actually one giant flashback as the second Mrs. de Winter relates her memories from their residence in exile. Hmmmm. A novel sized flashback? I'd be hard pressed to sell that to my editors.
Rule #2 : You need a strong heroine. I’m sure I’m going to get some e-mails about this one, but the second Mrs. deWinter is relatively powerless. Yes, I know the year is 1938 and women didn’t have much status in society but Mrs. de Winter is so powerless she can’t even manage to change the dinner menu, much less assert her place in the de Winter household with the nasty Mrs. Danvers. The book is largely about power and position so the protagonist fits in perfectly in her era, but she would not be a good fit in today’s romance novels. Heck, we don’t even learn the protagonist’s first name!
Rule #3: The heroine must clap eyes on the hero in chapter one and they need to be together on virtually every page. Nah. Du Maurier’s characters are strong enough to handle a little separation. Maxim is often tootling off to London and it’s a good many pages before the hero is even introduced in the story in the first place.
You’d think a novel which breaks so many rules would be hopelessly outdated and unattractive to the modern reader. So why does Rebecca still continue to fascinate seventy two years after it was penned? Because, though it doesn’t follow today’s formulaic rules of writing, it give us two critical components. The first is unforgettable characters. Personally, I rather despised Maxim and thought Mrs. de Winter was somewhat of a fool to follow Mrs. Danver’s advice about the fancy dress ball, but I found myself thinking about these fascinating, flawed characters long after I finished the book. Second, du Maurier does what all suspense authors aspire to accomplish: she neatly leads us into believing one thing will happen, and then completely turns the tables on us. I was absolutely convinced that Rebecca had conceived a child with Favell and Dr. Baker’s revelation at the end of the novel floored me. That happened many times in this amazing book right up to the fiery finish. The author never gives you what you expect, including a happy ending.
Oh yes. That is cardinal rule #4. Always give the romance reader a happy ending. In Rebecca? Not so much.
What do you think, dear reader, about Rebecca or any other classic novel that doesn’t follow our hard and fast rules?