Tag Archives: Daphne DuMaurier

“Like Jane Eyre But Without the Crazy Wife”

21st February 2013

Twitter is a fascinating beast for many reasons, and I find some really great articles and stories there. Last week, though, I found something that piqued my interest…and led me to bemoan the “retelling” of classics yet again.

Jane Eyre is one of my favorite novels of all time, partly because it’s the first “big book” I read, way back in 4th grade, and though I had no clue how to pronounce rendezvous, I did know an epic story when I read it. From time to time, I read about retellings of Jane Eyre, and I cringe and look away, vowing never to pick up said book. Inevitably, these books will not live up to the original, and honestly, why should I waste my time if that’s the case? Don’t even get me started on the erotic retelling…Jane Eyre Laid Bare. [Just typing this makes me ill.]

I much prefer novels that may be reminiscent of certain novels or themes while having intrigue and beauty all their own. For example, Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca has been compared to Jane Eyre with some pretty obvious and interesting differences.

So what did I see last week? A tweet about a writer who has retold the story of Jane. Read the post if you like, but my reaction was much like the takeaway from diet soda advertisements: “Same great taste! Fewer calories!” Similarly, my take on the author’s post: “Like Jane Eyre but fun! And without the crazy wife!”

You can imagine my consternation. One of the most problematic aspects of Jane Eyre is that poor, crazy wife, Bertha. So much so that Jean Rhys wrote Wide Sargasso Sea in an attempt to give Bertha a bit of screen time herself. Bertha Mason lends the novel its horror and its complexity. She is also the reason so many rail against it and why many cannot understand the allure of Mr. Rochester. Without her, without the obstacle of Jane and Rochester’s union, it’s just another romance novel. Jane isn’t a typical Harlequin heroine, ripped away from the one she loves because of a misunderstanding or a silly fight over his possessiveness. She tears herself away out of a sense of right and wrong, leaving the only place where she has ever felt at home.

And you want to make Jane Eyre fun? Well, ok, I guess, but could you stop the references to a heartwrenching novel that chronicles the actual problems of a young woman with no family and no home? Just call it a novel, and be done with it.

In the meantime, I’m going to go read my novel that’s like Jane Eyre in every way except the English countryside, an orphan, a crazy wife, and a hunky man. Excuse me.

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

2nd January 2011

Except not really because I would probably be absolutely petrified, have a heart attack, and die. If you are completely lost, the title refers to the first and very well-known line from the eerie Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. My first experience with Rebecca was as a child when I first watched Hitchcock’s interpretation with Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. I’ve seen it half a dozen times, more recently two months ago. I finally picked up a copy of the book at the library the day before Thanksgiving and devoured it as it rained outside, which, I have to say, is pretty much perfect reading weather but is certainly perfect Du Maurier reading weather.

The unnamed narrator, a young, unworldly woman, meets Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo while acting as a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an older, wealthy, prattling woman. Mrs. Van Hopper refers to some sort of awful tragedy Mr. de Winter has endured (she seems to know everything about everyone), but our narrator doesn’t pry. Mrs. Van Hopper becomes ill, and the narrator finds herself more and more in the company of Mr. de Winter, an inscrutable but fascinating older man.

All too quickly, the holiday in Monte Cristo comes to a close, but Maxim refuses to let the naive young narrator sail off into the sunset. No, there is a much-less-happy-ending in the narrator’s future. The couple goes to Manderley, Maxim’s estate, and the young companion has no idea how to run a household, much less a household as large as Manderley. She meets the household staff and quickly learns Maxim goes about Maxim’s business while she is left to her own devices.

Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, conspicuously brings up Rebecca (the first Mrs. De Winter) in conversation, referring to how Mrs. DeWinter did this and how Mrs. DeWinter did that, leaving the narrator feeling more insecure and less able to learn how to adjust to her new home. Mrs. Danvers tempts the narrator with discussions of Rebecca’s rooms, the best in the house. When the narrator walks through the grounds, she looks up and curtains in Rebecca’s old room part to reveal Mrs. Danvers, ever watchful. Let’s stop there. Mrs. Danvers is easily one of the most spooky characters I have ever read about or watched in a film. Her obsession with Rebecca and her obvious distaste for the new Mrs. DeWinter verges on demented. This is one twisted housekeeper, and you should be very, very afraid.

As for Maxim, he is gone quite often and has turned sullen and standoffish inside the walls of Manderley. His moods are inconstant; he treats the narrator like a young girl (which drove me nuts). In the face of near insurmountable evidence, the narrator naturally believes he is still in love with the dead Rebecca. She begs him to host a ball for the neighbors, a costume ball, and Mrs. Danvers suggests what the narrator should wear. The tension mounts until the night of the party, and then there is all sorts of action.  Who was Rebecca, and what happened to her?

I will leave you hanging here because I don’t want to spoil anything. Plus, I think every blogger is owed several “Go read this book right now” statements throughout the year, so I’m calling in my first. Go read this book. Second, watch the movie. Third, come back and thank me, and we can talk. Need some more reasons? Spooky house? Check. Crazy housekeeper? Check. Dead wife? Check. Now go.

If you’ve read it, have you seen the movie? I seriously felt as though it played in my head the entire time. Hitchcock, of course, is a genius, but this film is truly a work of art and an excellent, excellent adaptation. What did you think? Rebecca truly made me want to devour everything DuMaurier has written.