Saturday, September 5, 2009

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

One novel that I will always uphold as one of the most un-droppable reads is Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca. Released in 1938 (nearly the period that Gone with the Wind was released), and enchanting readers all over. The title of the story points to a wealthy man's wife who mysteriously dies in a boat accident. But the lead of the story is girl described as plain and lacking in confidence. She is an assistant to a wealthy dowager, and while vacationing in the Riviera, her whole world changes. What seems to be whirlwind courtship brings her be the next wife of Maximilian de Winter. The reader is somehow made to believe that it would be a marriage that changes the course of her life. But upon reaching the Manderlay, mansion of her wealthy husband, she only realizes that she will live forever under the shadow of the beautiful, charming and alluring deceased wife -- Rebecca.

Her antagonists range from the lingering mementos of the dead wife to one strong member of the household who believes Rebecca is irreplaceable. Mrs. Danvers -- the mansion's keeper and head of household may as well be the living haunt of Manderlay. Schemes, and subtle verbal assaults are made by her to make this new wife feel her lack vis-a-vis the dead wife. There is even a point where Mrs. Danvers encourages the new wife to end her sorrow -- go ahead, jump out the window, it's going to be easy, it will be fast. A turning point is where the young wife is made to wear a gown to celebrate the reawakening of Manderlay, encouraged by Mrs. Danvers -- only to realize that this would be one of the biggest mistakes she'll ever make as the new wife of Max de Winter.

Rebecca was made into a film. Lawrence Olivier was to play Max de Winter; and it was produced by David Selznick. It isn't surprising that the young Vivien Leigh -- fresh from her success as Scarlett -- would audition for the part. I have attached a link to that rare screentest here. Copy paste to your internet browser.

Unfortunately, Ms. Leigh, despite her ability to bring Scarlett to life, was not the choice. She was deemed "beautiful" (a contrast to the lead's plain description) and fresh from GWTW, she had not the time to prepare for the role. But she so wanted to play next to her beau, Lawrence. Selznick was said to have explained it to her via mail: that the choice of the lead is just as crucial a manner similar to the choice Scarlett. And it was meticulousness that made Scarlett a success. In effect trying to make her understand and justify the choice not being her. Why if the new wife looked like Vivien, I think the dead Rebecca would have to be even more beautiful.

Perplexing though is the choice which Selznick had for the role: Joan Fontaine -- sister of Olivia de Havilland (a rival of sisters which I think is strange too). For Joan was not really plain (my opinon). Well judge for yourself. Watch the film. The novel is slow with its descriptive narrative, it picks up towards the middle. Not a Grisham novel in pace, but something you'd like to read, curled up on a cold day beside a window. It has to be read slowly. I think the novel was much better than the book -- as is the case most of the time.


Well, let's just say I wish Tonner would do gowns from Hollywood films or heroines from novels: Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Little Women, Sabrina. It would be fun to see those characters interpreted in doll form. Heathcliff and Cathy, Mr. Rochester and Jane Eyre, etc. etc. It would be a good effort to revive interest in the classics.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I love that movie! I have not seen it in so long. I would love to have it on DVD. I will have to look for it.


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