Reading the Romance in Rebecca Blog Post by Ella Bukbardis

‘Last night I dreamed of Manderley again’ opens Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938), a classic novel in its own right, instantly placing the stately home at the epicentre of the books warped romance. The narrator who dreams of Manderley is a conventional romantic heroine, a young, naive, and submissive child-bride to her brusque, and much older, husband Maxim de Winter, the owner of Manderly. The novel encapsulates many conventions which captivate an audience who may be well versed in romance novels, such as the pastoral setting in its detailed accounts, ‘[…] lovelier even than I had ever dreamed, built in its hollow of smooth grassland and mossy lawns’ guides the audience to a distant place where they may indulge in fantasy. J.A Radway’s The act of reading romance: espace and instruction writes romance fictions target audience, middle-aged married women, who utilise these novels as a full blown escape method:


On the one hand, they used the term literally to describe the act of denying the present […] On the other hand, the used the word in a more figurative fashion to give substance to the […] intense sense of relief they experience by identifying with a heroine whose life does not resemble their own.


Self-identifying with the narrator (who is never even named) in Rebecca precipitates issues, as she is thoroughly victimised throughout the novel. It is only when Max blurts out ‘You thought I loved Rebecca? You thought I killed her, loving her? I hated her, I tell you’ that the narrator gains any power as the co-owner at Manderley. This is purely fuelled through her own ‘evil’ nature which materialised as the truth of Rebecca’s death arose. However, in a state of indulgence, romance readers may look over such negative aspects in the novel, as Radway says, ‘romantic escape is […] a temporary but literal denial of the demands women recognize as an integral part of their roles as wives and mothers’. This comment argues that despite any stereotypes and unrealistic fantasies, the romantic reader is willing to overlook these issues to escape the repetitiveness of their own daily lives.

13 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Georgia on February 27, 2018 at 1:35 pm

    As a romance novel, Rebecca is a really interesting example as not only is there that typical ‘it takes a good woman to reform a man’ aspect that readers of the romance love, but also this really interesting juxtaposition between the first and second wives, one obedient and one rebellious. In addition to this, as a female reader, Du Maurier knows how to make me engage with the second wife as all women can relate to the paranoia and fear of the ex-lover.


  2. Posted by Rachel Chandar on February 27, 2018 at 1:54 pm

    I really enjoyed your post, Ella. I liked your point on how the reader is transported to a place where they can indulge in fantasy, as Manderley is described as like a dream world. It has connotations of a fairytale, especially within the first chapter, as Bertrandias states in her essay, it incorporates the ‘spellbinding atmosphere of the romance.’ This aspect of being captivated by a fantasy is key to the romance genre, but as you mentioned this does present the issue of a female reader possibly relating to such a victimised narrator.


  3. Great post Ella! I agree with how certain romance readers may overlook certain aspects of novel to follow their own ideas. I believe this is where the question of what makes a romance novel comes in. Some would picture romance as a ‘fairytale’ (man gets girl), others would want scenes of emotional upset and others would believe erotica to be fundamental. I don’t think there is an exact answer for this but when reading Rebecca you do see a mixture of these characteristics which does make you question your initial impression of the novel.


  4. This is a great post Ella, really well written! The points you’ve raised sum up the novel perfectly, especially the lack of the narrators name, her age, and naivety. I also liked how you’ve mentioned the setting and how it’s typical of the romance genre. Do you think this novel is typical of romance fiction, and if so is Du Maurier conforming to it to highlight its flaws, or simply because she enjoys the genre?


  5. Great post, Ella. In Rebecca, Manderley and the surrounding area are described in great detail – do you think this was a conscious effort by Du Maurier to play on the escapism that the traditional romance reader seeks?


  6. Posted by Lily on February 27, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    Great post, Ella! I agree with your point about the reader reading to indulge in a fantasy and I think the image of Manderley really gives that romantic genre feel. The imagery and language that is used to describe the estate within the first page gives that image of a romantic home. I thought that the conflicts with the narrator and Rebecca was interesting, it was only when the narrator realised the Maxim didn’t love Rebecca, she felt she could become the woman of the estate.


  7. Posted by Zoha hussain on February 27, 2018 at 9:53 pm

    Great post! I liked your point about how readers are willing to overlook some of the issues I’m order to escape the monotony of their own lives. Romance function functions as a ‘What It’s scenario for these women; these women are able to liberate themselves from the mundane tasks of everyday life and enter into a fantasy they create. It is interesting to note the power of such romance function that it can have such impact.
    I think it is interesting that romance function incorporates or is represtantive of the reader rsponce theory. Barthes notion of the author being figuratively dead can be applied here as the very namelessnes of the protagonist highlights the universality of the experience; anyone reading ‘Rebecca can be the second Mrs Dewinter.


  8. Posted by Sara on February 27, 2018 at 11:01 pm

    Such an interesting post Ella. I love how you have focused on the reader’s point of view of the novel and how they see romantic fiction as a kind of escape. In some sense, there is a likeness with the reader and the unnamed narrator in the way that it could be argued that the unnamed narrator has seen Maxim’s proposal of marriage as an escape from her uneventful life and into a life much like the romantic stories the narrator is familiar with.


  9. Posted by Ruzina on February 28, 2018 at 12:04 am

    Great post, Ella. Most read romantic fiction for escape, entertainment and pleasure. Novels such as Rebecca can also teach moral lessons as it explores the theme of jealousy. This novel is about the narrator’s obsession with the first Mrs. de Winter and how inaccurate her assumptions have been. When the narrator learns that Maxim does love her and not Rebecca, she is finally able to create an identity for herself. Du Maurier illuminates the danger of dwelling too much on the past.


  10. Posted by Fern Dalton on February 28, 2018 at 12:52 pm

    Great post, Ella, you’ve summarised the novel well and raised some interesting points. I think that self-identifying with the narrator is a unique way to read the novel and by doing so, you’re able to notice the non-typical romantic features that are mentioned in the novel, which you would otherwise disregard. Furthermore, Maxim’s proposal of marriage, is when we see how bored, essentially, the narrator is with her life.


  11. Posted by Bronagh on February 28, 2018 at 8:52 pm

    Great post! I found the juxtaposition between the two wives very interesting. I think it reveals a lot about the society that we live in that constantly pits women against other women. The question is how do we break this cycle and start empowering other women and there for eachother?


  12. Posted by Carmen on February 28, 2018 at 11:01 pm

    Interesting post Ella. I like that fact that you touched upon the idea that the narrator remains nameless throughout the entirety of the novel and there is little detail concerning. The novel essentially focuses itself on the idea of female rivalry instead of solidarity as shown through the fact that the narrator often pits herself against Rebecca and even becomes some sort of accomplice in the murder of Rebecca.


  13. Posted by Hannah Mitchell on March 1, 2018 at 3:37 pm

    I think the setting in Rebecca is stereotypical of a romance novel as it is somewhat mystical and offers a sense of escapism for the reader. I thought the relationship dynamics were still dangerous in this novel. Representing the protagonist as being paranoid of the ex-wife and so forth i thought was quite unhealthy as it enforces the idea that all previous relationships had to be toxic for her to feel at ease. Mentally, this is just as toxic


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