Daphne du Maurier and other such authors.
I can’t express the almost physical hurt and frustration I feel when reading reviews, or thoughts, held by readers of authors like Ms du Maurier. So many of them seem to read these books with current day interpretive expectations. This is unacceptable. You wouldn’t read Dickens or Trollope with the same expectations regarding peoples behavior and what lies behind it, as you would , say, James Patterson. It’s important to remember that authors who wrote during the mid twentieth century were also writing in a different sort of world. Yes there were modern amenities, cars and planes and electricity ( though not for everyone ), but socially, in many ways it was almost as different from now, as when Dickens was spinning his tales.
One musn’t be exasperated with the behavior of a heroine such as ours in “Rebecca”. Certainly shyness can exist in any generation, and how much more so during a time when women in general were a more retiring group. While Rebecca herself, a woman of great beauty and confidence might behave with a certain bravado, the second wife of Maxim might not. Also, central to this particular story, it would not do to have her behave with a worldly sophistication.
Communication seems to also be a favorite unfavorite, but is that really fair? Even in todays society how many times is non communication at fault for misunderstandings and strife. It’s as common as any other interaction between a man and a woman. It only makes sense that it would play an important part in a story such as Rebecca where you have an older man and a younger woman. He, very much a man of the world, well traveled and wealthy, and she a companion to women twice her age, almost a servant really, poorly paid, young and with no family of her own. She is somewhat in awe of Maxim even though she is in love with him. With these ingredients we find Ms du Maurier making a dish of suspenseful gothic fare. Without these ingredients the story could not exist. Our heroine would be confident of herself and either not marry Maxim at all, or turn out all the servants and air out the house ridding herself of all the old memories and Mrs Danvers to boot. If you think this is a good idea, then you need not read gothic suspense from a certain period anyway.
This sort of book, which Daphne du Maurier excelled at, needs to follow an avenue of actions and behavior, to succeed at what it sets out to be. Certain personalities are necessary to the story. They work best with a flawed male and female protagonist, hence the misunderstandings that will occur, thereby prolonging the story. These misunderstandings also allow for true love to have its problems, also prolonging the story. A villain most definitely is needed, and if well done, will cause the reader to detest, yet sometimes feel sorry for , or perhaps not feel sorry for them at all. Don’t expect a heroine that is strong enough to handle every situation, and also verbose enough to say exactly what’s needed when and where it’s needed. Those sorts of people rarely exist in real life, why should they exist in books? Also, if they do exist in real life, they’re usually extremely annoying.
I would tell younger readers, and by younger I mean teens or young women forty and down, read these books with the same feelings that you would watch a wonderful old film. Allow for different manners and social behavior. Most of all, treat the women in these books with the gentle understanding that, to a certain extent they played by a different set of rules. Do this and I believe you will garner a wonderful reading experience.