Over the past years I’ve been reading Daphne du Maurier’s fiction when I have a break in other novels. I started with Rebecca after seeing it performed in the Lake District over my anniversary. I loved the small slip of a girl who play the new Mrs. De Winter, she almost appeared to fade into the background half the time, which is pretty amazing for an actress to do as they normally want as much of the spotlight as they can steal. She was small and weak and trusting, but most of all she was in love, and you could see it.
Reading Rebecca is much the same, you fall in love with the main character and all of her insecurities. Not only is she not the title character of her own book, she’s not even given her own name. Even Mrs. De Winter is a convenience because she still thinks of the sector of a first wife as Mrs. De Winter. Hitchcock did an absolutely amazing adaptation for the screen of Rebecca that stays very faithful to the book and of course, keeps all the beautiful tension. There are so many similarities with Jane Eyre and Rebecca that one really hesitates to call it an original plot. More a modern look at the mind of a girl who knows she isn’t attractive being loved by someone above her.
Daphne-such a beautiful name, I want to call her that- a collection of short stories, published as ‘Not After Midnight’ or ‘Don’t look Now’ The title story is good in the same vaguely creepy way that Rebecca is, but the jewel of the collection, in my opinion is ‘The Way of the Cross’ which, while not a thriller like the others, is so very honest is the depiction of widely divergent characters that you feel sympathy for all and none of them at the same time.
There are several other De Maurier books, my Cousin Rachel, The Birds, and Jamaica Inn being the most famous because they were made into films.
The book of hers that I just finished is not one of the most popular, but I actually couldn’t tell you why. The Scapegoat isn’t really a thriller, although it had the distinct possibility of being one. Rather it is a telling of two men who look the same switching places, although one not very willingly. Our main Character, perhaps the title character, John is a British professor of French history on holiday who is hoodwinked into taking the place of a man he met only hours before on but happens to look exactly like, M Comte de Gue...and there’s the rouse. It’s not great, but it gets us to where we want. John is now a stranger looking in on a life that isn’t his own but without the formality of being thought a stranger.
The people he meets are divided into two sections, well drawn sad depictions of a rotting aristocracy; refined morphine addicts, insetuios family members, the over religious and one sweet, but very spoiled little girl. These are undoubtedly the people the count was trying to get away from when he thought of changing places. Of course there is a second set of characters that John, not being born and raised to overlook that of the over idealized French peasants drawn only the way a very rich girl can. They are noble, and thoughtful , respectful and of course wise an d respectful. This isn’t to say there aren’t peasants like this, but I do always find in shocking in a book where ALL the presents are drawn that way. There are people John falls in love with that his double hated, or more to the point was just tired of.
Rebecca is to the scapegoat as the blush of youth is to middle age. And if you liked one you are sure to love the other.