I’ve already managed to read two of the books on the BBC Big Read Top 200 list that I hadn’t already – not bad going! My first two books were Pride & Prejudice and Rebecca. Here are my thoughts.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I don’t think I need to say too much about the plot – I suspect most people know it already, but it is basically the story of the five single Bennet girls and their mother who is determined to get them married off. Most of the story focuses on Jane and Elizabeth ( Lizzy) – the two oldest Bennet daughters and their relationships with two young men, Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy.
Once I’d got used to the old-fashioned spellings (chuse for choose!), I quite enjoyed the book. It’s well written and gives great insight into how people think and the relationships between them. I liked the character of Lizzy, who was strong and independent. Despite living in a society in which the only way that women could gain any form of secuity was to find themselves a husband, she refused to get married for anything less than love. The one thing that did annoy me about her was her attitude to her sister, Jane. Lizzie’s thoughts on other people are mostly realistic (except when it comes to Mr Darcy, whom she originally takes a dislike to), but Jane, in her eyes, can do no wrong. Jane is the epitome of all that’s kind and good-tempered, but is also very naive and almost ridiculously innocent, a trait that I’m sure Lizzie would have found annoying in anyone but her marvellous big sister Jane! I wouldn’t say this is my favourite classic, but I would probably read it again.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The famous opening line of this book – “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again” – sets the scene for the entire story, which consists of the unnamed bnarrator (she is only ever referred to as Mrs DeWinter, but at the beginning of the book she isn’t even that) reminiscing about the past. While working as the companion to a rich American woman – Mrs Van Hopper – vacationing in Monte Carlo, the narrator meets rich widower Maximilian DeWinter. Mrs Van Hopper comes down with an illness, leaving the narrator free to spend her time with Mr DeWinter. After a fortnight, Mrs Van Hopper decides she wants to go home, at which point Max DeWinter suddenly asks the narrator to marry him. After a honeymoon, the DeWinters return to Max’s home, Manderley, where he presents his new wife to the staff, including the creeper housekeeper, Mrs Danvers. later, we find out that Mrs Danvers was devoted to the original Mrs DeWinter, Max’s first wife Rebecca, who died ten months earlier in a boating accident. Rebecca’s presence can still be felt in every room of the house, and the narrator often compares herself unfavourably with the seemingly perfect dead woman.
Rebecca is a difficult book to classify. It’s certainly gothic, with elements of romance (it has been labelled as such), but to me it also has a slight air of mystery about it. Little by little, things come out that don’t seem to fit in with what’s been said before. And, of course, there’s the whole Cinderella rags-to-riches element of the young girl being rescued from a life as a companion by the wealthy widower. You could say there’s something for everyone.
I really enjoyed this novel. With so many twists and turns, I was disappointed every time I had to put the book away and get on with something else – I was desperate to know what was going to happen next! The caharacters are well developed, and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the poor, insecure narrator – thurst into a new life that she had absolutely no experience with and having to hear time and time again how wonderful everyone thought Rebecca was. I would highly recommend this book, particularly to those who enjoy novels like Jane Eyre.