Sunday, May 18, 2008

Last Night I Dreamt I Went to Manderley Again

I spent yesterday with my mother; we had our usual celebration of Mother's Day that doesn't take place Mother's Day weekend. I'm hermit enough to hate competing with 20 families worth of three or four generations (the youngest one of which is screaming infants) at local restaurants. I'd rather do it the weekend before or after, and have a relaxing time. So that's what we did; on the way there we stopped at a local bookstore, and I found some lovely things on their 25 cent cart, including an early printing of "Rebecca". Sure the jacket is beat up, but it still has the jacket. And the book itself has this lovely silver band around it. Here are some crappy photos of it:
The photo of the silver band doesn't show how nice and shiny it still is; I have a photo that does, but the image is pretty much obliterated by shine. 25 cents. I tells ya, I'd have paid ten times that for this copy of the book. I'm very pleased with it! (I also picked up a scary knitting book, but that will be another blog entry.)

"Rebecca" is one of my favorite gothic novels (sure, it's set in the 20th cent., but by its nature it is very gothic); and this is certainly not my first copy of it. I think the others are in storage. However, this is one of those books that is always a good, juicy read and as such, is worth having more than one copy of (especially at these prices). There are a few books in my library that are like that for me - "Jane Eyre" (I've at least two copies), "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" (again, at least two copies), anything by Jane Austen (I've a few of her books in multiple copies).

Jane, of course, is the anti-gothic - read "Northanger Abbey" if you've any question on the specifics. A world that is nothing but gothic novels would be very boring, and I'm glad that Jane was an early poker-of-fun at the movement. The first wave of gothic novels certainly left something to be desired; if you've ever read "The Castle of Otranto" you'll know what I mean. And I've never been able to make it through an Mrs Radcliffe novel. There are a couple of that era that I haven't tried that I certainly will make an effort to complete, like "Vathek" and "The Monk".

The Brontes did gothic quite well, and each with their own spin. For example, Anne's reflected her more extensive existence in the real world, and her views of women and their abilities is not the least that of helplessness and frailty. Her women are intelligent, not afraid to act, and of strong morals in the face of a world that does not reward such morality very often.

Of her two novels I've read, "Agnes Grey" is less gothic in tone, but rather grim. Agnes is a governess and the book relates her experiences of serving in horrible families with offspring who are, at best, shallow, self-centered and cruel in their thoughtlessness and, at worst, monsters (no point in pussyfooting). I mean, I consider a lad who enjoys crushing baby birds with rocks to be a monster. "Agnes Grey" had critics' knickers all in a bunch; after all, upper class children would never behave in such a fashion, right? Right?

"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" is much more what one expects of the Brontes. Still, the heroine, Helen Huntingdon, is bolder in her actions than even Jane Eyre; she exhibits a sense of self-worth wonderful to see in a 19th cent. novel. I think this novel also got some folks' knickers in a bunch; after all, once Helen realizes what scum her spouse is, she denies him, er, sexual congress by slamming her bedroom door in his face. Shocking, you are no doubt thinking. If you're not, then you are perhaps unaware that women were expected to submit to their husbands - in all ways.

Along these lines, there is an edition of "Jane Eyre" (yes, I know that's Charlotte and not Anne) illustrated by Dame Darcy; one of the nice things is that it contains the forward to the second edition. The second edition is dedicated to W.M. Thackeray, but is also a bit of a nice feminist rant. It's a nice trade paper edition and worth owning.

I look forward to reading "Rebecca" again; I think the book does a little better by the second Mrs de Winter than the film does. At least, in the first couple of pages she seems to have a little more going for her than Joan Fontaine did.

I've pretty much finished with my rambling about novels, but let me add my recommendation of just a couple other novels along these lines: "Behind A Mask" by Louisa May Alcott and "Lady Audley's Secret" by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (similar stories, but both rousing good fun if you rather like bad women), "A Long, Fatal Love Chase" by Louisa May Alcott (stalking old school style), and "Dragonwyck" by Anya Seton, another 20th cent. novel, but set in the 19th cent. and effectively demonstrating gothic sensibilities in upstate New York. There's a new edition of this one out with an introduction by Phillipa Gregory. Haven't gotten a copy yet, but since my only copy of this book is 60 years old, I'll be looking for one used somewhere.

1 comment:

sarah said...

I LOVE the book Rebecca. Something today made me think of the opening line from the book...dreaming of Manderly etc. so I googled it to see what would come writing a quiz for a interactive quiz I take part in online...was thinking lines from novels...I hope you enjoy your book! I wish I could be so lucky as to find one. another good book by the same author, My cousin rachel...excellent read. email if yould like