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  • Katherine Dahl

Rebecca: A Gothic Mystery in Four Songs

Although now slowly creeping up on the book-focused side of TikTok, the 1930s classic Rebecca—by Daphne Du Maurier—was originally recommended to me by one of my high school English teachers. I was automatically hooked. The unnamed narrator, a young woman in her 20s, begins the story by falling quickly in love with the mysterious, illustrious, widowed Mr. De Winter. Without really knowing anything about his past (or present) the narrator agrees to marry him, and she is soon carted off to the De Winter manor, where there are plenty of mysteries to be unraveled. The metaphorical ghost of the previous Mrs. De Winter haunts the house, leaving the new wife to struggle in the void she left behind. Beware of spoilers.

While initially extremely excited to move into the new house, the narrator is soon overwhelmed with the latent presence of Rebecca De Winter, who died a year prior. The staff—mostly the evil Mrs. Danvers—hold the narrator to an unachievable standard. The narrator is trapped, unable to properly run the house like she feels she ought to. There is “Nowhere to Run”, as with the song by Martha & the Vandellas. “Everywhere [she] goes, [Rebecca’s] face she sees” which means she has “nowhere to hide” from the collective memory the house has of Rebecca. She’s dead, yet the narrator feels her presently as if she weren’t. She’ll “never be [free of her]” in the first part of the movie. 

However, throughout the course of the novel, the narrator asserts her agency over the house (and over Rebecca’s memory). She claims, “You Don’t Own Me”, when internally speaking to her-livened image of Rebecca, like Lesley Gore’s 1963 song. By continuously challenging the roles the staff (and her husband) place her in, she challenges her own powerful image of Rebecca. Rebecca’s memory can no longer control her actions because she comes back to “let [her] be [herself]” instead of trying to imitate what Rebecca was.

But, as the mystery reveals itself, the image of Rebecca begins to crumble. Mr. De Winter—Maxim—soon reveals the truth when Rebecca’s decomposing body is discovered in a sunken boat. He admits to killing her, but also claims she was crazy, controlling, and manipulative: he was forced to “walk eggshells” and he “[couldn’t] breathe”. She was threatening, holding the metaphorical “knife” very close “to [his] neck” at all times. In his mind, she is the embodiment of the character in Goldfinger’s  “Put the Knife Away.” She spent so much time attempting to control their ‘sham’ of a marriage until he shot her dead after threatening him into raising her unborn child as his own, despite its having been conceived by another man.

To all of the readers, it seems like Maxim fell victim to a “Nervous Breakdown” (as with the song of the same title by Black Flag) because of his tendency to remain unemotional in all settings. He’s both “crazy” and “hurt”; the narrator was unprepared to hear that her new husband is a murderer, especially after only hearing good things about the late Rebecca. She previously assumed that he was still in love with his previous wife—thus giving justification to his own emotional distance from the new Mrs. De Winter. Given that Maxim confessed that this is not the case, the narrator is left to scramble for the pieces (including her own relief that he never loved Rebecca) left behind.

The story has a bit of an ambiguous ending; I was left with a unsettled feeling at the end of the story. Over a year ago, Rebecca haunted me just like she haunted the characters of the novel. Although I spoiled the main mystery of the novel, I still recommend it for its lyrical writing and suspenseful style. 

Runner-Ups: “I’ll Find a Way to Make it What You Want” by Taking Back Sunday, “Fake Blood” by Heart Attack Man, “Ain’t No Pleasing You” by Chad & Dave, “I Started Something I Can’t Finish” by the Smiths


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