Rebecca: Living with Ghosts and Bottling Up Memories

Last night I read Rebecca again and was struck by the similarities in the relationship between its three central characters and Michael and me.

I read Daphne du Maurier’s haunting 1938 classic first in my early twenties and was transfixed by this twisting tale of gauzy enchantment and creeping fear. Always a sucker for a gothic romance, I was mesmerized from the first paragraph.

I must’ve sensed that I was reading something well-written even before I knew what that was. These days, I’m not only in awe of du Maurier’s razor-sharp powers to describe but her uncanny ability to grasp what it is to be human. In the beginning, I just knew that I loved the story of the innocent young woman who falls hopelessly in love with the brooding master of Manderley, only to discover that its dark corridors are haunted by the presence of the dead wife he may have murdered. I loved the book so much that I returned to it again and again throughout my life.

Rebecca spoke to me somehow. I identified with its unnamed heroine. I, too, could be painfully shy when I was growing up and grateful for any show of kindness or attention. Always different because of my disability, I was also attracted to confidence and strength in others, thinking I recognized both in Michael when we first met.

But as with the mysterious and darkly moody Maxim de Winter, I was to learn that these traits were skin-deep—that underneath all of Michael’s cocksure opinions on just about everything lurked a sneaking insecurity that surfaced when I least expected it.

And like the impossibly beautiful Rebecca, Michael had a magnetism that drew people to him in life and, for me, in death. His memory sometimes crowds my thoughts with an overwhelming sadness simply because I miss his peculiar way of being.

Early in the novel’s plot, its heroine wishes that there was an invention that could “bottle up a memory, like scent” that “never faded” and “never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”

She needn’t have bothered. I’ve discovered that I’ll always be “haunted” by Michael’s memory, but unlike the characters populating Rebecca, this isn’t a bad thing. I know the sadness that piggybacks on my memories will become less and less as time goes by, And as to preserving the times I spent with Mike, I don’t need to do anything at all because they’ll forever be captured in my heart; like an album full of black and white photos that will fade over time but will always be there to be thumbed through when I need them.

6 thoughts on “Rebecca: Living with Ghosts and Bottling Up Memories”

  1. I LOOOOVVVEEEE Rebecca! I first read it when I was young as well and it always stayed with me. And only just last year or so I reread it again, and I remember why I loved it so much. It’s so interesting that you relate to characters in the book, almost as if you were literally pulled into their world, and that you were able to kind of embody some of those vibes in real life. I can also relate to being haunted by someone’s memory. For me this isn’t a former love (sorry again for your loss), but my mother. She had a bit of that je ne said quoi kind of like Rebecca, actually. And I have thousands of photographs of my mother to create art with. In a way it helps to keep her memory alive but also honors her in a way that allows me to let her fade away. Thank you for sharing this. And I seriously just get happy and thrilled thinking about this story! If you know of any other gothic romances, please let me know, as I’m obsessed with this genre as well! Jane Eyre is my all time favorite book which is quintessential gothic romance I believe 🖤

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    1. Getting “pulled into their world” is a great way of putting it, Libby. It’s always been that way with Rebecca and me. I love that you use photographs of the mother you lost as a way in your art as a way of both celebrating her and moving on. Writing has become a creative way for me to process my grief and honoring my life with Michael. I live for Jane Eyre as well. Read Anya Seaton’s Dragonwyk a couple of weeks ago and Seaton has become a new obsession. Thanks so much for your ongoing support.

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  2. Thank you for reminding me about du Maurier, I have her on my shelf but haven’t read her in such a long time. I first read her in high school and as a 66 year old, I am sure she can offer me new insights.

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