Friday, September 9, 2011


For Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again"
--First line of the novel Rebecca by Daphne duMaurier

Although I am not into the recent trend of modern vampire stories, I have long loved Gothic literature and when I find a good love story intertwined with Gothic characteristics, I am most happy. As an English teacher, my sharing of works by classic authors such as Daphne duMaurier or modern writers such as Audrey Niffenegger or Diane Setterfield find a place. My students themselves begin to enjoy the stories of creepy castles, mysterious and suspenseful atmospheres, high, even overwrought emotions of the breathless and often lonely oppressed heroines, and the romance of what is often a “first love” experienced in the works.

So in my Horrific Tales class, as an introduction to the Gothic Tradition, I read to my students the first chapter of Daphne duMaurier’s novel, Rebecca. The novel is a long time favorite of mine. I remember reading the book as a teen and special ordering my own copy of it from the town library. In fact, the novel title eventually became my daughter’s middle name, although I must say that I wished her to become nothing like that title character! My students point out the way in which duMaurier established the Gothic setting in her first chapter and we then begin watching the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock’s movie of the same name. The film starring Laurence Olivier quickly grabs the teenagers’ interest. They are amused by the character of busy-body Mrs. Hopper and especially by the creepy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. The mystery of Maxim deWinter and his late wife intrigues them. The students become a bit protective of the new Mrs. deWinter, the innocent young woman whom Maxim marries a year after Rebecca’s death (played by actress Joan Fontaine) and are entertained by the strange “Ben” who occupies the little boathouse that the new Mrs. deWinter stumbles onto.

Although I have seen the movie many times, I find myself absorbed in the watching of the film, year after year. Each time I view it, I find additional subtleties in Oliver or Fontaine’s characterizations and I find new ways to observe the beautiful movie sets. I chuckle over the ways in which the driving scenes would be filmed quite differently given today’s technology and the changes in film-making, and I cannot help but stare in awe at the beauty of Fontaine and the handsomeness of Olivier. I find I have easily memorized much of the story’s dialogue, but I enjoy seeing how my new students are reacting to the 70 year old drama. Pleasingly, they are sad to find their class period ending and are happy to come back next time to finish the movie.

I would love to add my name to the list of contemporary authors who borrow from the Gothic style. I am again reminded it’s time for me to get back to the novel I have begun writing. All these years later, it is amazing that Rebecca continues to serve as such an inspiration for me.

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