I’m reading Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca for the second time. The date on the flyleaf of the book says I bought it when I was 15 years old and I must have read it not too long after I bought it. When you buy books out of your school allowance, you tend to buy one at a time and you tend to choose the one that you like the most and can’t wait to read as soon as you get home.
It’s amazing how one’s perspective changes with age. When I first read it, the thing that struck me most was how evil Rebecca was, and I really didn’t remember much beyond that except for the crummy housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, a creature I would have fired within 30 seconds of setting foot in Manderley had I been the second Mrs. de Winter.
Now that I’m reading the novel again, I can appreciate the other characters better, especially the second Mrs. de Winter. Well, “appreciate” may not be the exact word because I’m having a difficult time seeing her as a heroine. It’s not that she’s bad — it’s just that she’s so maddeningly naive and simple. Her husband’s sister makes a comment about her lank hair and she’s suddenly worried whether her husband likes her hair and so she asks him. What the heck…?? It’s her hair and she’s going to cut it in whatever way that pleases her husband?
Well, alright. I must concede that the character was young (the implied age is 21), the book was first published in 1938 which wasn’t exactly the year that gave rise to feminism. But, guess what? I knew a lot of girls in high school and in college, and I know a number of women my age today, who think exactly like the second Mrs. de Winter in Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel. They cut or grow their hair depending on the what their boyfriends or husbands want. They raise their necklines and lower their hemlines according to the preferences of the man in their lives too.
I’ve asked some of them, you know, why they do it. And the most popular answer was because they wanted “to please” the husband or the boyfriend. And I’ve wondered why a man who would seek to destroy the unique personality — the very individuality — of a woman would be worth pleasing at all. Men like that don’t deserve women. Rather, they ought to be given dolls that fit the image of their “ideal” women.
And I’ve wondered just as often how much regard those women have for themselves if they feel it more important to please their man rather than celebrate the glory of what they are. To each her own, I suppose.