Monday, June 06, 2005


Are you supposed to be on vacation while you're "helping" with a new baby? That's about how it's been here...sleep late, wake up to fresh latte, lounge around, play with the baby, play with the toddler, read a little.

So I'm pretty boring right now. Brownies just came out of the oven and bread dough is rising for flatbread, and that's about the extent of my accomplishments.

Oh, I did finish reading Rebecca, which I've been meaning to read for years. That and the Michel Faber neo-Victorian novel, The Crimson Petal and the White. Rebecca channels Jane Eyre in interesting ways--much younger, plain, working girl marries older, more experienced, wealthy man with a past. I read an interesting article by Rey Chow arguing that both put the man's story at the center, as in the end it is all about him and his status that determines the heroine's story. I think maybe, though less in the case of Jane Eyre than Rebecca. The creepy thing about Rebecca, of course, is that the dowdy girl falls even more in love with her husband when she discovers that he's murdered his first wife, that's he's never loved her. It is almost as if the murder restores his past to her, makes him the innocent with no history that he also wants her to be. (Don't we have to suspect she isn't, really, as well? What else is she doing as a companion to a wealthy American woman in Monte Carlo?)

Faber's book explores the seamy underbelly of Victorian London, detailing the rise into gentility of a whore named Sugar. She, too, needs to be defined through a man, though she's far more open and self-aware about this than her real Victorian--or even modernist--counterparts. What I find intriguing about The Crimson Petal and the White is the way that the more genteel she becomes, the more maternal--she discovers her inner "mother," as it were, when she has the money and the opportunity to do so.

Both Rebecca and Jane Eyre project maternity for their heroines, though only Jane Eyre delivers (sorry, no pun intended). But parenthood is so secondary to the marital relationship--what's important for Jane is that she gives Rochester an heir, for example--that it's hard to imagine either of them as a mother, or motherhood as in any way transformative for them. Du Maurier had children, Brontë¨did not, so it's not a case of personal experience driving the narratives so much, I think, as cultural expectations: marriage was expected to produce children, but children were not expected to transform either the marriage or the mother.


Christina Adams said...

It's a pleasure to see "Rebecca" talked about--it still remains a very interesting book in my mind, and the narrative technique remains amazing (the narrator never reveals her name). I watched the old movie years ago---there were things I didn't like about it, but the Mrs. Danvers character was pretty well-done, although with overtones of "Hollywood-monster scary."

Libby said...

Yes, isn't "Rebecca" fascinating? I love that the narrator is unnamed (of course, it helps that people can call her Mrs DeWinter after a whlie).