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What Affect Does Hitchcock’s Changing Of The Ending Of Rebecca Have On The Story?

A screen shot of Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier as the heroine and Max in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

Screen shot from Rebecca, copyright © 1940 Selznick International Pictures.

You can rest assured this will be the last post on this book here for a long time, if not forever.

In the film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s book, Max does not kill Rebecca. He talks to the heroine in the boat house but doesn’t say he did it. This difference to the book was made because at the time films could not show a criminal getting away with the crime.

You’d be forgiven for not noticing the difference, I think – this sounds weird when you consider I’m all for adaptation fidelity – but what Hitchcock does is make his film as near as possible to the original as he could.

I want to look at the affect this change has on the story. Crucially, in not having Max kill Rebecca, the film does not make him in any sense a bad person, it preserves his good name entirely. Whilst it could be said that Max, in the book, in killing Rebecca is no better than her, is worse than her, the same can’t be said for Lawrence Olivier’s Max. Of course we don’t necessarily see ‘book’ Max as bad – Du Maurier presents a man deeply upset, ashamed, and if we view Rebecca as horrible a person as Du Maurier wants us to then we can say Max killed Rebecca without really thinking it through, that he was not fully competent at the time due to what Rebecca had done. And the element of jealousy makes Max not seem so bad a person. That jealousy is very pervasive, Du Maurier good at manipulation.

To get rid of the kill as Hitchcock does is to preserve Max’s name and as only the heroine, in the book, knew of the killing, we can say it is to preserve his name for us, the readers and watchers.

As far as the film goes with its difference, Max comes across as better than Rebecca. He’s clean, done nothing wrong. He’s a proper good guy, more of a hero than book Max could ever be.

What the change does, though, away from this, is that it affects the sense of jealousy and the sense of revenge in the story. Yes, it could be considered a good thing because of what I’ve said above, but in toning it down it diffuses the pressure behind the idea that Du Maurier wanted something done to Rebecca to make up for the problems. Given what we know of the real life background – Du Maurier’s jealousy of her husband’s first fiancée – we can see a want for something to happen, for Du Maurier to want to do something to change things and the way she feels. Max killing Rebecca is over the top but, given artistic license, it works. In a way, when considering the book, and the film’s change, it changes our thoughts of Du Maurier, too.

Considering Du Maurier’s worry that her book had caused Jan Ricardo’s death we could assume the film change was welcomed by her.

In a way, the change seems a small thing, especially as it doesn’t change the general outcome, but when you think it over, it does do something to the way we perceive Max and perhaps the way we view the book’s themes, too.

 
The Character Progression Of Far From The Madding Crowd’s Gabriel Oak

A screen shot of Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan as Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba Everdene

Screen shot from Far From The Madding Crowd, copyright © 2015 Fox Searchlight.

This will be in part a character analysis.

Whilst Bathsheba Everdene is strong-willed and against marrying… unless it involves a particular soldier, I always felt that had Gabriel Oak understood who Bathesheba was, he would have gained her hand sooner. Hardy’s plot, with its three suitors, of course stands on its own but to me part of the idea of it is that there’s time for Gabriel to learn.

Whilst Bathsheba’s own learning – her progression from someone quite selfish and thoughtless to someone who knows actions have consequences – is forefront, throughout the book Gabriel’s progression trickles along steadily in the background. Gabriel begins as a person who sees a pretty woman (and wants to give her a lamb because “I thought she might like one to rear; girls do”) and becomes someone who understands that, actually, Bathsheba is competent enough even if she requires his help. He understands that she’s equal to him, an individual. Hardy is all about women having more liberty and he places this into his plans of the progression for his male characters. Bathsheba may be selfish and frivolous, he’s saying, but she’s a person deserving respect and you men after her heart and farm should think so, too.

Gabriel is Bathsheba’s constant. He sticks around when she spurns him, pushing aside his love for her and mollifying himself with friendship. Unlike Boldwood, who becomes obsessive in his desire, Gabriel defers to Bathsheba’s decision about him and offers help and safety. Boldwood, and Troy as it so happens, offer instability.

We know from the start that Gabriel is likely to win Bathsheba over by the end due to his presence at the start of the novel and Hardy’s way of describing him. As I said a while back, we are supposed to like Gabriel Oak – Hardy writes about him in a way that ensures we do.

Gabriel meets Bathsheba, if we can call it a meeting, when she passes through his field. He sees her admiring herself in a mirror and offers to pay her passage through the gate, receiving not so much as an acknowledgement of his presence in return. He has a good head on his shoulders – whilst another employee notes her beauty, Gabriel notes her vanity.

It doesn’t stop him loving her, however. Perhaps it’s her nature that he likes the most – not the vanity but her independence. Gabriel is there when Bathsheba is riding astride the horse, there when she lays back on the animal to continue her journey in a very casual fashion. What would Boldwood have made of her then? Troy would perhaps quite like it… or he’d be indifferent. Gabriel, it seems as we continue reading, seems to see someone to admire, if not always (she does make some bad choices!) then often. Though Bathsheba may be vain and selfish and frivolous, we can see that, not unlike the case of Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, she meets her match in the unlikely Gabriel.

Does Gabriel test the waters a bit? To go back to that lamb incident, after having seen her on the horse, he still takes her a lamb on that ‘girls do’ premise. At this point, with his knowledge, it seems almost ingenious of him to offer her a lamb but perhaps in this he’s appealing to the vain woman, the frivolous Bathsheba who likes pretty things. Maybe she’ll like the lamb as much as she likes herself.

Gabriel also, we can assume, looses out to other men because of his weakness and silly idea – it’s okay if Bathsheba doesn’t love him, he says, as long as he loves her. He is in many ways like Bathsheba herself when she falls for Troy.

Whilst Boldwood sees Bathsheba’s frivolity, and Troy her strength but all too quickly her weakness also, Gabriel knows what lies beneath all that. Perhaps he can see the future, perhaps it’s just that Hardy’s intimating the future to us and therefore we can ascribe that notion to Gabriel, but it certainly can seem as though Gabriel is just biding his time.

Gabriel ‘lets’ Boldwood continue his own passion; he doesn’t get jealous. He also ‘lets’ Bathsheba fall in love with Troy without too much opposition; his active opposition only occurs when Bathsheba goes to find Troy in her scared-she’ll-loose-him state. Gabriel has seen through Troy and tries to stop her going but she is too far gone in her anxiety to listen to him and, like Boldwood, somewhat obsessed. What if Troy finds someone else? she’s thinking. In becoming a worrier, Bathsheba becomes someone Troy dislikes.

“I want someone to tame me; I am too independent and you would never be able to, I know,” Bathsheba had said to Gabriel. This section, near the beginning and again bringing to mind the later Scarlett O’Hara, can be seen as illustrative of what Gabriel later aspires to be. It’s never said, Hardy only ever shows it, but in becoming more protective and proactive on the farm, Gabriel becomes this tamer of Bathsheba. He likely won’t tame Bathsheba as much as she suggested – we see in her submission to Troy her weakness, a sort of wish fulfilment; Bathsheba becomes tameable to Troy and thus boring to him. By the time she accepts Gabriel, she has, we can assume, come to see the relative power in equality and Gabriel’s new proactive and strict-whilst-protective nature is now more relevant. He’ll ‘tame’ her, as she wants, but without her having to submit herself as she did to Troy – we can assume that after the book ends, Gabriel’s presence, guidance, will limit her frivolity without changing her nature too much. Hardy suggests it’s Bathsheba’s frivolity that’s the problem, not her independence, and indeed her statement was more a reflection of her knowledge of social norms, and perhaps a bit sexually suggestive, too.

After not listening to Gabriel, going after Troy, and marrying the man, Bathsheba’s farm is at stake – a storm’s on its way and Troy has persuaded all the farmhands to get drunk. This, the beginning of the action in the book, that latter section which I personally think fantastic, starts with Gabriel’s literal battening down of the hatches all by himself. He can see the storm coming and, not taken in by Troy and being stronger in character than the rest of the men, is sober and working to out-wit the winds. He manages it; somewhat surprisingly there is no commotion later, Hardy doesn’t choose to create a quarrel and Bathsheba, still a little in love with her husband, helps Gabriel but says nothing to Troy. This is the start of the game changer – Bathsheba and Gabriel working together to save the produce, Gabriel being there when Troy isn’t, confirming her need for him. She had always needed him, always asked him to stay on as an employee whenever he said he was leaving, but here she starts to see the problems with her husband in context – there’s an immediate contrast between him and Gabriel.

Gabriel is there when Troy fakes his death and there to see the man return. Boldwood destroys himself, not that there was any chance he’d gain Bathsheba’s hand, and again there’s Gabriel, now in a position to propose a second time with real knowledge of the woman he loves. Could we say Gabriel changed for Bathsheba? I think we could to some extent. He changed in his attitude towards her, but not in his overall baring. Bathsheba hadn’t noticed many of Gabriel’s good traits and time needed to continue for her, too, to start to see him. They both changed. Love at first sight doesn’t always work, says Hardy; look at Troy and then Gabriel. But he continues: love will conquer if it’s true. Love has to be based in reality. No ‘taming’ when you want independence, no running after someone who isn’t interested (no matter what other books say), no catching someone before they go off with an old flame. Reality, respect, time.

Gabriel does what Boldwood won’t – he waits, properly. And his waiting, full of proactive work instead of looking at the phone, so to speak, pays off. But it only does so because Bathsheba wants it too.

 
Should We Assume Rebecca Is Horrible?

A screen shot of Joan Fontaine and Lawrence Olivier as the heroine and Max in Alfred Hitchcock's Rebecca

Screen shot from Rebecca, copyright © 1940 Selznick International Pictures.

When I was researching my post on jealousy, there was a sentence in an interview with Kit Browning, Daphne Du Maurier’s son, that gave me pause. He said that it’s only Max who gives us the idea that Rebecca was a horrible person.

It’s somewhat true; the only person (almost – more on this later) who actually says anything that could make us think badly of her is Max, but we’d been thinking badly of her for a long while beforehand; our opinion of Rebecca is shaped by the heroine’s feelings and our thoughts of Mrs Danvers. And it’s wrong, really. Rebecca isn’t Mrs Danvers and the heroine had nothing to do with the first wife.

It’s the haunted atmosphere that first forms in us an opinion. As much as we can’t attribute the heroine’s feelings to Rebecca herself, at minimum we feel she haunts the place. And haunting is seen as a negative thing thus we feel worried, even if we don’t notice we do. We get glimpses of who Rebecca was: a person supposedly good at running a house, at playing host, at fancy dress, and these glimpses affect our opinion of her.

It’s Mrs Danvers who takes it up a step. Mrs Danvers’ obsession, her manipulation of the heroine, the subtle threats, the hint that throwing oneself out of the window is the right thing to do – all these seem to reflect Rebecca because whilst we don’t know for sure how Rebecca felt, we assume Mrs Danvers’ love was reciprocated. And in the absence of Rebecca herself, Mrs Danvers becomes her substitute, her stand in. That Max later says Rebecca was horrible only seems to back it up.

Should we consider Mrs Danvers’ mental state? Either she’s suffering from her loss of Rebecca so much it has caused her to become a supposed monster or she has some evil in her – that fire does not speak of a stable mind but as other stories and real life shows, a person can do something extreme because they are lost, hurt, and in need of help. Yes, this paragraph does smell of trying to make amends for bad things, like people are trying to say now that Henry VIII was bad because of this, that, and the other, but in Mrs Danvers’ case we know she was close to Rebecca.

Beatrice isn’t nasty about Rebecca, but she doesn’t seem enthralled, is instead quite blaïse and therefore we don’t really consider her thoughts once we’re further along. Jack, appearing shifty, does what Mrs Danvers does – infers a horrible person by association, though at least in this case Max’s revelation has more in it that applies directly to the person. Frank likes the heroine, does so from the start, which may signal a distaste for Rebecca – certainly the contrast between him, Max’s friend, and Mrs Danvers, Rebecca’s friend, seems a bit of a literary decision, a balancing of the scales.

But then there’s Ben, who tells the heroine Rebecca threatened to place him in an asylum if he told anyone that he’d seen her doing… well, we’re not sure, but it was something she obviously shouldn’t have been doing. The potential problem with Ben is that he’s presented as unreliable, but considering we already know about Mrs Danvers, we might consider him more reliable than the heroine herself might. We don’t know much else about Ben, so perhaps we shouldn’t believe him, but then there’s also no reason not to. Ben is a minor character, so perhaps Kit Browning forgot him, or perhaps the whole idea that Ben is unreliable, unstable, was enough to make him irrelevant in this respect – should we trust Du Maurier’s son’s omission as a sign Ben is unreliable?

As for the book itself, Du Maurier ensures we are spooked and considering she wants us to dislike Rebecca, that the book is about jealousy, we don’t really have much chance to feel differently unless we make a decision to read in a different way than we ‘should’ do, disbelieving the author herself at every turn. Rebecca’s written as controlling, promiscuous, horrible; there’s the hint that she was as nasty as Mrs Danvers – perhaps it was that her place in society meant she had cause to hide it.

Rebecca never really had a hope; Kit may be right insofar as the book’s concerned, that it’s only Max who gives us the idea, but his (Kit’s) mother wanted us to think that anyway so it could well be said Du Maurier gives us the idea herself. Just think of that ‘R’ – the text is written to make us dislike Rebecca.

Should we be thinking anything about Rebecca, characters and author aside? Society and common sense would tell us to listen to what people say but to also meet the person… at least meet her as much as we could. In worldly terms we should be thinking twice about befriending her but holding off on a final judgement. Perhaps it’s due to this conflict of advice that Du Maurier is able to grip us so well.

The commonly accepted idea is that we should read a book without letting our views of the author and our knowledge of the author’s life play a role, but in this book it’s a bit different. It’s not simply that Du Maurier’s feelings are included, as it is Charlotte Brontë’s in Villette, or the plethora of writers whose works have been panned because their views are offensive – Du Maurier’s book revolves around her thoughts in a different way that’s hard to explain. I don’t think she’d mind if we chose not to listen to the gossip she writes and to push aside any manipulation, but to like Rebecca would be to miss the point of the book.

Your thoughts?

 
Poverty And Kindness In Cranford

Cranford

The most striking thing to me about Cranford, in terms of themes and structure, is the poverty. The way poverty is incorporated; the background usage of it is implemented in such a way as to allow Gaskell to bring it up without bringing it up. It’s hard to explain so I’m just going to get on with it.

Poverty is at the heart of much in the town. The vast majority of people are pretty poor and they aim not to reference it directly – it’s the case that they all know about everyone else’s circumstances but for proprieties’ sake they don’t discuss it. Gaskell’s handling of this is what forms some of the humour, a feat that is both ironic and heartening.

The beginning introduces us to this idea of no one directly mentioning poverty. We have the following:

I imagine that a few of the gentlefolks of Cranford were poor, and had some difficulty in making both ends meet; but they were like the Spartans, and concealed their smart under a smiling face.

and then:

The Cranfordians had that kindly esprit de corps which made them overlook all deficiencies in success when some among them tried to conceal their poverty. When Mrs Forrester, for instance, gave a party in her baby-house of a dwelling, and the little maiden disturbed the ladies on the sofa by a request that she might get the tea-tray out from underneath, everyone took this novel proceeding as the most natural thing in the world, and talked on about household forms and ceremonies as if we all believed that our hostess had a regular servants’ hall, second table, with housekeeper and steward, instead of the one little charity-school maiden, whose short ruddy arms could never have been strong enough to carry the tray upstairs, if she had not been assisted in private by her mistress, who now sat in state, pretending not to know what cakes were sent up, though she knew, and we knew, and she knew that we knew, and we knew that she knew that we knew, she had been busy all the morning making teabread and sponge-cakes.

The tea tray incident is what sets us up for future references, Gaskell showing the ritual the town has constructed to get around the issue of poverty causing offence.

Beyond the humour, which is the most apparent thing, we have this sense of kindness that is likely part of Gaskell’s plan in relating the episode, given what we know of her personality and views, but could equally just be an added benefit of the propriety. For all Cranford can be a bit snotty, a bit too precious a place and against new male arrivals, when it comes to money everyone sticks together.

Sometimes the issue can cause a sort of comedy of errors – there are times when a person is so conscious of hiding their poverty, and the poverty of their relations, that they end up causing offence to others. There’s a particular slice of this in chapter eight wherein Mrs Jamieson, richer than the rest, forbids any sort of meeting between her Cranford friends and her sister-in-law – a Lady from Scotland. That Mrs Jamieson, someone not considered so far above the rest other than in money, should do this, strikes the characters as offensive, makes them feel inferior. They in turn snub Lady Glenmire, refusing to so much as glance at her in church.

Gaskell soon pulls back the curtains; we readers learn that the reason Mrs Jamieson refused meetings is that Lady Glenmire is poor and she, Mrs Jamieson, is, in true Cranford fashion, a little ashamed. She doesn’t want her friends to know. The ‘reveal’ isn’t commented on so much by the characters, it’s simply reported neutrally by the narrator who, as an ex-resident, we can assume is perhaps Gaskell herself; Gaskell wants to narrate but not from the distance that would be afforded if she were to write from her own perspective as an author.

It’s during all this snubbing that Gaskell shows us the upshot to the divide between servants and their mistresses – whilst there’s not a big divide due to everyone’s poverty, there’s divide enough that the women get a servant to observe Lady Glenmire for them and report back because:

Martha did not belong to a sphere of society whose observation could be an implied compliment to Lady Glenmire, and Martha had made good use of her eyes.

Because Martha’s seen as lower, she can look.

Lady Glenmire’s own poverty brings us to another factor of the theme: Captain Brown. In the Captain, a newcomer, Gaskell shows another way of dealing with poverty. To Brown, poverty is nothing to be ashamed of; he speaks of his own with ease. Gaskell, in creating this conflict of interests, adds humour to soften the ‘blow’ – the problem the residents have with Brown at this juncture, is compounded by his being a man in a women’s domain. The hint is there – ladies don’t speak of money, men do – though this isn’t to say that Gaskell is calling it a problem because she isn’t. She isn’t dividing the sexes, she’s merely using stereotypes to make humour, to get some artistic license going and exaggerate her characters.

But it does have the effect of showing that whilst there’s kindness in keeping shtum about poverty amongst those living in it, there’s no reason to be ashamed.

Poverty is seen in Mrs Forrester’s hiring of a boy to stay nights at her house in case of robberies. At first glance it’s a way of helping the boy’s family feed another mouth, but the reality is seen in what Mrs Forrester offers as payment – food and lodging. She doesn’t offer money and it’s not commented on because it doesn’t need to be at this point – we know she doesn’t offer money because she doesn’t have any. It’s less a hiring of a servant and more an agreement between neighbours.

In chapter thirteen, near the end of the novella, Miss Matty insists on exchanging a man’s worthless cheque for her own money, in a shop, on account of her being a share holder of his bank. This comes as a bit of a shock – after we’ve been told Cranford is poor, that Miss Matty has money behind her is a surprise – but it’s also full of that kindness; and the context, of the bank being in trouble, shows that Miss Matty may shortly be out of pocket. Certainly she says she’ll have to wait a few days longer to purchase the gown she’s after. Once she’s home we learn she earns £149 a year as a share holder, a substantial sum in those days, and that to lose it would drop her annual income to £13. Through this Gaskell reminds us of that kindness, once again, that everybody helping everybody factor seen in the tea tray incident and Mrs Forrester’s meals as wages.

We then come full circle, if you will, when Miss Matty’s servant, the afore-mentioned Martha, is told of the situation that has indeed happened – Miss Matty is to receive no more from the bank – and that she will no longer be employed. Martha turns the tables. The servant, by all accounts not well-off, not only defies Miss Matty to make a pudding out of her wages, she then brings in her beau and suggests Miss Matty live with them. If we in our modern era needed any more information about the straits Miss Matty is facing, apart from the thought of selling furniture and getting what we’d now call a studio apartment, Martha’s request fills us in. Martha feels so warmly for Miss Matty that she’s almost forcing her boyfriend to marry her right now so they can get a house so Miss Matty can live with them. And the boyfriend, whilst not against marriage, isn’t quite ready and isn’t really on board with talk of a lodger – it’s simply culture that would allow it to happen. In Cranford he’s but a man, after all.

We’ve the meeting of three ladies of Cranford, proposing they work in tandem with the narrator’s father (we finally get a name for our narrator!) to provide Matty a yearly income without her knowing her friends are behind it. This is heartening in itself but it’s Mrs Forrester’s later admission to the narrator, our newly ‘baptised’ Mary Smith – that she’ll have to make cut backs in her own life to do it that’s most sobering. The women will live even more cheaply themselves so their friend will not suffer so much.

This is then contrasted by the news that Mrs Jamieson is coming home to throw out Lady Glenmire because Lady Glenmire is to marry a poor doctor. Mrs Jamieson’s shame of Glenmire’s poverty continues and Gaskell shows the relative unkindness – her well-off character is not a nice person when compared to the poorer ones who help each other. That Miss Matty ultimately gets a measure of wealth back is neither here nor there.

This novella is a big statement from Gaskell. On the surface you’ve a light, fun, novella, but conscious of society as always, the author brings in some damning truths, only she uses those truths to show the goodness of fellow man. It may not be North And South, but upon further contemplation, it’s really not that far from it either.

 
In Reference To The Two Sides Of Cranford

Cranford

I briefly mentioned the two sides of Cranford in my review but not wanting to fill up that piece with spoilers I thought I’d hold off on the details and write about them separately. Here I am doing just that.

The two sides are poverty, as a theme, and the general frivolity of the book. The second informs a lot more of the content, which in my mind is a pity because it’s so run of the mill, but the theme work makes up for it enough in quality that by the time I reached the end my rating was higher.

As I referred to in my review, I do believe Gaskell may have been limited by the context in which the story was published. Considering Dickens was the editor, we can see he was more famous and I would speculate he would have been less limited in this regard, which may be why we can read serialised works by him that are more violent, for one, but Gaskell’s work is more escapist and includes name-dropping. (I can’t say I’ve researched this – it’s just an assumption – but I do know that Nicholas Nickleby, for example, isn’t so far from Gaskell’s work in terms of the pacing. Certainly Gaskell’s relative shortness compared to Dickens’ tome makes it a lot more palatable! Both stories benefit from being adapted for screen, though, that’s for sure.) Anyway, whatever the reason, Gaskell’s work is 60% humour, and accordingly, 40% excellent, carefully constructed study of a particular way of dealing with poverty.

I know I wasn’t as attentive to Cranford as I have been my other recent reads. The soap opera episodic nature started to bore me so perhaps it was because of that, but I didn’t notice the impact of the poverty on the novella until about 3/4s of the way through. I knew it was there and I was busy writing about it but I had yet to realise that Gaskell was trying to say something particular and that it was a watered-down version of the feelings she shows for issues in North And South. Gaskell felt for the poor as she did the industrial workers in her longer tale.

The fact the shorter work preceded the other shows us this possible limitation. Gaskell was yet to earn her stripes, her story was published as a serial only irregularly, and as one of her first pieces she no doubt had to feel out her audience. We could suppose that in novellas, Gaskell was laying the groundwork for her more involved social novels, seeing what would work, finding out responses before she went the whole hog. As we know she became more famous after her death, we can assume more reason for any softly-softly approach – this was a woman with big ideas and strong feelings but perhaps not enough people were interested enough for her to write with careless abandon. It’s a bit like ghost-writing to writing, building up a base of experience, a portfolio, first.

But beyond this we have the idea behind Household Words, the cheap-to-buy magazine, the idea behind it that the readership would be wide. Thus the stories would have general appeal and not rest on what would likely be considered depressing themes of poverty. Yet it’s cited that the general idea was also to discuss the poor… only the magazine had to appeal to its unfortunately majority middle class readership, which I reckon says it all.

Cranford’s residents are poor but not too poor – they have servants and parties. Gaskell discusses poverty but not too much and she plans it so that the characters don’t talk about it. It’s all show as far as the theme goes. So yes to limitation – one can’t help but wonder how freeing Margaret Hale’s story was to write; even if it wasn’t well-received (then compared to now) Gaskell must have enjoyed the process of writing it. Perhaps she enjoyed being clever with her thoughts in her formative writing years but it’s surely nicer to be able to write about what you want in the way that you want to.

 

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