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Rebecca: What Does Du Maurier’s Purposeful Omission Of The Narrator’s Name Imply?

A screen shot of Joan Fontaine, playing the heroine, from the film version of Rebecca.  This particular screen shot shows the anguish of the character after discovering the costume she is wearing was one of Rebecca's

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

Looking first at the way the question is written, with emphasis placed on Du Maurier’s choice – pointedly phrased as ‘purposeful omission’ – one must consider the real life context of the book. It has been reported that Du Maurier wrote Rebecca as a study of jealousy (House, 2013), and whilst many have seen it differently, the author’s life and in particular her relationship with husband, Tommy Browning, supports it. Du Maurier was rather jealous of Tommy’s former fiancée (House, 2013); not much is known about Jan Ricardo besides the fact of the broken engagement, and the taking of her own life (Dennison, 2008) shortly after the publication of the book, which Du Maurier was reportedly sad to hear (Picardie, 2008) – her jealousy may have been considerable but not that zealous.

The novel is of course very strong in its thoughts on the woman who came before, but given the evidence, it would be wrong to say Du Maurier didn’t use her own feelings as a jumping point, letting the novel unravel from there, particularly considering her works tend to be thrilling generally. There are however definite distinct references to Jan, such as Rebecca’s signature – an elaborate ‘R’. (Du Maurier once found letters from Jan to Tommy, signed off with a flourish (Picardie, 2008).) Perhaps Du Maurier saw it as a sign of possession or used the idea of such in her fiction. Certainly the unnamed heroine views the situation as one of Rebecca’s posthumous possession of house, husband, and everyone related to them.

Away from this context, the omission implies a lack of importance, and here we can point both to the heroine’s lack – or perceived lack – of importance to others and the lack of importance she believes herself to have. (Surely with the amount of dialogue included, someone would have said her name at some point.) The dialogue running without reference to a name allows Du Maurier to showcase the way Max treats the heroine – ‘little love’ and other terms of affection, as well as the usage of ‘you little fool’ is a constant reminder of the age gap between the characters and an insight into how Max may feel about her.

The lack of a name simply reiterates Rebecca’s importance.

In our popular consequential reference to the narrator as ‘the second Mrs de Winter’ we emphasise the ranking, albeit very unwillingly. Perhaps Du Maurier had that idea in mind when she wrote – she must have considered the consequence of not providing a name. Should we have adopted this as a name? Or do we thus take this potential extra layer of decision not to include a name as further evidence of omission?

A minor point to consider: given the various allusions to Jane Eyre, could the lack of a name also be a reference to Jane’s position, a commentary on it? It is unlikely but interesting to posit nonetheless.

With all the above taken into consideration as a study, however, it is important not to neglect primary or secondary sources:

“She couldn’t think what to call her and so she didn’t call her anything. And then it became a challenge: could she actually write the whole thing without it… Funnily enough, in the Hitchcock film, in the script she is written as ‘I’, but they all called her ‘Daphne’ on the shoot.” — Kits Browning (Browning, in House, 2013)

“I could not think of one, and it became a challenge in technique the easier because I was writing in the first person.” — Daphne Du Maurier (Du Maurier, p.388)

It has been said that when writing, Du Maurier called her ‘Daphne’.

References

Online

Dennison, Matthew, 2008, How Daphne Du Maurier Wrote Rebecca, Telegraph.co.uk, accessed 30th April 2018
House, Christian, 2013, Daphne Du Maurier Always Said Her Novel Was A Study In Jealousy, Telegraph.co.uk, accessed 30th April 2018
Picardie, Justine, 2008, Daphne: The Truth Behind The Story, Justine-Picardie.blogspot.com, accessed 30th April 2018

Books

Du Maurier, Daphne, 2005 [1938], The Rebecca Notebook & Other Memories, Virago

 
 

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