Sitting in Palmer and Co., a prohibition-style bar in Sydney’s Merivale area that blares 1920s music in sepia-toned mood lighting, we began discussing Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier as our latest book club read. Around us are shelves filled with strange objects – grey top hats, cage-looking iron implements, and walls covered with black and white photographs and mug shots of convicts. It’s strangely fitting for the book, and while the cocktail ‘Fire and Brimstone’ (which would have been perfect for Manderley, and actually had earl grey in the mix) was sold out, we drank and watched as patrons donned fascinators and crept in and out.
Somewhere in-between updating each other with our lives in the month past and trying to hear each other over the music, the question “Manderley or Pemberley?” came up.
(For those that are interested, the hardcover copy in the picture above I bought for about $28 from Gleebooks, in Sydney’s Glebe. It is also available at Dymocks and comes from the Virago Press, ISBN: 978-1-84408-879-9 and is part of the textile designed book cover range.)
While, to some extent, it came down to which male lead stole the heart of most (Fitzwilliam Darcy was overwhelmingly more popular than Maximillian de Winter, which I’m sure we can all understand), Manderley is still, unmistakably, beautiful. But Manderley is less about Max than it is about Rebecca, where Pemberley is all Darcy. In fact, from the mouths of this book club – there has never been a bad word said about Darcy, while Maxim definitely struck a few nerves.
Manderley is about duality, it makes the novel more complex and secretive. Pemberley sheds light on Mr. Darcy. The two are, when you think about it, hardly comparable. Pemberley is light where Manderley is dark, Pemberley is pristine and sparkling, friendly, inviting, even while it is large, where Manderley is closed off, imposing, watchful, haunted (in the non-paranormal sense).
Materially, Manderley has a geographical difference to Pemberley in so far that it is next to the sea, has its own bay, and sounds idyllic in this respect. We can also be pretty clear on what Manderley is like – despite being a fictional estate in the book, it’s rumoured (and pretty much confirmed) to be a version of the Cornwall-located Menabilly, du Maurier’s adult home and somewhere she absolutely adored (I love the photo below of her at Menabilly). Having been to Cornwall, I can safely vouch for its beauty. Pemberley, meanwhile, is very much inland, in Derbyshire.
Upon finishing Rebecca some weeks earlier, I’d asked this question about the two homes on Facebook.
Penny responded: “Pemberley!”
I said “Manderley oozes secrets *adores*”
“Too much drama for me, I like the security of Pemberley,” Penny wrote.
I then wrote in reply, “True. Pemberley is stolid with passionate characters where Manderley is passionate filled with, arguably, stolid characters… Despite the size of Pemberley, I can’t imagine losing myself … whereas I see Manderley as somewhere where you lose who you are.”
What gets me about Manderley is its drugging effect. Mentioned by Bridget (as re-iterated by Maxim), she likens it to being drunk on the scent of the flowers, the thickness of it. There’s also this continual reminder of keeping things in jam-jars, preserving the memories and flowers, but watching them wilt – this is talked about both metaphorically and otherwise. Manderley preserves a version of Rebecca, and holds something wild inside of it – it works as a character in its own right, as Sally Beauman mentions in the Afterword of the book. Pemberley holds no such memory of another woman, and it’s no wonder that most of us would prefer a house where there is no reminder of another wife. If Darcy had married before, no doubt some of the same thoughts would cross Elizabeth’s mind.
I can never imagine Pride and Prejudice being titled ‘Pemberley’ but I could definitely see Rebecca being re-titled as ‘Manderley’ (another Northanger Abbey similarity, perhaps?) such is the prominence of the house in the story. We begin, and end, with that place.
I don’t think it’s unfair or odd to compare Rebecca with Jane Austen’s works, even when the Jane Eyre influence is probably stronger. In fact, Rebecca’s scarily similar to some of the themes in Northanger Abbey (what’s debatable is if this fact is because it’s the type of gothic novel Austen was parodying or if it’s a worthwhile counterpart).
Either way, even though I adore Rebecca, last night I dreamt I went to Pemberley again. So my bias is pretty clear. Do you think du Maurier’s Manderley is comparable to Austen’s Pemberley?
Some beautiful quotes from Rebecca:
“If only there could be an invention that bottled up a memory, like scent. And it never faded, and it never got stale. And then, when one wanted it, the bottle could be uncorked, and it would be like living the moment all over again.”
“The road to Manderley lay ahead. There was no moon. The sky above our heads was inky black. But the sky on the horizon was not dark at all. It was shot with crimson, like a splash of blood. And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea.”
“When the leaves rustle, they sound very much like the stealthy movement of a woman in evening dress, and when they shiver suddenly, and fall, and scatter away along the ground, they might be the patter of a woman’s hurrying footsteps, and the mark in the gravel the imprint of a high-heeled shoe.”
I honestly think that any fan of Pride and Prejudice would adore du Maurier’s Rebecca. Certainly, it got the seal of approval from this Austen book club! I just wonder if our next choice, Wilkie Collins’ The Woman In White, will strike the same chord.