I don’t want to spill the secrets of Rebecca, billed as “the classic tale of romantic suspense” to anyone who has not yet read it, so I won’t focus on the plot here. Instead, I’ll just note the story reminds us that situations, and people, aren’t always what they seem, and, as the narrator learns, we shouldn’t waste our time “building up false pictures in our mind” to sit before and obsess over.
As someone who until recently was still reading for coursework, I find myself instinctively identifying possibly “paper topics” when I read a good book.
In Rebecca, the “paper topic” that kept presenting itself to me revolved around the floral imagery. The setting of Manderley and the book itself is mostly dark, sinister, and mysterious, but the floral vegetation at Manderley is bright, aromatic, and intoxicating. When I think of Manderley, I don’t picture the creepy halls of the mansion’s “west wing,” I picture the crimson rhododendrons.
Mr. de Winter describes the effects of the estate’s vegetation:
“His sister who was a hard, rather practical person, used to complain that there were too many scents at Manderley, they made her drunk. He did not care. It was the only form of intoxication that appealed to him. His earliest recollection was of great branches of lilac, standing in white jars, and they filled the house with a wistful, poignant smell.”
The only flowers Mr. de Winter prefers to look at in vases rather than their natural outdoor state are roses. He says:
“A bowl of roses in a drawing room had a depth of colour and a scent they had not possessed in the open. There was something rather blosy about roses in full bloom, something shallow and raucous, like women with untidy hair. In the house, they became mysterious and subtle.”
More dramatic than the roses are Manderley’s 50-foot high “blood red” rhododendrons. The narrator is shocked by these “monsters, rearing to the sky, massed like a battalion, too beautiful…,too powerful, they were not plants at all.”
Later, the newly blooming hydrangeas, though beautiful, are noted as “somber…blue monotonous, like spectators lined up in a street to watch us pass.”
The flowers, therefore, serve as additional characters in the novel.
If I were still in graduate classes, I would go on to make a case for how exactly these different flowers are characterized and how they serve what goals of the author in 12-15 pages (double-spaced). Instead, today I just get to share some red rhododendrons and recommend you read this book if you haven’t.