Trigger Warning for abuse, cancer, murder, and suicidal ideation.
Initially, I had no interest in reading this novel or watching the movie because whilst I have a great interest in being that girl I am — in fact — not that girl. Someday I will be dressed in designer clothes from head to toe, know what to say in any situation, and drink wine in a candlelit bubble bath while reading philosophy and listening to Chopin or Liszt. In fact, some day I will even be able to play Chopin or Liszt. But, that day is not today.
And this is — counterintuitively — why the novel Rebecca really spoke to me. It is a bit of a psychological thriller which in and of itself is my cup of coffee, but whilst du Maurier is typically classed as a romance novelist I don’t think that’s really accurate. I think she was classed as such because she wrote for women. I’m not really in a position to argue this point much further as from her vast repertoire I have only perused Rebecca, but Rebecca, is very much not a romance. It is a coming of age story.
This varies from the Hitchcock movie rather strangely in that while I think Hitchcock meant to create a murder mystery or a horror he ended up creating a romance. It’s quite funny because while the novel is quite good and is reviewed as du Maurier’s masterpiece and greatest work in a remarkable portfolio, the Hitchcock movie is not terrible because no Hitchcock movie ever was but in my mind it relies far to heavily on how absolutely gorgeous a figure Laurence Olivier cuts as Maxim de Winter. And he does cut a gorgeous figure.
Before I go on I need to credit Dominic Noble for his own review of the book and movie. It’s a fun watch all on its own, he makes a number of points I never would have considered, and if not for his review of the work I not only would not have read the book, but I might not have even known it existed. I disagree with a few of his points — I found the repeated use of “routine” thematic, and did not take issue with the levels of description as I felt they added to the story and explained characters’ mindsets pointing to how the narrator might be unreliable — but everyone approaches these things differently.
The narrator is famously never named. Noble suggests — and I have no reason to disagree — that it is because for the majority of the story itself she never has sufficient self-possession and ego to warrant a name in the literary sense. The story is told from her perspective many years after the events and she has clearly developed confidence and a sense of self by that time, but she is recalling herself in her youth. Much of the novel is dedicated to her own self-reproach for her inability to express herself or have any confidence at all.
Amusingly, she regularly berates herself for not being older.
This does make sense given that the main conflict of the novel is her apparent inability to measure up to the previous Mrs. de Winter, the eponymous Rebecca. It never seems to occur to the narrator until Maxim outright tells her at the end that he might have married her for her innocence and youth rather than her beauty or elegance. Take whatever view you wish of Maxim. He is played as sympathetic in all tellings but there is plentiful reason not to understand him as such.
Rebecca is described as absolutely stunning in appearance, strong willed, graceful, and brilliant. The narrator’s first introduction to her is through her handwriting on the title page in a book of poetry which just all on its own is kind of crazy. Imagine being the sort of woman who finds not just a book, but a book of poetry, and artfully inscribes a dedication in elegant script as a matter of course. I have a gorgeous hand, advanced degrees, and I do know where I’d go if I wanted to buy a nice book of poetry, and even I am still a bit intimidated by the idea of writing a dedication like that in a book of poetry before giving it to one’s husband. I’m sure that sounds a bit crazy, but I do get why the narrator feels immediately off-balance.
The narrator also initially believes — and ohmygod girl, same — that Maxim is only taking her on drives because he feels a bit sorry for her. I’ve literally been in this position too also literally with a millionaire. (Unlike the narrator, I wasn’t in love with him, so when he asked me out and told me he intended on proposing marriage later on, I turned him down. You can congratulate/rebuke me in the comments.) But he gives her absolutely no reason to think otherwise until he flat out says so. Props to him for being direct and saying what he meant when she asked why he was spending time with her, but if you don’t tell someone you like them or love them how on earth do you expect them to know?
When she finally gets to his estate — the fictional Cornwall grounds and manor Manderley — she is more or less expected to fill a role. He didn’t take her too meet his parents or his sister and then bring her to some cottage where she’d have a garden and take care of the house or whatever it is women who didn’t work were expected to do in the 1930s, he — entirely without warning, preparation, or even introduction — put her in charge of a large staff and expected her to maintain a historical estate which he implies has been extant in some form or another since the eleventh century. He does express regret that he didn’t take her shopping in London, but after that he just nopes out.
In the movie, their wedding is portrayed as a very romantic spur of the moment thing but in the novel he proposes her at breakfast in the same breath as the words “little fool,” because she thought he was offering her a position as personal secretary. Super sexy.
The household is introduced to her ironically only because the antagonist of the novel, Mrs. Danvers, assembled them on her and Maxim’s arrival. They naturally have their own *struggles not to use the word “routine”* manner of doing things and no one really gives her a tour or tells her what they’ll need from her or what is expected of her. Basically, this poor girl got thrown into the role of head museum curator and event planner without any training or even being told that that’s what was happening.
It’s pretty natural after all that that when people who knew Rebecca say, “you’re nothing like Rebecca,” or “she’s so very different from Rebecca,” she would assume they mean it in a derogatory fashion. It’s a bit of the Diana effect. She is expecting a fairy-tale, she’s possibly not even 20 yet, and she’s being expected to fulfil a role for which she hasn’t had the rules and guidelines explained to her and she didn’t even know she was filling. Of course she’s initially going to fail and of course she’s going to feel a bit self-conscious about it.
And then there’s Mrs. Danvers. Everyone has a sort of Mrs. Danvers in their life. Sometimes she’s just Emily from the Devil Wears Prada, and sometimes she’s truly a Mrs. Danvers in the worst possible sense. In both the book and the movie she’s an antagonist but what’s truly interesting about her is that she’s only an antagonist because she herself was deceived and used.
An Emily archetype is just the older girl you have to win over. She’s supportive but in a sort of antagonizing way and you have to raise your game to earn her respect. She has her own damage and her own failings and it might be that her Andy does not initially understand her, but narratively she usually becomes an ally and may even be an ally from the very start.
If a character is a full Mrs. Danvers though the situation is irredeemable. I feel really bad for this character because she’s not at all in control. We all have or have had people in our life that are truly terrible. In some cases they’re doing it because they do not have the capacity to be anything but spiteful, in some cases they’re doing it because they’re truly malicious, and in some cases they’re doing it out of hurt and misunderstanding. (And if you want to take this as advice for your own life keep in mind that there is a chance, however remote, that you are the antagonist in someone else’s life.) Mrs. Danvers is doing her thing not because she’s incompetent or malicious but because she’s hurt. And that’s not an excuse. She’s still bullying and at one point tries to kill the narrator — she is also implied to have destroyed the manor. But in the novel she is frequently depicted as crying, mourning, or expressing some form of sadness for the loss of Rebecca.
Rebecca is the true antagonist. We only experience her through other characters’ recollections and the narrator’s absolutely vivid imagination but she is a whole heap of yikes. I cannot turn my brain off, but I cannot help but understanding Rebecca as a sociopath. She is manipulative, sadistic, antisocial, narcissistic, and she engages in a lot of truly dangerous behaviour just for fun. Mrs. Danvers feels like she had a close relationship with Rebecca, and she did raise her and probably spent the most time with her and had her confidence, but given how she reports Rebecca speaking about other people it seems like Rebecca was just using her as well.
Mrs. Danvers considers her relationship with Rebecca as a mother-daughter bond, but Rebecca gives no indication of truly loving anyone at all. Mrs. Danvers certainly seems to be in on all of Rebecca’s dirty little secrets — for example she knows that Rebecca has had long standing affairs with multiple men including her own cousin who she grew up with, she knows that Rebecca finds men’s proclamations of love funny and not much else, and she has observed Rebecca being physically cruel to both animals and other people.
But, you don’t even have to be in a relationship with a sociopath to fall into that kind of pattern.
Mrs. Danvers sees Rebecca as her daughter. If someone’s family you’re probably going to forgive an awful number of offenses before you finally give up on them. You might shoot them a message saying, “this isn’t okay,” but it will be years before you’re willing to wash your hands of them. I know from personal experience that if it’s someone you want to care about you may not even call them on abuse for decades. Worst case scenario — and this is not what’s going on with Mrs. Danvers, but it does happen — you may even go so far as to let them gaslight you and internalize what they tell you about yourself. It’s not weak to succumb to gaslighting. It’s just that you wanted to love that person and they took advantage. It says nothing about you, it’s all about them. But on the real, it can also make you physically sick, so get out of there if you realize it’s happening.
In the end, or her end at least, Rebecca discovers she has terminal cancer (and is also infertile), decides she’d rather die quickly than linger, and makes the snap decision to manipulate Maxim into killing her. And yeah, I know that sounds like I’m blaming the victim and Maxim still killed his wife, but if you’ve read the book it’s pretty clear she did mean for him to shoot her dead. I mention the infertility because when Maxim comes in to confront her about her affairs not knowing about the cancer she not only doesn’t tell him but implies that she’s pregnant with another man’s child who she intends to raise as Maxim’s heir. Incels should be so lucky, but that is still pretty cold.
So, he does shoot her straight through the heart, places her body in the cabin of her little sailboat and intentionally scuttles it. It’s a remarkably stupid plan as he doesn’t apparently know all that much about sailing and thereby sinks it in a place that makes it clear the boat was scuttled rather than having simply accidently sunk, her boat might have been recovered before her body had been skeletonized, and even with the skeleton it’s pure luck that the bullet did not at least nick a rib.
But I do think this is all what Rebecca more or less predicted would happen.
The doctor she selected to treat her was a “woman’s doctor” meaning — probably — that he was an Ob-Gyn. She goes to him under an assumed name — Mrs. Danvers’ name in fact — believing full well that she is terminally ill and not that she is pregnant. Right after she receives her diagnosis of terminal cancer she leaves a note for her weird creepy cousin lover, Jack Favell, that she wants to see him because she has something to tell him. Favell seems to believe that she was going to tell him she was leaving her husband for him (can I get an, “ew?”). When he shares this note and Mrs. Danvers is able to reveal that she had a mysterious appointment that she covered up with hair appointment the other characters seem to think she was pregnant. But of course we all know she thought Favell was as stupid and silly as her husband, knew he had no money, that she was not — in fact — pregnant, and that she was dying.
So the note was not about her confessing her love to Favell, or telling him she was pregnant, or even likely saying goodbye as at that point she absolutely intended to kill herself. I think she asked to see Favell because she wanted to die as soon as she could and was hoping she could use him to ruin Maxim. She drove all the way back from London to Cornwall which in the novel they say is 200 miles and a 6 hour drive and Favell at the time was also in London and intended to come up the next morning. So my hot-take on this novel which has been about for almost a century now is that she knew Maxim would hear about her having come home, assume she was with Favell or one of her other lovers after he’d asked her not to conduct her affairs on the estate, and start a fight during which she’d “accidently,” die. She’d be dead before her pain became unbearable, there would be no evidence that she knew she was terminal, and so even if Maxim was not implicated in her death, her having died in a lover’s row would have been scandalous enough to ruin him.
And you may think I’m being silly, but Maxim is already super scandalised when he finds out the narrator’s lady’s maid likes her. Admittedly, his big deal is that he knows her mother and had nearly evicted her for failing to keep her house in good repair so it’s not just snobbery, but it is quite a lot of snobbery.
But at the outset the narrator knows absolutely none of this. Even the people who saw through Rebecca’s act admit that she was beautiful and charming. And even if this weren’t set in 1930s England if you have ever seen someone close to you end up in an abusive relationship it’s really difficult to talk about. Maxim’s friends and family wanted to stay on good terms with him so they weren’t going to insult his wife. They just stayed away … inadvertently aiding Rebecca in isolating him. After she died they had no way of knowing whether or not he’d ever seen through her and it would be a be a bit weird to go up to a new bride you’ve just met and say, “well, you know his last wife tried to boink my husband and while she was quite pretty, I got the impression she drowned puppies in her spare time. You don’t sail, do you?” Admittedly, Beatrice (Maxim’s sister) almost says that, but it’s still weird. While it’s something I have directly said when I suspect or know something is wrong I’m autistic and it’s very difficult for me to lie or withhold information. I’d look very funny having tea at an estate. Again, it is something I’ve done, but I can assure you, I looked funny doing it.
When the narrator finally gets the information that a) Rebecca was evil, b) Maxim was in an abusive relationship and is still working through his feels, c) people do actually like her (the narrator), d) Mrs. Danvers is alone in her positive assessment of Rebecca, e) Mrs. Danvers only remains in control of the estate because Maxim is afraid of firing her, and f) yes, Maxim actually elected to marry her because he has genuine feelings for her she just about instantly comes of age.
And yes, these revelations do happen in the context of a snog and feels session — which, incidentally, sounds a lot dirtier than it actually is or than I intended it — but the scene is not written at all like a romantic one. Noble in his review reports being rather put off by this scene because in his reading the narrator is fixating not on the horrifying revelation that Maxim murdered Rebecca, but that Maxim loves her. And I don’t think that’s really the point. I really disagree that that’s the focus. I think the narrator definitely cares about that and she does articulate it, but I think the bigger point is that she need not compare herself to Rebecca and if she wants to put the lilacs in the alabaster vase next to the window rather than behind the sofa then that’s her deal.
Right after that she tells off a maid for having left a room untidy, rejects the lunch options delivered to her, and upbraids Mrs. Danvers for allowing so much waste in the household. So, two things: 1) well done for stepping into your role, Mrs. de Winter, and 2) my dear Lord in heaven, these people are rich.
Lest it be thought that I don’t like Noble or his work I really do. He recently was forced to read all of the 50 Shades … whatever that was and as a result, much like Maxim de Winter, he was traumatised and is still working through his feels. No one should have to go through that sort of abuse, and Dominic, if you ever read this, your feelings are valid. And also, you weren’t wrong about the characters being aggressively British.
I somewhat panned the movie in my introduction, and I’d like to walk that back a bit. The movie is not bad. I will happily watch it again. It even won Best Picture and earned Hitchcock one of his first Best Director nominations. All the performances are great and I understand the choices made. I think Mrs. Van Hopper was played a little too charismatically. Du Maurier clearly didn’t think too highly of either the nouveau riche or Americans and as Mrs. Van Hopper is both her portrayal in the book is a-yikes. In the movie she comes off as overbearing but more in a fun way than a “oh my god, girl, get a new job now,” way.
I’m not sure if that works for my thesis that the narrator is experiencing her coming of age story more than a romance because it could be interpreted either way. The narrator could actively be choosing to essentially elope with Maxim because being his wife or even his secretary is both — as she would have seen it — a more lucrative and less demanding position than being Mrs. Van Hopper’s “companion.” Alternatively, she could have genuinely just been beaten down by this woman hauling her all over and wanted to tell Maxim goodbye after which he presents this alternative which she jumps for unthinking. One certainly presents her as a bit more self-possessed, but in a coming of age story the inciting incident is often the new job. I think either one really works, but depending on how exactly you want the narrator’s arc to go they both have tantalizing aspects.
The movie starts — after the introduction of the gutted Manderley — with the narrator saving Maxim from a suicide attempt. This is another character thing which could or couldn’t work. For this one though I have a stronger opinion. I think it was the wrong choice. It works for Olivier’s Maxim because Olivier’s Maxim is much more emotional and emotive than the book original, but I just don’t think du Maurier’s Maxim would even consider suicide. He didn’t want to divorce Rebecca for any reason, he wasn’t willing to kill her when she first told him who she was and made her devil’s bargain with him, and I don’t think it’s consistent to think that he would commit suicide after killing her. This is not to say that “some people are just too strong to commit suicide,” or any such nonsense because that’s not true and if you are experiencing suicidal ideation you are experiencing something that quite a lot of people myself included have dealt with and you deserve help.*
What I mean by saying I don’t believe Maxim would commit or attempt suicide is that it does not make narrative sense. Maxim in the movie probably did initially fall in love with Rebecca. Maxim in the novel may never have had such feelings for her and simply recognized her as the right type of person to be his wife. In either case he found very early in their marriage who she was and that she was going to take advantage of him. He both refuses to get a divorce and refuses to take his own life or hers because it would create a scandal. He’s happy to let her hurt him repeatedly and terribly as long as no one knows about it. He’s actually willing to undergo trial and possibly execution for his crime so even if we’re assuming that his relationship with the narrator was palliative — and I think that’s somewhat ridiculous — he is as a character conscious of his reputation and the reputation of his estate and willing to sacrifice his happiness, freedom, and autonomy for it. I know it sounds weird but again, as someone who has experienced suicidal ideation, a bit part of it is wresting autonomy back from a culture that does not properly understand or respect you. Maxim’s character behaves and seems to think in a way that makes it difficult for me to believe he would attempt or even contemplate suicide.
The movie does follow the novel quite closely often lifting dialogue directly from the text. This was apparently not what Hitchcock really wanted to do and I have the feeling that had he been given more creative authority it would have been a much more suspenseful and impactful movie. His changes largely amount to cuts and unfortunately because the novel takes so much time developing the narrator’s character and because Hitchcock clearly did want a movie which explored Mrs. Danvers’ tragic arc rather than Maxim’s or the narrator’s he ended up cutting her inner monologue.
There was also a code for motion pictures at the time where LGBTQ+ coded characters had to be punished and a character who had killed their spouse could not get away with it in the narrative. While in the novel Mrs. Danvers is portrayed as a jealous mother character in the movie she’s more of Rebecca’s peer and friend and due to the whole underwear scene — again, far less dirty than it sounds — she’s coded queer and therefore must die. And of course Maxim in the novel shot Rebecca and got away with it. So we can’t have that in 1930s cinema.
The result for Mrs. Danvers is not actually terrible. It’s super tragic of course because she burns down the estate and literally dies in a fire, but again from a narrative sense of a woman unable to let go of someone she loves, it does make sense.
Maxim though … no. This interpretation does not work for him. He’s this brooding, proud, member of the aristocracy who put up with a sociopath for a wife rather than suffering the indignity of divorce. Killing her makes sense narratively — although, just so we’re clear: in the real world divorce is probably universally preferable to murder. You’re not Maxim de Winter, if your wife is an abusive sociopath (or your husband, for that matter) go for divorce before you reach for a gun. I’m looking at you, all of America. The idea that Maxim would totally just accidently bump his wife such that she falls just right that she bleeds out and dies and then panics because he thinks people will never believe his story is absurd. If that had happened a character like Maxim would stomp his butt into court, tell his story, and be angry if it weren’t taken on his word. So, I get why Hitchcock did that — he did not have a choice — but I hate it.
I also feel like the movie cheated the character of Jack Favell and thereby robbed the narrator of her complete arc. In the book, Favell tries to seduce the narrator and constantly makes inappropriate comments about her not because he finds her attractive, but explicitly because he hates and wants to hurt Maxim. The narrator at no point treats him rudely or inappropriately and she does not even violate his trust. In her internal monologue it is clear that she dislikes him, finds him unattractive, and wonders at Rebecca’s relationship with him. But in the novel the point of Favell is to show that the narrator is ultimately concerned with Maxim’s well-being more than anything else. Favell at a few points implies that she could have a sort of merry widow’s life if Maxim were executed for murdering Rebecca and that while she might become infamous she would still be the mistress of Manderley. So although he himself is not a temptation to her he offers a very tempting alternative. He tests her. Jack Favell is — narratively — a trial.
In the movie though, his character is much abbreviated. He’s still a drunk. He still thinks Maxim killed Rebecca because Rebecca was pregnant with Favell’s child and he still attempts to blackmail him. But Favell is more of a trial for Maxim than the narrator. I may have missed an implication of seduction in the movie because I always do, but pushy and weird as he is in the movie, he doesn’t direct quite as much energy towards the narrator as he does in the book. In fact at the end of the movie the narrator isn’t even present for the reveal that Rebecca not only wasn’t pregnant, but had terminal cancer. In the book that was a pivotal scene and beyond being the point of view character the narrator has to be there because it completes her arc and explains why she and Maxim are relatively happy together all things considered and why she has subsequently made the decisions she had.
Ultimately, the goal of the movie and novel are very different. The stories are near identical but they end up with very different interpretations. And this plays out in the reviews. At least one of the reviewers thought the movie was a romance, but too dark to be widely appreciated. There is also an argument to be made for the movie to be seen as a suspense. I think the book is more suspenseful, but particularly with how Mrs. Danvers is presented eliminating all the scenes where she appears more human or possessed of real emotion there is an argument for her being a sort of suspense villain.
The book itself was written as a novel by which I mean it was meant to be entertaining. Noble in his review said he didn’t enjoy the lengthy descriptions. And that’s fair. They’re hardly Edgar Alan Poe or Hemmingway style “include only what you need,” phrases. They do go on. I think in a few cases like the inclusion of “routine,” and in places even the description of food they are either thematic or serve a purpose for the plot or characters. The narrator discusses both her early lack of confidence and then the onset of internal strength and self-realization for herself in terms of ordering or refusing food. Some of it is clearly just sponge cake and scones, but I would say a surprising amount of the admittedly florid descriptions do have a narrative purpose.
Speaking of florid, that too is clearly a theme. And it’s a theme from the prologue where she identifies nettles, rhubarb and ivies in the overrun rose garden all the way to the end where Julian comments on the flowers spilling over the wall of Dr. Baker’s house. The flowers selected for the house or left wild in the woods are explained and often in a context which very much sets the scene for refinement, a character with a hidden wild nature, the inability for some people and things to be truly domestic, or even — yet again — the narrator becoming assertive.
And of course there’s a very clear association between the narrator and flowers and Rebecca and the sea. It even gets down to which wing of the manor each resides in. Rebecca had the west wing in which the sea is constantly audible. This underscores her wild and ultimately destructive character and relentless strength. The narrator however is put up in the east wing overlooking the rose garden. Her wing has smaller rooms, but is peaceful with no noise from the ocean.
There were two things which I really appreciated about the novel but could not or simply were not translated into the movie. And those are the display of developing emotional intelligence for the narrator and the narrator’s imagination. This is another place where my opinion diverges from Noble’s. He didn’t like the narrator’s imagination but I thought it was crucial. Again, this hinges on my interpretation of this work as a coming of age story rather than a romance or suspense. We are privy to her internal monologue and imagination because they are indicative of her character arc. She hates Mrs. Van Hopper, but does not stand up for herself. And Mrs. Van Hopper is a social ladder climbing snob, selfish, and silly, but she doesn’t hurt the narrator and does actually seem to care about her future happiness even if it’s not a priority for her. In contrast, the narrator does eventually stand up to Mrs. Danvers but does not hate her despite Mrs. Danvers trying to convince her to jump out of a high window. This is growth. Weird growth, maybe don’t love a person who tries to emotionally manipulate you into suicide, but growth nonetheless.
Similarly the narrator’s imagination matures over time. At the outset a lot of her imaginings are even by her own admission childish. Because she doesn’t say or do much we really only have her fantasies and internal monologue to understand her growth. Additionally, while Favell in the world of the living represents a trial or obstacle by presenting the narrator a choice, in the world of the dead Rebecca herself offers a similar one. And the central conflict of the novel is the narrator wanting to become Rebecca but simultaneously understanding it would be wrong. We only get to see this conflict in her imagination as she uses what few clues she has to try to figure out her predecessor. Without her fantasies that central conflict is gone.
And in Conclusion
I didn’t watch the 2020 Rebecca movie. It exists, but apparently they cast that super creepy guy with the (alleged) history of sexual assault as Maxim and just ew and also no. Like, why would you do that? Because he’s tall? My uncle’s taller than him. Cast my uncle. Although, that too would be weird for me. Anyways, my hero, Noble watched that as well and his review of it gave me the excuse not to bother. I think it would be best if we all pretended it didn’t happen.
Why is everything in 2020 bad? Truly amazing year.
But I do think it would be worthwhile to maybe not remake the original Hitchcock, but certainly have a go at doing another Rebecca movie. But it needs to not be a glitzy romance. Movies in a lot of ways cannot directly translate a novel due to the very divergent characters of their artistic mediums, but this does not mean they can’t tell the same story.
This can actually be both a suspense and a coming of age story. The narrator is not an end girl or anything, but the way she experiences Manderley does make it haunted. And her fantasies could be sort of played upon a la Chicago. She comments at one point that she feels like she’s an actor in a play and if I were directing this that’s how I’d do it. I’d have the actors act out her fantasies as if on a stage, but start with super melodramatic young adult genre acting and staging and slowly tilt it towards drama and social commentary until it blends narratively into the actual plot. In her mind throughout she’s quite articulate, but she doesn’t become articulate in the real world until near the end.
I went through the book twice with relish and there is a pretty decent possibility that I’ll go through it a third time in the near future. I don’t usually go for romances in part because a lot are just bad and in part because I’ve never been able to identify with protagonists in romance novels. I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice, but I enjoyed it more as a comedy than a romance. (I do like that a few people have interpreted Mr. Darcy as autistic though. That made me happy.) Rebecca was originally categorized as romance and is now categorized as horror or suspense. I think it’s more of a horror than it is a romance and the likely case is that because it was written for and marketed to women the publisher simply categorized it as such for that sake. But to me this is about the narrator coming into herself. She thinks she wants to be mistress of Manderley, vastly underestimates the job, slowly grows in confidence having been tried by some absurd circumstances, and then when Manderley is destroyed comes to the realization that she can self-actualize without all that. It was written before even the 1940s so of course it’s all about her marriage, but the marriage and the romance is not the point of this novel. Her growth as a character is.