Back
 JSS  Vol.9 No.1 , January 2021
Marriage as a Private Hell in Daphne Du Maurier’s Novels: Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel
Abstract: The basic core of family institution is marriage but this marital relationship is also seen as capable of being a private hell when being in love with someone who does not return the emotion. And Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and M cousin Rachel are the best known examples of such an attempt to combine the different outlooks of marriage and courtly love. The story of Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel is about jealousy, violence, pain and love. Daphne du Maurier for example, has in her novels watched men and women making love and she knew something was wrong. As a result, she shows love as coming very close to hate. Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are more about what Rebecca and Rachel went through and what happened to them at the end. Reading the novels Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, we think about life, the life of our time. This article aims at analyzing the Daphne du Maurier’s qualities in characters in the given novels and attempts to contrast the logical of “dishonests or bad women” characters with the morality of our environment.

1. Introduction

Daphne du Maurier (1907-1989), author of Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, two novels of greatest relevance for our analysis, is the second daughter of the late Sir Gerald du Maurier, who was a famous English actor. Novelist, born in London, her first novel, The loving Spirit (1931), was an immediate success. Married in 1932 to a distinguished soldier, General Sir Frederick Browning, she was obliged to accompany him to Egypt, where she became desperately home-sick, and this unhappy period produced Rebecca (1938), a study in jealousy based on her own feelings towards a former fiancée of her husband’s.

In fact, love in all its forms, is an important subject for Daphne du Maurier. The closeness of hate to love for example is shown in the horror of the story of Rebecca. Adapted numerous times for stage and screen, Rebecca for example is a story narrated by a young naïve girl who agrees to marry a wealthy older man. The narrator becomes the second wife of Maxim de Winter and mistress of Manderley, his Cornish estate. The heroine, symbolically nameless, comes to Manderley and finds herself competing with the ghost of her husband’s dead wife. Insecure in the role created by Maxim’s glamorous first wife Rebecca, she is tormented by her failure to match her predecessor’s social confidence, especially by the servant Mrs. Danvers, who remains obsessively loyal to Rebecca’s memory. Having assumed that Maxim also adored his first wife, the narrator discovers that in fact he hated and murdered her, disguising her death as a boating accident. Indeed, many of the novel’s elements-the mansion consumed by fire, the romance between an older man and a younger woman, the lurking, secret-enshrouded presence of a first wife—are similar to the plot elements of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) with a gothic quality ( Charlotte, 1966).

In 1951, Daphne du Maurier has published My Cousin Rachel, which focuses on a couple experiencing conflict and difficulty in their relationship that did not last. Like the earlier Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel is a mystery-romance of a painful moment in the relationship set primarily on a large estate in Cornwall. The twenty-five-year-old Philip Ashley comments upon his cousin Rachel’s attitudes, constantly digressing from the description of what she does or says to the analysis of her behavior putting forward a much more general message.

In fact, love is a major theme in many literary works, and Daphne du Maurier is no exception. In Daphne’s most novels, love is seen as a subject for exultation as well as for depression with some hints of unhappiness. In her description of this relationship, Daphne du Maurier looks at many aspects of love and hate, betrayal or a rivalry inviting readers to consider the complex circumstances, beliefs, hopes, fears, and desires that evoke these human emotions. The plots usually feature one, two, or even three lovers with no certainty of a true loving relationship.

In My Cousin Rachel for example, we are lead in a dark tale of mystery and jealousy, constantly questioning the motives of the characters. And Daphne poses the question in her realistic both novels Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel is love a “fever and a misery too”? To answer to this complex question, we will analyze the both characters as not real beings but as said Roberts “extended” verbal representations of human beings ( Roberts, 1988: p. 64). The purpose of this paper is to debate the question of whether true love exists. If not what makes men and women happy or unhappy in this complicated relationship?

2. Love as a Fever and a Misery

Marriage is defined in general as a legal union of two people as partners in a personal relationship (historically a union between a man and a woman). People get married because of love, responsibility, career advancement, economic, and to achieve feeling of fulfillment. Marriage institution has gone through some progressive transformation with time especially in how couple relates to one another. In restoration times for example, marriage for upper-class families according to Stephen Martin was as much a matter of economics as of love. Arranged marriages were the norm, and a means whereby a family’s estates and holding could be increased. With no certainty of a loving relationship within marriage, it is perhaps inevitable that having a mistress or a lover would come to the fore, particularly as Charles II himself was not renowned for his moral rectitude ( Martin, 1986: p. 142). Therefore, the tragedy of marriage was the only available means of income for any upper-class woman at this point in England’s history. In Jane Austen’s (2003) Pride and Prejudice for example, the monetary and social stability that the marriage offers women is more important than the compatibility of the spouses. To the question why did Charlotte Lucas agree to marry Mr. Collins, she replies: “I am not romantic, you know. I never was. I ask only a comfortable home; and considering Mr. Collins’s character, connections, and situation in life, I am convinced that my chance of happiness with him is as fair as most people can boast on entering the marriage state” (Vol. I, Ch. XXII; Ch. 22).

In fact, the position of women was probably worse in the 19th century than it had ever been in England. For the unmarried girl whose family, though middle-class, was not rich, there was very little chance of earning a living. Almost the only job she could take was that of a governess in a richer family. After her marriage she might have to superintend her household, but all the work would be done by servants and all the important decisions taken by her husband.

Western civilization is pervasively patriarchal (ruled by the father)—that is, it is male-centered and controlled, and is organized and conducted in such a way as to subordinate women to men in all cultural domains: familial, religious, political, economic, social, legal and artistic. In Victorian times a girl usually passed from dependence on her parents to submission to her husband. Françoise Basch Explains:

“La jeune fille qui contracte mariage perd d’un seul coup tous ses droits de “feme sole”, c’est-a-dire d’individu libre et indépendant sur le plan des droits civils: Une femme, aux yeux de la loi, appartenait a l’homme qu’elle avait épousé; elle était sa chose (chattel). Il est le maitre absolu de sa personne, de ses biens et de ses enfants …” ( Basch, 1979: p. 38)

On marriage a woman was legally an infant: both her personal and real property went to her husband who had an absolute right over her. Fulford asserted “for most Victorian women there was something other-worldly, almost god-like about men. Sons had to be feted, indulged and their scatterings of wild oats regretted, but accepted as natural behavior for these amusing superior beings” ( Dugdale, 1962: p. 75). In 1847 Tennyson supported the doctrine in The Princess:

Man for the field and woman for the hearth; Man for the sword and for the needle she. Man to command and woman to obey All else confusion (1962:75)

Daphne de Maurier’s novels Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel certainly talk about marriage which “One is so easily hurt” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 8). In Rebecca as a reminder, our nameless female narrator is swept up in a romance with an older man, Maxim de Winter. She agrees to become his wife after a quick courtship, much to the surprise and disdain of those around them. Once coming to his family estate, the grand Manderley, she is stifled by the memory of Maxim’s first wife Rebecca who died in a sailing accident. People around her constantly remind her of Rebecca, causing her to doubt herself and Maxim’s love for her. “I am very different from that person who drove to Manderley for the first time, hopeful and eager, filled with the desire to please. It was my lack of confidence, of course, that struck people like Mrs. Danvers. What must I have seemed like, after Rebecca?” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 2). Thus narrator feels herself inferior and the relationship between the couple becomes dissonant.

Taking advantage of this situation, Mrs. Danvers, a faithful servant of Rebecca, tries to manipulate Mrs. De Winter into committing suicide yet she is not as successful as Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers observed Rebecca closely to acquire the same manipulative skills she admired and goes into great detail about Rebecca’s night routine and even remembers how Rebecca likes in which position her brushes need to be. The impression that Rebecca left on Mrs. Danvers “who simply worshipped Rebecca” (Daphne, 17) as said Beatrice, is so strong that she dislikes Mrs. De Winter the moment she arrives at the house. Acting as the faithful servant of Rebecca, Mrs. Danvers sets Manderley on fire.

Mrs. De Winter functions as the opposite of Rebecca and the two women form a striking contrast. Rebecca is a name without a body, while the female protagonist is a body without, or in search of and that she is always referred to as ‘Mrs. de Winter. The first one strongly enigmatic, “beautiful, clever and popular” (Daphne, 69) as described by the newspapers because “she knew exactly what to say to everyone” (Daphne, 56) provides enough clues: seduction, the loss of innocence, promiscuity, illicit love. The second one, in the opposite lacks of cleverness but is devoted, loving and communicative. She makes it clear loyal and faithful in her place of honor. Maxim’s sister Beatrice in her frank speaking acknowledges that the second Mrs. de Winter is different from the first one.

As a model of wifely servility and obedience who accepts totally her husband’s control over herself and her family, Frank thinks that “kindness, and honesty and—if I may say so—modesty, are worth far more to a husband than all the brains and beauty in the world” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 27). Yet she acts passive in her relationships with people. She transfers herself from the service of Mrs. Van Hopper to the authority of Maxim De Winter and Mrs. Danvers can easily deceive her about her attire for the party. “How could I come to you, when I knew you were thinking of Rebecca? How could I ask you to love me when I knew you loved Rebecca still?[…]. Whenever you spoke to me or looked at me, walked with in the garden, sat down to diner, I felt that you were saying to yourself, ‘This I did with Rebecca, and this, and this” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 55). De Winter deeply feels the inferiority of competing with a dead woman who left such a huge impact on everyone’s lives in Manderley.

Mrs. de Winter is alienated, not only from the upper-class world that Manderley represents, but also from the world of adult femininity, of which she remains ignorant. “I was like a child brought to her first school” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 9). Maxim’s self containment has a negative impact upon his relationship with his second wife, and results in significant, damaging misunderstandings. “It is all strange to me, living here at Manderley. Not the sort of life I’m used to. I know people are looking me up and down, wondering what I will make of it. […]. I know that they are all thinking. “How different she is from Rebecca!” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 26).

Maxim is the one that decided Mrs. De Winter and he should get married. From the very beginning, the hastiness, the coldness, and the condescension in the gentleman’s marriage proposal raise the question of whether it is a marriage for love —as the narrator would have us believe—or just a convenient arrangement for a widower who needs an “angel” for his house. Don’t imagine that he’s in love with you! He’s lonely. He can’t bear that great empty house, that’s all” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 46). Mrs. Danvers reminds her. Maxim’s behavior towards his wife shows that he was looking just for a figure to fill the place of a spouse rather than real love. The narrator is soon convinced that Maxim regrets his impetuous decision to marry her and is still deeply in love with the seemingly perfect Rebecca. “My marriage was a failure. We were not companions. I was too young for Maxim, too inexperienced, and worse still, I was not of his world” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 46). Thus, marriage is seen as capable of being a private for the couple.

Despite all the attempts of Mrs. De Winter to behave as a mature woman, she appears unnatural and is continuously frowned upon or mocked by her husband, who wants to keep her away. The narrator is in an impossible position: she is expected to manage servants, and yet her husband finds her immature. It is partly due to the young de Winter’s immaturity that she becomes intimidated and obsessed by the specter of the first Mrs. de Winter.

Yet, dreams come true if you don’t give up love will triumph. We understand that marriage can be a hell, but also as a genuine and desirable relationship, as long as the two partners have genuine knowledge of themselves and of each other. Mrs. de Winter discovers that her husband hides a dark secret: contrary to everyone’s belief that Maxim adored Rebecca, it turns out that he actually murdered her. Criticism of Rebecca is divided into those who read it as a gothic love story, in which a virtuous woman triumphs over an evil one by winning the love of a gentleman.

When Rebecca’s body is found in a boat, Maxim is aware that his secret will come out and confesses his crime to Mrs. de Winter, telling her that “our marriage was a lie from the very first. She was wicked, rotten through and through. We never loved each other, never had one moment of happiness together” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 56). Interestingly, it is also at this point that the story moves away from its fairy tale precedent: Mrs. de Winter is not going to be rescued from her murderous husband by another man, but will, instead, voluntarily, helping him hide his secret and escape the law making thus herself indispensable. Thus, the narrator thinks little of Maxim’s murder confession, but instead is relieved to hear that Maxim has always loved her and never Rebecca.

3. The Double Life of Rebecca and Rachel: Appearance vs. Reality

According to Hughes and Patin (1998: p. 7) if questioned as to what most attracts them to a novel, numerous readers would doubtless put forward as one of their main reasons a fascination with character. And Daphne de Maurier’s Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel of Daphne du Maurier exemplify one way of presenting these characters. When we compare the two novels, we can establish a mental connection between them. They are presented as moral deviants that portray social relations under a unique light: the disobedience of social norms. In Rebecca as well as My Cousin Rachel, what attracts most to these novels is doubtless the fascination with the main characters. Following for example Rebecca through a work and discovering what happens to her is a strong psychological motivation for us. Inevitably this can lead to a drift towards seeing the character not so much as a textual creation but as a living being. The pursuit of sex may not be the acknowledged theme of these two novels and yet operate as a dominating force in the background.

In Rebecca, it is our nameless female narrator who describes the typical mode of behavior of Maxim’s first wife Rebecca who died in a sailing accident. The portrait relies on direct characterization, with an omniscient narrator analyzing and commenting upon the different aspects of Rebecca’s personality. Totally absent from novel as a technique of indirect characterization, Rebecca is not shown, nor does she speak or perform any action in any definite setting.

Rebecca is portrayed by Frank as a delicate and beautiful woman. “I suppose she was the most beautiful creature I ever saw in my life” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 28). In addition to this famous beauty, she “confidence, grace, beauty, brains—all the qualities that mean most in a woman” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 27). Being in total control of her life and the way others behave towards her are effects to her qualities. The love of independence operates as strongly on her mind. Unfortunately, this famous beauty and kindness turns out to be a malevolent fake. Despite the love held for Rebecca from all who discuss her, the reader will discover that she was not all she seemed. Rebecca, Maxim reveals, was a cruel and selfish woman who manipulated everyone around her into believing her to be the perfect wife. Rebecca was actually unfaithful to her husband Maxim.

Infidelity was widespread in former decades and in historical and tribal societies. But one thing is clear: infidelity is a worldwide phenomenon that occurs with remarkable regularity, despite near universal disapproval of this behavior. The Oxford English Dictionary defines adultery as sexual intercourse by a married person with someone other than one’s spouse. But current researchers have broadened this definition to include sexual infidelity (sexual exchange with no romantic involvement), romantic infidelity (romantic exchanges with no sexual involvement) and sexual and romantic involvement. New variables Infidelity can be defined with many words like cheating, adultery, unfaithful, extramarital or stepping out.

The novel of adultery is one of the leading 19th century literary tradition in Europe and in the United States. As a result, these novels often feature women whose unhappy marriages push them into seeking romance and illicit sex. The main topic of these novels is the rebel-woman who seeks salvation for her unhappy public love-life. In fact, marriage and family are often regarded as basis of society and the story of adultery often shows the conflict between social pressure and individual struggle for happiness. For years, marital infidelity has been discussed by researchers and those in the helping profession.

This implies that marital infidelity will continue to be a challenge to marriage institution and couple relationships. It is a complex issue and every couple has to prepare themselves to this threat to their relationship. “All married men with lovely wives are jealous, aren’t they? I don’t blame them” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 84) Favell said. Favell proceeds to tell Colonel Julyan that he and Rebecca were lovers, that the two were planning to get married, and that Maxim killed her out of jealousy as he stated: “I tell you de Winter killed Rebecca because of me. He knew I was her lover; he was madly jealous” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 88). Jealousy is again the subject, though it is more complicated here. Rebecca has had a relationship with her cousin Favell which deeply troubles Maxim.

Rebecca was engaged in sexual infidelity automatically after their wedding. Her husband is suspicious of his wife’s potential sexual infidelity and discovers it later. “I found her out at once” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 65) just five days after they were married he was saying. It is a well-known fact that Rebecca has extra-marital love conducted in secret; a kind of a courtly-love, that is to say a love affair which is almost always adulterous, outside of marriage. She and her cousin Favell are in love as courtly lovers, but she is also married.

In the eighteenth century a number of zealous reformers preached the doctrine of a return to nature. The sex instinct was looked upon as “natural”, not to be vilified or repressed. Women had as much right to the enjoyment of sex as men. The individual is free to make his own decisions and take upon himself the responsibility for violating the social conventions of his time. Rebecca has little sense of guilt or sin in connection with her sex-life because “Love-making was a game with her—only a game” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 92).

In fact, the novel Rebecca opens with dream of Manderley which created by Rebecca. It is Rebecca who has succeeded by turning the lovely old house into the apotheosis of feminine talents and virtues placing it on the level of metaphor or myth. Manderley looks as sometimes Edenic, sometimes hellish and nightmarish. Maxim is not much concerned with Rebecca’s sexuality provided it does not have some effects on his estate and on his reputation. As he remarks, “what you do in London does not concern me. You can live with Favell there, or with anyone you like. But not here. Not at Manderley” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 60). What strikes one first is, Maxim’s main preoccupation was to maintain his domestic sphere intact.: “I thought about Manderley too much. I put Manderley before anything else” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 57). At the mid century the aristocracy and gentry were very powerful socially and politically. The basis of their influence, as of their wealth, was the land.

Rebecca knows that despite her infidelity, Max would never stand in a divorce court. She fully understands the state of mind of her husband and this gives her once more domination over him who appears to be incapable, because of his Manderley state. But she was very liable to the sin of “self esteem”. Such phrases as “If I had a child, Max, neither you nor anyone in the world could prove that it was not yours. It would grow up here in Manderley, bearing your name. There would be nothing you could do. And when you died, Manderley would be his. You could not prevent it” ( Daphne, 1987: p. 61). The way that Rebecca speaks can reveal her traits and contribute to foregrounding this aspect of her personality Through this passage, it is slowly revealed that Rebecca possessed the signs of a psychopath: habitual lying, superficial charm, expert manipulation, no conscience and no remorse. She was also revealed to be somewhat sadistic—Danvers tells a story of Rebecca, during her teenage years, cruelly whipping a horse until it bled. Even though the impression is negative, Rebecca did not aim to be a positive character nor an obedient wife.

If Rebecca’s cult of true womanhood is analyzed within Victorian stereotypes for women, her qualities appear more tolerable. She possesses pride, envy, hatred, and all the passions which those do who style themselves their betters and her strength of character stems from the notion that she does not let societal boundaries define her behavior or actions. Her unique presence after her death challenges the stereotypical understanding of inferior womanhood. But Rebecca’s behavior goes against the conventional depiction of woman according to the foundation of the moral obligations on which society rests and her brutal murder can be seen as a punishment for her assumption of apparent sexual autonomy.

Rebecca’s morality is set aside and she can only be classed among the “bad women”. For Françoise Basch: Le péché d’adultère est le meme chez l’homme et chez la femme. Mais la loi, elle, se doit de souligner que le péché de la femme est socialement infiniment plus grave ( Basch, 1979: p. 45). According to Patricia Hollis states “the vast bulk of the population depend entirely on revelation; and, if a doubt could be raised among them that the Ten commandments were given by god from mount Sinai, men would think they were at liberty to steal, women would consider themselves absolved from the restraints of chastity...” ( Hollis, 1973: p. 148). According to this passage, since Nature dictated that man should be promiscuous, it was absurd to run counter to this decree.

Disapproval of infidelity according to Charles Glicksberg is associated with the sexual myths completely dominated by the male hierarchy of values. “Woman is pictured as being sex incarnate, the source of all carnal temptation, she embodies evil of sensuality, but she is also mysterious, unknowable, taking on such contradictory role as virgin and harlot, saint and prostitute”. (The sexual revolution in modern English literature ( Glicksberg, 1973: p. IX).

Disapproval of infidelity differs among ethnic groups and Buss and Shackelford (1997) found that individuals who are unhappy in their marriages expect to engage in infidelity in the future, and they expect their spouses to do the same. In the eighteenth century for example, a number of zealous reformers preached the doctrine of a return to nature. The sex instinct was looked upon as “natural,” not to be vilified or repressed. Women had as much right to the enjoyment of sex as men. Morality, however, was still largely an expression of class morality.

For Charles Glicksberg a new liberalized morality emerged that was suited to the condition of alienated man in industrialized society. In the increasing impersonality of modern urban life no one was interested in the sexual morality or immorality of his neighbor. Though the norm officially prescribed is that of marital fidelity, the wife who remains virtuous is put on the defensive. Adultery is no longer a sin, not even a problem; the chief difficulty is how to arrange matters so as to escape detection. Brigid Brophy supports that: “None of the legal or social restrictions in force has ever prevented a woman from betraying her husband sexually. Today when the traditional barriers have been removed and women are free to work and play and travel unescorted, the opportunities for extramarital affairs are more abundant and detection more difficult. The old puritanic taboos have been lifted. Prudery has gone of fashion. The twentieth century has virtually brought to an end the war of the sexes ( Brigid, 1966: p. 24).

Indeed, there are so many things in Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel that bear resemblance to Daphne du Maurier’s life. After her death in 1989, writers began spreading stories about her alleged relationships with various people, including actress Gertrude Lawrence, as well as her supposed attraction to Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her US publisher Nelson Doubleday. Du Maurier stated in her memoirs that her father had wanted a son; being a tomboy, she wished to have been born a boy.

Thus marital infidelity has serious negative consequences for the couples and it is well known that infidelity can result in family strife, divorce, violence, depression and low self-esteem family. The Catholic Gael regarded murder only as an incident in the existence of the eternal spirit, which could not be destroyed. For him, adultery was the greatest sin, because it was dangerous to salvation ( Freer, 1969: p. 75).

4. The Tragic-Comedy of Love

Tragedy and comedy have a long tradition in literature, with their origins in the ancient world and with a specific emphasis on drama. At the core of all the set texts is a tragic hero or heroine who is flawed in some way, who suffers and causes suffering to others and in all texts there is an interplay between what might be seen as villains and victims.

The main difference between comedy and tragedy in a Shakespearean play is that a comedy will start off with an innocent misunderstand or weird situation and will ultimately end happily and with no one having died at the end of the story. While in a tragedy usually the story will start off with a serious situation such as a murder or a betrayal or a rivalry and will ultimately end sadly, with many, even everyone, dying at the end of the story.

In Daphne du Maurier’s novels, Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, love is a source of tragedy rather than of happiness because the two narrators, Mrs. de Winter as well as Philip flawed in some way and suffer of obsessive love or seem suffering from a starvation of love. If marriage is a mirror of society, the couples in these novels show something very dark and sinister about order. In all cases society itself (as represented in the texts), and the behavior of men and women in it, are ridiculed. Even if sometimes the endings are happy like in case of Mrs. de Winter, one can see marriages without love and love affairs that are rebellious breaks with tradition.

It cannot be denied that Marriage in Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel is suspicions and betrayals and the conflicts the protagonists have with their identity have created the basis of tragedy. Just as Max de Winter never truly understands either Rebecca or her polar opposite whom he impulsively marries following Rebecca’s death, nor Philip or his uncle are truly capable of understanding Rachel. Just as Max de Winter should never have even tried to understand the complicated Rebecca, Rachel is probably up there among these women that both these men should have done everything possible to avoid. “There are some women who bring sadness to all those who love them”, advised Nick Kendall to the young no mature Philip: “They cannot help it. I think Mrs. Ashley is one of those women” ( Daphne, 1986: p. 46). Ambrose dies as a result of his encounters with Rachel.

One of the major themes of Daphne du Maurier’s novels is marriage and the game of love and the element of jealousy in marriage seem to be especially prevalent. Women are said in general to be mysterious and unknowable and where they are not allowed or shunned or ostracized, they are invariably misunderstood, often feared, sometimes hated and never fully trusted. Philip is raised by his uncle in an environment freakishly absent feminine influence. As he observes in his narration, his uncle “was a shy man... who would not have a woman in the house to help him and did not want women in the house” ( Daphne, 1986: p. 1).

Rachel is a woman who, at 35, has been married at least twice and clearly had other love affairs. Rachel is an anachronism, full of life, possessed of sound mind and spirit, enjoying her sexuality as and where and with whomsoever she might wish. While Philip is a young man who has never been in close proximity with a woman. “It was a queer sensation having a woman in the pew beside me,” ( Daphne, 1986: p. 26) he says of his first outing to church with Rachel.

Rachel’s desire is to control the thoughts, and fashion even the minds of her subjects. Allowing Philip to glimpse her in various states of undress (pinning up her hair, leaving the door of her boudoir ajar while she dresses, putting flowers about the house), she employs her full arsenal. And Philip is naturally bewitched. “I think she had no knowledge what it did to me” ( Daphne, 1986: p. 38) he declares with touching yet preposterous innocence, remarking on the way that she touches his head or his shoulder in passing. Having already lost his heart, he is then (very willingly) initiated into sex, assuming all the time that marriage or at least everlasting love, is on the cards. But no, he wakes next morning—ecstatic and feeling that “everything in life was now resolved”—to discover that the object of his affections is cool and distant, acting as if nothing much has happened.

… Surely you love me, Rachel? Last night you proved that you loved me. It was a promise of marriage….” “No, Philip, I had no thought of marriage. I was thanking you for the jewels, that was all. There was no love” ( Daphne, 1986: p. 50).

This dialogue between Rachel and Philip points the significant thematic ramifications, as it underscores the difficult relationship between love and possession. As he falls in love with Rachel, Philip becomes increasingly desperate to solidify his “possession” of her by gifting her with physical possessions—namely, the Ashley jewels—even though these items do not yet legally belong to him. After offering all the family jewels to Rachel and afterwards making love, Philip is so naïve that he believes this means that Rachel will marry him, while she sees it very differently and was simply thanking him for the jewels. For Rachel, this is not love but just an exchange.

Hardy’s (1872)novel The Return of the Native presents a similar situation in which the author explores the ideas of desire for social status and possession versus romantic desire. The couple Eustacia and Clym, offers a clear depiction of a marriage that is motivated by the desire for social achievement. In this novel, love looks like a game in which the lonely Diggory Venn for example is desperately in love with Thomasin Yeobrigh who has already pledged herself to Wildeve who in his turn loves Eustacia Vye who falls in love with Thomasin’s cousin Clym (a diamond merchant in Paris, returns to Egdon, hoping to induce him to return to Paris with her). The rest of this game of love is one of deception, false hopes, and the loss of hope as the characters struggle to understand their identities and who they actually love.

When Rachel meets Ambrose, she is the widow of one Cosimo Sangalletti, who has been killed in a duel. Nothing about her is certain; she is known to act on impulse, and is an extravagant spender even though she has debts to clear. Secondly, Nick has heard a rumour that Rachel had a reputation for living a loose and extravagant lifestyle and people had been concerned when she married Ambrose in case she ran through all his money.. “I could think one thing. Money is the one way to please her… the one way to please her” ( Daphne, 1986: p. 49).

Cyril Connolly states: “If I were asked to name some characteristics typical of the mid-20th century, I would put first the uncritical worship of money, the spread of nationalism, the tyranny of the orgasm, the homosexual protest and the apotheosis of snobbery. Money, sex, and social climbing motivate society” ( Connolly, 1963: p. 412). The correlation between money and happiness is a reality that no one will ignore. It urges sometimes to wonder whether the peaceful foundation of a family relies on money or real love. Mankind values a great many things, such as health, fame, and possessions, because we think that they will make us happy. But there is a saying from the East that the path to true happiness is difficult to follow. It is as difficult as walking on the edge of a razor.

There are countless stories about how we ought to live our lives and in Daniel Defoe’s The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders (1722) is an illustration of the Quest for Survival. Most of Moll’s actions are due to the need and desire for money. She thinks that pursuing money, pursuing wealth, will make her happier. That is the reason why, all her activities are always directed toward gaining more and going higher in terms of social status. In addition to robbery, Moll is known to be a prostitute, that is to say offering one’s body to indiscriminate sexual intercourse for the sake of money. “ And if a young woman has beauty, birth, breeding, wit, sense, manners, modesty, and all to an extreme, yet if she has not money, she’s no body” ( Defoe, 1998: p. 33). Unfortunately money, itself, does not buy happiness. No matter how much we have of each, we are expected to be asking for more.

According to Martin Stephen “real holder of sovereignty in marriage is selfishness and personal gratification, coupled with lust” ( Martin, 1986: p. 83). Rachel kept on showing her selfishness and unsympathetic nature till the end. Rachel’s desire is to control the thoughts, and fashion even the minds of her subjects. In his Discourse of Marriage and Wiving, Alexander Niccholes warned of the high stakes of selecting a spouse in an era without divorce and offers man-to-man advice on “how to choose a good wife from a bad” and how to address the tricky task of understanding women. In his opinion “Even seemingly virtuous women must be viewed with suspicion. Like devils, they may be masquerading as angels to ‘draw others into the chaines of darknesse” ( Niccholes, 1620: p. 8).

5. Conclusion

Daphne du Maurier was an extremely talented writer, whose creativity enabled her to experience many emotions, ideas and viewpoints which manifested themselves through her writing. In both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel, Du Maurier seems to be giving advice by showing how misunderstanding, prejudice, abuse of power and jealousy tear people apart and destroy their lives. As a moralist, she preferred to put her characters—and her readers—in situations of ethical bafflement, including the ambiguity of the circumstances which leads Philip to pose the central question of the novel almost on page one: “Was Rachel innocent or guilty?”. The narrative perspective has allowed us to experience deep psychological state of the protagonists.

The experience of sexual love, however discreetly it is interpreted in the literature of a given age, remains a universal and archetypal motif. The two novels project the figures of men and women against a specific social background, revealing their characteristic behavior, their striving, their interrelationships, the various forms, deviant or conventional, their acts of love assume, the complex underlying motives that prompt their quest for sexual fulfillment; their words of approval or condemnation, what their society considers moral and immoral.

To conclude, Daphne du Maurier, through her characters has a thrown some light on the nature of some women of her own time and on the whole put power in the hands of these ones. All this goes to show that “Ce que femme veut, Dieu le veut”.

Cite this paper: Mandibaye, S. (2021) Marriage as a Private Hell in Daphne Du Maurier’s Novels: Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel. Open Journal of Social Sciences, 9, 510-522. doi: 10.4236/jss.2021.91036.
References

[1]   Austen, J. (2003). Pride and Prejudice. London: Penguin Books.

[2]   Basch, F. (1979). Les Femmes Victoriennes. Paris: Payot.

[3]   Brigid, B. (1966). Don’t Never Forget. London: Joathan Cape.

[4]   Buss, D. M., & Shackelford, T. K. (1997). From Vigilance to Violence: Mate Retention Tactics in Married Couples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 346-361.
https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.72.2.346

[5]   Charlotte, B. (1966). Jane Eyre. Intr., Q. D. Leavis, London: Pengui.

[6]   Connolly, C. (1963). Previous Convictions. New York: Harper & Row.

[7]   Daphne, M. (1986). My Cousin Rachel. London: Heinemann Educational Books

[8]   Daphne, M. (1987). Rebecca. England: Longman.

[9]   Defoe, D. (1998). The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[10]   Dugdale, J. S. (1962). English Social Conditions in the Second Half of the 19th Century. England: Brodie House.

[11]   Freer, A. (1969). Persons, Places, and Things. Oxford: Alden Press.

[12]   Glicksberg, I. (1973). The Sexual Revolution in Modern English Literature. Dordrecht: Springer Science.
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-011-6800-7

[13]   Hardy, T. (1872). The Return of the Native. London: Heimann Educational books.

[14]   Hollis, P. (1973). Class and Conflict in Nineteenth-Century England. 1815-1830. London: Routledge.

[15]   Hughes, T., & Patin, C. (1998). Narrative Theory, Textual Practice. Paris: Dunod.

[16]   Martin, S. (1986). English Literature. New York: Longman.

[17]   Niccholes, A. (1620) A Discourse, of Marriage and Vviuing and of the Greatest Mystery Therein Contained: How to Choose a Good Wife from a Bad. London: British Library.

[18]   Roberts, E. V. (1988). Writing Themes about Literature. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

 
 
Top