I was lucky to have a grandmother who always made it a priority to read what her grandchildren read, as a way to connect to them. For my cousins, she trudged through Harry Potter, even though she did not enjoy fantasy and magic. Grandma also dutifully read the Left Behind series along with my middle school brother. She worried that he was becoming a religious fanatic, but that’s a story for another day.
As a young girl, I took it for granted that Grandma and I could always talk about books. I was a hungry, speedy reader who was able to read “grown up” books a little early. I was surprised when, one day, Grandma handed me her copy of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, paraphrasing the first line: “Last night I dreamt of Manderley…” She thought I might enjoy reading it.
In a flash, our relationship expanded. She no longer had to shift to my level and interests. Now I could go toward her beloved texts. She sensed I was ready.
I remember reading the book feverishly—there was romance, evil, and even a ghost, if memory serves. I must have been in 6th grade. Today, flipping through Grandma’s 1967 Pocket Cardinal Edition, I realize that 419 pages would have been a formidable, appropriate challenge for me. She would not abide vulgar language or sex in novels read by her grandchildren, so my innocence was surely preserved in reading Rebecca.
Now that Grandma is gone and I am grown, I smile to think that my traditional yet fiery grandmother carried Rebecca with her for so many years. From time to time, we’d talk about the novel, and she never failed, hand to chest, to evoke that memorable first line. “Last night I dreamt of Manderley…”
I admit that I have allowed the details of Rebecca to become fuzzy. There was a first wife, a second wife, and a fire. I don’t remember much more. I’m not ready to reread the novel right now. For me, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca isn’t about plot or strong female characters. It’s about a shared text, a passion for reading, and an enduring intergenerational friendship.
Parul Sehgal’s In Praise of Daphne du Maurier
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