Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Certain Slant of Light

The afternoons fade & soften into twilight a bit earlier each day, and the chill and damp remind us the world is dying in minute increments.  I wrap my arms around myself, and entertain visions of ghoulies and ghosties, long-leggedy beasties, and things that go bump in the night.  Ah! The time of Samhain is nigh.   Emily Dickenson was able to capture such a moment:

There's a certain Slant of light,
Winter Afternoons –
That oppresses, like the Heft
Of Cathedral Tunes –

Heavenly Hurt, it gives us –
We can find no scar,
But internal difference –
Where the Meanings, are –

None may teach it – Any –
'Tis the seal Despair –
An imperial affliction
Sent us of the Air –

When it comes, the Landscape listens –
Shadows – hold their breath –
When it goes, 'tis like the Distance
On the look of Death

Nothing thrills me more than stories of spirits of the past, those mysteries waiting to be unraveled.  When reading a favourite ghost story, I am able to conjure the phantoms, forming them to my own whims.  I usually prefer this, but there are some cinematic variations of certain novels that continue to spark my interest, year after year.  

Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier.

 "I dreamt last night I went to Manderley again..."

The opening lines of the novel are unforgettable, imparting an undertone of regret, loss--I have dreamt of my family home, and these were comfortable, nostalgic dreams.  Or are they?   The estate itself sets the stage, and du Maurier's description became my personal  standard of perfect English-Manor-by-the-Sea.

 "There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been, the grey stone shining in the moonlight of my dream, the mullioned windows reflecting the green lawns and the terrace. Time could not wreck the perfect symmetry of those walls, nor the site itself, a jewel in the hollow of a hand. The terrace sloped to the lawns, and the lawns stretched to the sea, and turning I could see the sheet of silver placid under the moon, like a lake undisturbed by wind or storm. No waves would come to ruffle this dream water, and no bulk of cloud, wind-driven from the west, obscure the clarity of this pale sky"

Our narrator is not Rebecca.  And as the plot unfolds, the characters impart only their recollections of Rebecca.  Secrets, whispers, lies.  The phantasmal spectre of Rebecca looms over the house, and its inhabitants.  She clings, and insinuates herself into their own fears and longings. Because the characters allow her dominion over their relationships and emotions, the cancerous personification of Rebecca  exhibits malignant power beyond the grave.  

Is she really a ghost, or just a projection of the characters own suffering & guilt?  We never meet Rebecca, we are left to surmise she is beautiful, jaded, cruel, & manipulative.  But did she suffer from pangs of regret?  Did she dream of Manderley, from her watery grave, and long to return?

"It seemed to me I stood by the iron gate leading to the drive, and for a while I could not enter, for the way was barred to me." 

Rebecca was mistress of a grand estate, the old family pile of the de Winter family.  Her writing table, monogrammed paper, pens, and ornaments remained just so and at her express design.  Her closets of elegant gowns, bought for her by Maximillian and curated by Mrs. Danvers, rustled in anticipation for her return.  Her bedclothes turned down, yet never mussed. Her nightgown, monogrammed & pressed.  All of this, waiting like the pause in a musical score.  Rebecca moves through the hall of Manderley as a lingering note on the piano.  The living hold their breath, least we disturb the shimmer of her echo.

As the narrator recounts "She was in the house still as Mrs. Danvers had said, she was in that room in the west wing, she was in the library, in the morning-room, in the gallery above the hall. Even in the little flower-room, where her mackintosh still hung. And in the garden and in the woods, and down in the stone cottage on the beach. Her footsteps sounded in the corridors, her scent lingered on the stairs. The servants obeyed her orders still, the food we ate was the food she liked. Her favourite flowers filled the rooms....Rebecca was still Mrs. de Winter.  I had no business here at all. "

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