What Rebecca has taught me

Studying Chaucer and Catch 22 at A-level temporarily killed my love of literature. Ok, maybe that sounds a bit dramatic. Maybe it was a compatibility issue. We just weren’t suited. Maybe it was the droning lecturer; a dreary man who laughed at all the Chaucer jokes. Again and again. Or maybe it was just me and where I was in my life.

But I didn’t pick up another book again, for pleasure, for some time. And for this to be significant you have to realise I was a voracious reader. I would devour anything and everything; visiting the library on a weekly basis with my sister. I think I read all the books in the children’s section. I certainly read a lot of the children’s classics.

When I finally did pick up another book, in my early twenties, I read stories I could relate to. Modern writers with books full of warmth, humour and real life. I adored these books. I still do.

In the meantime classics scared me.

I wouldn’t turn to them when I wanted something to read. Instead I’d build up a forbidding picture of them in my mind. Secretly I thought they were too highbrow for me. I thought I just wouldn’t get them. That I wouldn’t understand the language, the narrative. Or simply, like with Chaucer, wouldn’t get the humour.

Literary classics were my Rebecca.

“I don’t belong to your sort of world for one thing.” This is what the new Mrs de Winter said to Maxim when he proposed. Rebecca belonged. But she didn’t.

And I believed I didn’t belong to that sort of classical literary world.

As we entered a new century I entered the world of books. I wrote about them, blogged about them, am even writing one myself. Yet, during all this time, I’m tormented that I don’t measure up to the classics. And I built Rebecca up in my head as some sort of literary monster that I would not be able to defeat. Just like the new Mrs de Winter perceived that she didn’t measure up to the first Mrs de Winter. To Rebecca.

I bought the novel, Rebecca, on 25 May 2007. I know, because Amazon tells me. Yet I didn’t read it until a few months ago. And, as I took a deep breath and dived in, reading about Manderley, about Maxim de Winter, Mrs Danvers and the beautiful descriptions of the woods,the coastline, about Happy Valley, I relaxed. I started to enjoy it. And, as Mrs de Winter, the new Mrs de Winter, realizes the truth about Rebecca, I began to realise the truth.

Classical literature is not some sort of literature that I cannot defeat. In fact, defeating it doesn’t come into it. Classical literature can actually be enjoyable. I am worthy of it. And I can understand it.

It is just there waiting patiently for me to discover it. To embrace me in its arms.

All this time. It loved me.

Now, what to read next?

This article was previously published on helenredfern.co.uk