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January 29, 2002
2 Min Read
The main character in this week's book is a sweet, innocent young woman trapped in a position as the "companion" of an unpleasant American woman. After a whirlwind romance, she finds herself married (much to her surprise) to a brooding widower, owner of a huge English estate in Cornwall. It's not exactly a mystery, and far from a typical romance, but this story has bedazzled readers for more than 60 years.
The first wife was an accomplished, poised, popular woman who'd drowned in a sailing accident, and our heroine concludes that her husband is--surely must be--still in love with Wife No. 1. Who wouldn't be? Certainly, the awkward, gauche main character is intimidated by the servants, who are slow to accept her. "Then I heard a step behind me and turning round I saw Mrs. Danvers. I shall never forget the expression on her face. Triumphant, gloating, excited in a strange unhealthy way. I felt very frightened."
In the novel, the protagonist is never identified by a personal name (though that might not be true in the Hitchcock film version). Her anonymity is part of the author's successful effort to create an aura of uncertain self-image and growing oppression and dread, especially since the first wife's name is mentioned again and again.
Over time, the new bride decides that she can't measure up. "Perhaps I haunted her as she haunted me; she looked down on me from the gallery as Mrs. Danvers had said, she sat beside me when I wrote my letters at her desk. That mackintosh I wore, that handkerchief I used. They were hers. Perhaps she knew and had seen me take them. Jasper had been her dog, and he ran at my heels now. The roses were hers and I cut them. Did she resent me and fear me as I resented her?"
Then, one day, the first wife's boat is discovered in the bay.
For a chance to win a mysterious prize, E-mail [email protected] by noon ET Thursday with the novel, author, and name of the estate. Two respondents will be chosen randomly from correct answers.
Jan. 28 quiz: Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Third question: The actor who played the character Marlow in the movie of the same name is Tim Roth. Jan. 28 winners will be announced next week.
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