Once Again to Zelda by Marlene Wagman – Geller

When you read a book, do you normally look at the author’s dedication? I always do and I often wonder about it. I am a curious person and I always want to find out why the author has decided to dedicate his or her book to that specific person. Well, I don’t need to wonder any longer, at least when it comes to Literature’s most engaging dedications, as Marlene Wagman – Geller’s well researched book Once Again to Zelda sheds light upon these fascinating inscriptions.

Why did L. Frank Baum dedicate his book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz to his wife and how did he come up with his idea for this memorable novel? Why did Herman Melville dedicate his exceptional novel Moby Dick to Nathaniel Hawthorne? Out of pure admiration or was there more to it? Mary Shelley dedicated Frankenstein to her father. But was their relationship simply a father-daughter relationship or was it more than that? Once Again to Zelda gives answers to all of these questions and uncovers the intriguing stories behind the dedications in fifty classic books. From Lewis Carroll and J. K. Rowling to Dan Brown, Marlene Wagman – Geller takes us on a journey through Literature’s most alluring dedications, providing us with some sad and romantic tales and at the same time, giving us an insight into the lives of our favorite authors.

But now, let’s have a closer look at one of these dedications. I have chosen to talk about Charlotte Bronte’s dedication to William M. Thackeray. As you may know, Charlotte Bronte is one of my favorite authors and even though I knew that she dedicated the second edition of Jane Eyre to Thackeray, I did not know that it caused so much uproar. In order to understand that, one must be familiar with the lives of these wonderful authors. When William Thackeray read Jane Eyre for the first time, he was impressed by Charlotte’s work and he highly praised it. Thus, when Charlotte Bronte heard about Thackeray’s enthusiastic words, she dedicated the second edition of her novel to him, given the fact that she admired him very much. However, little did Charlotte know that her dedication would become the topic of discussion throughout Victorian London. This happened because the events and characters in Jane Eyre displayed the real lives of Bronte and Thackeray. You may know that Charlotte Bronte’s novel is very autobiographical, and when you consider her negative experience at the boarding school and her experience as a governess, you can detect similarities between Charlotte and her heroine Jane. In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester’s first wife, Bertha, is mad and she is locked up in an attic. In real life, William M. Thackeray’s wife Isabella had suffered from mental illness and was confined to their London home. Furthermore, just as Mr. Rochester hires Jane Eyre as a governess, William Thackeray had employed a governess to care for his children. Mr. Rochester’s wife and Isabella had become mad after four years of marriage, and thus, these coincidences led to many public speculations and people believed that Jane Eyre was based on Thackeray’s situation at home. They thought that Charlotte had worked as a governess for William’s children and that the two had an affair. In addition to that, they concluded that Bronte dedicated her novel to Thackeray because she was still in love with him. These rumors were of course untrue and Charlotte deeply apologized to William for all the trouble she had caused him when she dedicated her novel to him.

Therefore, you can see what a simple dedication can set in motion and how much there is to tell when it comes to an author’s dedication!

Once Again to Zelda is a must – read for book lovers, as they will delight in reading about their favorite authors and learning about their lives. I must say that I truly loved this book and I found it very interesting to gain knowledge of these inscriptions and to read about the compelling stories behind them. So if you are curious to find out who Zelda was and why F. Scott Fitzgerald dedicated The Great Gatsby “once again” to her, then I would highly recommend this book to you, as you will enjoy hearing about Marlene Wagman – Geller’s work as a Dedication Detective and exploring some gripping stories!

I would like to thank the author for sending me a copy of her great book!

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

You know you’ll love a book if the first page makes you long for more and if you forget about everything else that surrounds you. But if the first sentence already overwhelms you and you just want to read on and on and never stop reading, then it must be an amazing book. And for me, that was the case with Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. I just couldn’t put this book down and I was lost in du Maurier’s beautiful writing style and her vivid descriptions. The entire book is just fascinating and you’re aware of this fact when you just read the first sentence:

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…”

As a reader, you immediately begin to ask a lot of questions (Where is Manderely? What happened there? Who is the narrator?). You just want to find out more about the mysterious speaker and about Manderley. With each page, I was eager to find out more about the narrator and about Rebecca. Needless to say, I just loved this book and it is now one of my favorite books. I don’t know why it took me so long to read it, as I knew about it from my mother and grandmother. We had this book for as long as I can remember, but yet, I didn’t get to read it and I don’t understand why. But better too late than never, right? I am just glad that I finally had the chance to read such a wonderful and engaging book that astounds you and takes you to places who have never dreamed of!

This time, I won’t dwell on the summary of the book, since I think that most of you have already read it. (In case you haven’t read it yet, you can find out more about this book here). Instead, I want to do something different this time. I am going to answer some study questions and that way, you can find out what I have to say in particular about this excellent novel.

I’ve chosen three questions for further reflection:

Why do you think the narrator remains nameless?

If you have read the book, you may have noticed that the heroine’s name is never revealed in this novel. I think that the absence of a name symbolizes how uncertain the heroine is of herself; when she marries Maxim, she takes his name, but she doesn’t feel really comfortable in it, because she is not the first to have taken Maxim’s name. She is not the first Mrs. de Winter, and thus she has to compete with the late Mrs. de Winter, with Rebecca. Rebecca’s name is haunting the narrator like a dark shadow throughout the book and it’s even the book’s title. The heroine feels defeated and overpowered by Rebecca, until she finds out the truth about her. When she learns about Rebecca’s true nature, our heroine is suddenly feeling at ease; she no longer fears Rebecca and she begins to feel comfortable as Mrs. de Winter and as the mistress of Manderley.

What makes this novel a work of Gothic Literature?

There are many gothic elements presented to us throughout the book, but ultimately, it’s Rebecca’s “ghost” what makes this novel a work of Gothic Literature. From the beginning, the narrator has to compete with Rebecca. Everyone compares her to Rebecca and our heroine feels haunted by Maxim’s first wife. Her spirit is still present at Manderley, partly because Manderley is still run just as Rebecca has run it and also because Mrs. Danvers keeps Rebecca’s bedroom ready for her, as if Rebecca would return any minute. Furthermore, Rebecca’s memory is piercing the house and all of those who knew her. Our heroine feels her presence everywhere; every little thing reminds her of Rebecca; from the pen she uses to write letters to the chair she sits in. Everyone is still talking of Rebecca, preserving her memory, and mourning over her death. Thus, Rebecca’s “ghost” is haunting our narrator. Even though we are not talking about a real ghost, or supernatural forces, Rebecca is still present at Manderley; although she is dead, Rebecca’s spirit is still filling up the rooms with the help of her “messenger”, Mrs. Danvers, who is very devoted to Rebecca and who is willing to retain her memory forever, at all cost.

How does Maxim’s relationship with our heroine develop throughout the novel?

At the beginning, our nameless narrator is really happy when she marries Maxim. She has a great time on their honeymoon and she is anxious to arrive at Manderley and to take on the new role as Mrs. de Winter and as the new mistress of the house. But when the couple arrives at Manderley, the heroine sees that Rebecca’s presence dominates the place. Everything is run exactly as it was run when Rebecca was alive. Mrs. Danvers, who admired Rebecca, is always mentioning the former mistress of Manderley and she makes clear that she doesn’t approve of the narrator. The sinister Mrs. Danvers makes our heroine feel inferior and she tells her how much everyone loved the perfect Rebecca, especially Maxim. Thus, our heroine begins to feel intimidated by Rebecca and she begins to wonder if Maxim still loves Rebecca. Maxim and the narrator don’t really spend time together, and Maxim doesn’t tell his wife that he loves her. The heroine thinks that Maxim doesn’t love her and that he has married her only because he didn’t want to be alone anymore. She feels that Maxim treats her like a child and that he makes fun of her. During the course of the novel, everything changes, because Maxim tells her the truth about Rebecca’s evil nature. He tells her that Rebecca’s image was a mere illusion; she was not who she seemed, and therefore, our heroine doesn’t have to compete with the late Rebecca anymore. Maxim finally confesses his love for the narrator, and their bond grows stronger. They are companions now, who share everything with each other and there are no secrets that stand between them anymore. At the beginning, Maxim was distant to her and Rebecca was always lying in-between, but now that everything has been clarified, Rebecca’s shadow cannot interfere with the couple anymore. The question is if they are really happy now, with everything they’ve been through. So many things have happened that none of them will be able to forget and even though they love each other, the past is still haunting them from time to time. Daphne du Maurier gives little hints here and there (at the beginning of the novel) and the reader can conclude that not everything is perfect for the couple. Even if you want to forget your past, you can never quite accomplish that, because there will always be certain things that will remind you of it!

I wish I could answer more questions, but I am afraid that I would give away too much and I don’t want to spoil the story. For those who haven’t read Daphne du Maurier’s masterpiece, I highly recommend that you do so. You won’t regret it, as Rebecca is an amazing tale full of dark secrets, remarkable characters and mysteries. This novel has everything I expect from a great book: psychological suspense, gothic elements, romance and twists. I just loved this book from beginning to end as it reminded me a little bit of Jane Eyre (one of my favorite books). I loved the characters and the plot was captivating and mesmerizing! Daphne du Maurier has created a fantastic and unforgettable tale and her descriptions and writing style are beautiful and breath-taking! I can’t wait to read other novels by this talented writer (I only read Frenchman’s Creek a few years ago)!

Villette by Charlotte Bronte

Charlotte Bronte’s novel tells the story of penniless Lucy Snowe who leaves a sorrowful past behind and starts a new life at a boarding school in the fictional city of Villette. There, she finds work as a teacher; she soon becomes successful and is admired by her pupils and colleagues. Furthermore, she attracts the attention of M. Paul Emanuel, the hot tempered and autocratic schoolmaster. The two eventually fall in love, but other protagonists want to keep them apart and finally manage to do so by sending M. Paul away. Nevertheless, he declares his love for Lucy before his departure and arranges for her to live an independent life as the headmistress of her own school. After three years of waiting, the couple is to be reunited.

However, the ending of the novel is ambiguous, as Charlotte Bronte gives us two endings to choose from: We can see M. Paul and Lucy happily reunited or we can believe that M. Paul’s ship has been destroyed by a storm on his return to Villette and thus accept that he has drowned.

Many critics believe however, that the choice is in fact a delusion, since Lucy clearly states that those three years while she was waiting for her beloved and was leading an independent life at her own school were the happiest of her life. This statement suggests that M. Paul has died and that Lucy does not find romantic happiness like other Bronte heroines. However, what she does find is a fulfilled calling and independence. Lucy does not submit to a traditional female destiny (marriage and children), but has the opportunity to fulfil her own dream and thus finds happiness in her work. For that reason, Villette shocked many critics at the time it was published. Lucy is not like other Bronte or Austen heroines since she is neither rich nor beautiful and she does not marry her beloved; other characters in the novel see her as “inoffensive as a shadow” and pity her, but she is in fact a powerful character, a fighter and a rebel. Lucy may not be wealthy or beautiful, but she is clever and undergoes a major transformation; as the novel progresses, Lucy’s respect for herself grows and she manages to find the independence that allows her to be her true self. She also succeeds in winning M. Paul’s love with her intelligence and accomplishments and not with submissiveness or her looks. Throughout the novel, Lucy has to face many trials and has to struggle against the life she is expected to lead as a poor woman, but in the end, she finds autonomy and thus happiness. This is why the novel agitated so many readers and critics when it was published in 1853 and this also may be the reason why Virginia Woolf called Villette “Bronte’s finest novel”. Villette was seen as a scandalous novel in 1853, since it tells the story of a woman who loses love but finds independence.

Villette is Charlotte Bronte’s last novel and even though it may not be as popular as Jane Eyre, it is nevertheless regarded as her best work. The novel is not so much commemorated for its plot, but for Lucy’s character development and psychology. Charlotte Bronte is one of my favorite authors and Villette is a great novel! I recommend it to everyone who is interested in Victorian Literature and who likes to read about gender roles. However, you might find it difficult to read this book if you aren’t familiar with French, so make sure your edition has translations of the French phrases!