Are Our Fantasies Universal?

Do women all fantasize about the "other" woman?

Posted Sep 19, 2014

Recently I reread “Rebecca,” Daphne du Maurier’s famous best-seller, the story of a young wife who is haunted by the old, dead one, Rebecca. Though I was not entirely convinced by the characters, I felt the novel was still fascinating to us even today, though we might remember Hitchcock’s great film version of the novel better than the book itself.

I was struck too by the similarities between this novel and Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.” Du Maurier’s shy timid young wife simply steps in for the governess, Jane Eyre. The narrator in Rebecca even starts out as a sort of governess or anyway companion when Max de Winter meets her in Monte Carlo. The mad wife in the attic from “Jane Eyre” is portrayed by the dead Rebecca. Or is it rather the housekeeper, Mrs Danforth, who seems particularly and madly obsessed with Rebecca, who terrifies us the way poor Bertha, the wife who is kept hidden in the attic, frightens the reader? The master of the manor, Mr Rochester at Thornfield is played by Max de Winter in Rebecca in his mansion, Manderley. They are both similarly paternalistic and condescending with their young paramours. Both great houses go up in smoke, literally, at the end, burning not only their properties but also the sins of the masters conveniently for both these female authors: Charlotte Bronte and Daphne du Maurier.

I can see how both these books must have been fascinating to my mother who was, too, the second and very much younger wife. The first wife, we were told as children, was dead, but it turned out that our mother had met and married our father when the first wife was very much alive. Our mother had worked most probably as some sort of housekeeper or nurse in the household, like Mrs Danforth, though very much prettier and younger. I even have a photo of the three of them : my father, arm in arm with his wife and my young, lovely mother on the other side. Bizarrely, too, after my mother married my father, the three of them lived together in the grand house where I was born, “Crossways” until the death six months later of the first wife, a story I have written in "Love Child".

We might wonder then if this reality in my mother’s life and this theme written up in so many novels in a multitude of different versions is actually a universal fantasy? Is this fantasy of the “other woman, ” whom we both long for and wish to take her place, as Freud would have us believe, the mother or the fantasy of the mother, whom we both love and hate? Is this part of our universal bisexuality? Do we love and hate both the members of the couple, as Dora does in the Dora case: both Herr K and Frau K with her beautiful white body?

Sheila Kohler is the author of thirteen books amongst them "Cracks" "Love Child" and "Becoming Jane Eyre" and most recently "Dreaming for Freud." 

Dreaming for Freud: A Novelby Sheila Kohler Penguin Books buy nowLove Child: A Novel by Sheila KohlerPenguin Books buy now