“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”
That haunting first sentence of the gothic novel Rebecca, written by Daphne du Maurier 82 years ago, stays with me. It returns every now and again when my mind is tempestuous, unsettled by fears both named and nameless. Edged in mists of sleep, that one line culls images of an unlikely skeletal horror Queen — Mrs. Danvers, the obsessively dangerous housekeeper of an English manor by a turbid sea. I, as did the writer, sleepwalk through a towering alley of blood red rhododendrons. Manderley is a house held in a vice grip, helpless to escape from the iron tendrils of a troubled psychological past.
Readers of the book know by now that Manderley and the novel Rebecca are not what they seem, and in that lies the story’s tragedy.
When my daughter Isabelle mentioned in casual conversation that the lyrical Celtic songstress Enya lives in an Irish castle named Manderley, all alone save for her cats, I was puzzled. To begin with, I hadn’t been thinking about Manderley at all. We were driving home from the grocery store, listening to one of Enya’s ballads. For me, her songs represent tranquility and peace. They sing of the sea and its waves, elusive distant shores we hope to visit, conveyed by drifting yet uplifting words which mostly have no definition or meaning. Enya, who in my imagination dresses in the thinnest veils of illusion, a hint of gold and silver woven note-by-note into the very fabric of her music, is the furthest tragic figure I can imagine.
The truth is, troubles of the mind aren’t always visible on the surface. And as with any mental or societal disturbances, they are often suppressed until that is no longer possible.
My sleep has regularly been interrupted by nightmarish dreams in these days leading up to the 2020 presidential election. I thought I had become accustomed to nighttime disturbances over the nearly past four years, but June’s racial turmoil brought the country’s troubles from where they have simmered for centuries into the forefront.
Rampant wild fires raging within a two hour drive from our town have added seemingly never-ending, caustic smoke to the air, a reminder that we live on Earth on time borrowed from nature, a Nature that can bestow kindness only when we return it.
So it may not be surprising that after last Tuesday night’s presidential debate, with the encouragement of the specter of White Supremacy and its cohort anti-Semitism, that after falling into a troubled sleep, I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
Part of my nocturnal visits to this particular fictional house have nothing to do with my own fascination with all things English, nor am I a tremendous fan of the mystery genre. For me, Manderley as a house is appealing because — after it was burned beyond recognition by the maniacal Mrs. Danvers, her nasty payback for a second Mrs. DeWinter who replaced her beloved Rebecca — it’s a manor house desperately needing remodeling.
If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know I like to remodel houses.
And Manderley is not the only house in my dreams. It seems that, when disturbed, a recurring dream theme finds me wandering through a variety of darkened houses, usually furniture-cluttered and begging for a remodel. Some of the most pleasant dreamscapes find me moving walls, replacing furniture, tiling, painting, and in all other manner of ways doing a dream house makeover. Draping window treatments, sumptuous fabric cascading to the floor — somehow is very soothing.
But sometimes, my house remodeling dreams are scary. In some, I’m drowning in water that gurgles upwards from unseen plumbing; in others, I can’t find the lights. I’ve had issues with electricians in the past, but I don’t think that’s what this is.
Depending on the amount of real-time turmoil in my life, these houses in dreams fall on a scale between This Old House and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. The former — the granddaddy of house remodeling shows — takes on select old homes primarily in the Boston area and over one TV season, lovingly refurbishes them to their glory. Along the way, the show engenders a steady American fondness for old homes, highlighting their intrinsic warmth and unique character. Conversely, Extreme Makeover is a more gritty reality TV show, combining heartache with a fixer-upper angle. It’s been accused by The Smoking Gun dirt digging website of depicting “maudlin, tug-on-your heartstrings television, ‘Queen for a Day’ with finish carpentry. . .” homing in on sick kids, cancer patients, and the down-and-out.
Houses have distinct characters, no differently than do nations.
A house records an impression over time of the families who live in them. Houses are filled with objects, ones mostly chosen by the people who live within their walls. The objects have meaning, sometimes generic, often personal.
Nations reflect the character of their peoples, who, over time, weave a complex cloth of personality and purpose. Some nations’ cloths are shiny and smooth as silk, rippling with small bumps or imperfections. Others are coarse and rough-textured, with loosely interwoven strands leaving gaps where daylight and dust can seep through. The fabric of the United States is a multi-colored calico cotton and velvet patchwork quilt; it is rent in spots, patched, mended, and bedecked with spangles. On its corners, it sports a burnished fringe.
Over the summer, our country has been riddled with Western wildfires, insuppressible racial divide. Now we’ve seen a presidential debate where traditional rules are mocked and the President, in full temper tantrum mode, made personal attacks on his opponent, Vice President Joe Biden’s family members, both alive and dead. Throughout the process the fabric of the United States has been stained and torn, creating a national humiliation.
America is a house in need of remodeling. The question is which version of makeover show will its citizens choose?
Whether remodeling a home or fixing flaws and tears in America’s societal fabric, everyone has an opinion to which they are entitled. Each person has a belief about whether it would be better to move the kitchen sink from against the northern wall to the middle of an island. Countries, like homes, are works in progress.
Even in the midst of what seems to be the most idyllic of locales — let’s say Enya’s Irish castle, for example — there are bound to be disagreements and troubles. Perhaps the singer’s cats rip her illusionary veils with their unsheathed claws. Perhaps during a torrential storm, the Irish Sea rattles the window frames in a terrifying way, no less than do our Colorado wildfires waft ash across the Front Range.
Dreams transport us to unknown places, revealing fears named and nameless in the oddest of ways, bringing to the forefront troubles we won’t speak of over lunches with friends of varying political stripes.
But when addressing a home in need of repair, there can be no return to its former glory without tearing into the drywall to see what lies beneath to analyze what needs fixing.
And as was Manderley, the United States is not what it seems. In that lies our tragedy. But we are not helpless and needn’t be bound to troubles past.