¶ … patent similarities between William Maugham's short story "The Letter" and Daphne du Maurier's short story "Rebecca." The former details the manipulations of a married woman, Leslie, who murders her lover and is defended by a lawyer that virtually everyone thinks can secure her an easy acquittal. The latter is a tale in which a husband, Maxim, murders his malevolent wife -- who was adulterous and mean spirited -- whom everyone believes merely committed suicide. Both the crimes and motives of Leslie and Maxim are eerily similar -- they each engage in murderous acts because they are jealous of their lovers. Additionally, there were marked similarities between the victims in each of these tales: Geoffrey Hammond in "The Letter" and Rebecca in "Rebecca." Regardless, both of these tales utilized murder as a means of creating suspenseful, intriguing stories.
The similarities between Leslie and Maxim are readily apparent. Each of these murderers belies the typical profile of a killer. Leslie, for her part, is dainty, reserved, and fairly proper. Based on her appearance she does not fit the prototype of a murderer, and instead appears much like an upstanding citizen. A similar sentiment applies to Maxim who is wealthy and from a good family, and certainly appears to represent the upper crust of society. The most striking similarity between this pair, however, directly involves their criminal actions. Leslie shoots Hammond to death; additionally, Maxim shoots Leslie to death. The motives for these murders were similar as well. Both of the victims in each tale are far from monogamous. Rebecca goes so far as to incense Maxim by lying to him and stating that she is pregnant with her own cousin's baby; Hammond is a well-known lady's man who is also cavorting with a Chinese mistress. The lack of fidelity on the part of their lovers largely serves as the motive for murder for both Rebecca and Maxim. Probably the least of amount of similarity existent between Rebecca and Maxim pertains to the cover-up...
Rebecca claims self-defense and that Hammond was trying to rape her; Maxim claims that Rebecca's drowning is the result of a suicide.
A plethora of similarities also are found in the characters and actions of Hammond and Rebecca. As previously mentioned, there are nefarious elements in both of their characters as each of these individuals is manipulative and unfaithful to their lovers. Rebecca, for her part, is attempting to manipulate her husband into having a divorce which would monetarily benefit her and enabled her to take up with her lover, her cousin. Manipulation is a key characteristic of Hammond, who preyed on the emotions and flesh of many different ladies. The motives for the negative aspects of the characterization of both Rebecca and Hammond appear to revolve around power. Rebecca wants the power to do what she wants regardless of her marriage; Hammond wants the power to do as he pleases with women regardless of their feelings. Perhaps the most egregious and fatal similarity between Hammond and Rebecca is their rejection of their lovers. Rebecca purposefully tries to anger Maxim by demanding a divorce and lying to him about a pregnancy she could not have. Hammond, meanwhile, spurns Leslie's advances for what she must have perceived as the most base of reasons -- the affections of a Chinese woman, who is not even a fellow European as she is.
There are pronounced differences between the short story "The Letter" and the film versions. The most salient of these pertains to the fact that the story effectively continues in the film versions, and that Hammond has a widow who is vengeful about Leslie's murder of her husband. Thus, in the film version of The Letter, Leslie is acquitted of murder only to get murdered herself. It is noteworthy to mention that in the film versions of this tale both murders are depicted (Hollywood typically spares no expense to depict violence). In this regard I fancied the short story version…
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