Published in 1938 by Daphne du Maurier, “Rebecca” was a best seller right away and has never been out of print. It has sold over three million copies. It is the story of a naive young girl who is swept up into a marriage with a rich, older, urbane widower. After a short two week courtship they follow their honeymoon with settling into his estate, Manderley.
She is often compared to the first Mrs. de Winter and feels that she is coming up short. The face Rebecca showed to the world was beautiful and charming. She was the perfect hostess and made Manderley into a showplace. Everyone thinks that she is trying to replace Rebecca only a year after her death in a tragic boating accident.
The malevolent treatment by the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers is torturous to the narrator who never feels important enough to have a name in the book. With the subversive torment of Mrs. Danvers and unfeeling comments from others, the narrator begins to feel more and more like her husband, Maxim made a mistake in choosing her and was still in love with his first wife.
Of course she is wrong. His first marriage was toxic. Rebecca was cruel and duplicitous. After years of adultery he had had enough and confronted her with desire for a divorce. But when she threatened him with losing all to her, he shot her. Then he put her body in a boat and sunk it.
In the end, the boat and body are recovered, but the death was ruled a suicide because Rebecca was dying. Husband and wife reconcile and plan on taking a vacation. But the last few pages show Manderley burning to the ground.
“Rebecca” begins with a dream. The narrator and heroine is recounting a dream of Manderley. In her dream she is a ghost floating through the locked gate and onto the charred ruins of Manderley, the once great mansion she and her husband lived in.
She and her husband are traveling through Europe. They avoid going to places where they might run into anyone they know. Instead of talking about her dream, she thinks about the people of Manderley and her dog, who she misses. She also wonders what happened to Mrs. Danvers who was so in love with Rebecca. Then she begins to think about her life before Manderley.
The narrator begins her tale as a companion for a wealthy American, Mrs. Van Hopper. They are traveling across Europe and have landed in Monte Carlo. Mrs. Van Hopper is a nosy and gossipy older woman. She recognizes Maxim de Winter, a handsome middle aged man, who has recently lost his wife, and invites him to tea. But during the tea she is embarrassing because she behaves vulgarly. Maxim reacts by being rude but later sends a note of apology.
The next day the narrator has the day to herself since Mrs. Van Hopper is ill. Maxim invites her to lunch. They take a scenic drive to become better acquainted. She finds a book of poetry in Maxim’s car and he gives it to her. The book has Rebecca’s name in it. Mrs. Van Hopper tells her that Rebecca drowned accidentally. As the days pass the two fall in love, but the narrator often compares herself to Rebecca and feels she is falling short. But, Maxim assures her he is only staying in Monte Carlo with her.
The narrator has been covering her time with Maxim by telling her she is playing tennis. One day Mrs. Van Hopper suddenly decides to take a ship to New York and of course, the narrator must leave with her. When the narrator goes to Maxim’s room to say goodbye he surprises her by proposing marriage. When they tell Mrs. Van Hopper she is angry and tells her she is making a big mistake.
After the honeymoon in France and Italy the couple arrives at Manderley. The grandeur of Manderley intimidates the new Mrs. de Winter, especially when she meets the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers. As each day passes the narrator feels less and less able to be the mistress of Manderley. She often thinks the servants are laughing at her and her ineptitude. She is always nervous and often gets lost in the halls.
The arrival of Maxim’s sister, Beatrice and her husband, give the narrator a relief. She also meets Frank Crawley, the overseer of Manderley. Beatrice advises her to get a hobby, go shopping and become more forceful with the servants. Then she mentions that the new Mrs. Van Hopper is not what she expected because she is different from Rebecca.
After Beatrice and her husband leaves, Maxim and his wife take a walk. When they reach a lovely valley that Maxim calls “the Happy Valley.” As they walk along the valley ends in a beach. Their dog, Jasper suddenly takes off running towards the sea. When the dog disappears around a bend Maxim refuses to follow. The narrator goes after the dog herself.
On the beach she comes across a mentally handicapped toothless man digging for shells, but “there’s no shell here, been digging since forenoon.” She asks the man for some string to make a leash for the dog. He tells her the dog isn’t hers. She tries to calm him by agreeing with him and then he mentions the first de Winter. “She’s gone in the sea, ain’t she?’ he said, ‘she won’t come back no more?” Then he mysteriously adds, “I never said nothing, did I?”. She goes into a nearby old boathouse and finds some string, leashes the dog and goes back to her husband. His good mood has gone and the two have an argument because being near the area brings bad feelings. She rushes back inside their mansion and he says that he should never have returned to Manderley.
During the rest of the week many of the neighbors visit. They all compare her to Rebecca and she falls short. The angelic Rebecca was beautiful, charming, witty and a wonderful hostess. This continues even when she returns the visits. On one of her visits to the local bishop she meets Frank Crawley. She feels comfortable around him. While they are taking a walk she asks him about Rebecca. He tells her the boathouse was where she often went for picnics and other things. She also kept the boat she died in there. He tells her that Maxim had to identify the body in Edgecoombe. When she tells him that she feels inadequate when compared to Rebecca he assures her that neither he nor her husband want to “bring back the past.” The new Mrs. de Winters’ shy personality makes every day increasingly difficult. The new ladies maid Mrs. Danvers hires is no help. She is inexperienced.
One day the narrator accidentally breaks an expensive glass figurine and then tries to hide them in a drawer. When Mrs. Danvers finds them she tries to blame one of the staff. The narrator is forced to accept the blame. When she tells her husband about it, he thinks its funny. This reaction makes her very angry and she tells him that Mrs. Danvers will never forgive her for breaking the figurine. She feels like everyone looks down on her and she is a failure. He tries to console her and tells her they may have married too hastily. She might have been happier with a younger man. She assures him she is happy and wants him to be, too. But, after the conversation she begins to think their marriage is crashing.
Spring turns into Summer and Maxim travels to London for a public dinner. The narrator takes the dog down to the beach for a walk while her husband is gone. She comes across the mentally handicapped man, Ben. He tells her that “the other one” used to threaten him with putting him in an asylum. The narrator is confused and doesn’t know who he is talking about.
When she reaches the house, the narrator sees a fancy sports car with a handsome man . He is visiting Mrs. Danvers. She sees them coming out of the west wing and seem to want to keep the visit a secret. The man’s name is Jack Favell. Although they are startled to see her at first, Jack quickly recovers quickly and becomes very friendly.
After they leave the narrator enters the west wing to investigate. She sees the furniture uncovered and the room looks like it is waiting for Rebecca to return. While she is looking around Mrs. Danvers appears. Mrs. Danvers asks her if she thinks Rebecca could be watching them and if the dead come back. The narrator becomes frightened and rushes back to her room. She begins to feel ill and lies down on her bed.
On the next day Beatrice takes the narrator to visit her and Maxim’s grandmother. As they are driving Beatrice tells her that Jack Favell was Rebecca’s cousin. He visited often. When the narrator meets their grandmother she finds that the woman is almost blind and has trouble with her memory. The old woman begins to become agitated and asks for Rebecca. Embarrassed, Beatrice takes the narrator away. When they get back to Manderley, they find that Maxim has returned from London and he is reprimanding Mrs. Danvers for allowing Jack Favell into the house. He forbid him from entering Manderley again. Weeks pass and they are hosting some neighbors for dinner. Lady Crowan asks Maxim if they are planning a costume ball this year. Apparently it was a yearly event during Rebecca’s life. Maxim finally agrees. Frank Crawley offers to work with Mrs. Danvers in the preparation.
The narrator begins to feel excited about the upcoming ball which will be the first event she has hosted as mistress of Manderley. She is trying to think of a costume when Mrs. Danvers suggests she model her costume after the painting of an eighteenth century painting. She even suggests a dressmaker who can copy the dress.
At first the narrator is surprised at Mrs. Danvers offering to help but decides that she may have decided to accept her in Rebecca’s place and become more friendly. So she decides to take Mrs. Danvers’ advice. She plans to surprise them with her costume. They are very surprised and Maxim is furious. He orders her to go back upstairs and take the dress off. The narrator collapses on her bed in tears and Beatrice follows her upstairs. She explains that Rebecca wore the same dress to their last costume ball and Maxim thinks she did it on purpose.
The heroine finally goes back down to the ball and excuses are made for her lack of costume. Afterward she goes to bed tired and sad. She waits for her husband to join her but he doesn’t.
The weather the next day is dark and dreary. The narrator finds a note of encouragement from Beatrice, but Maxim is gone. She calls Frank at the estate office but he doesn’t know where Maxim is. She confesses to him that she thinks Maxim is still in love with Rebecca and will never love her. He asks her to let him come and talk to her, but she hangs up the phone.
While aimlessly wandering around the grounds she sees Mrs. Danvers’ face in a window and her temper snaps. She finds the housekeeper in Rebecca’s room and confronts her. The narrator accuses her of trying to damage her marriage and purposefully orchestrating the damage of the night before. Suddenly Mrs. Danvers look old and sick. Her madness begins to show when she vehemently accuses the narrator of trying to take Rebecca’s place. She tells her that Maxim would never love her and she was nothing in comparison to Rebecca. All who saw her loved her, especially men. She tells the narrator that Jack and Frank both desired Rebecca, but she laughed at them. Then she tells the narrator that Rebecca should still be Mrs. de Winter and the narrator should be dead instead. Then she leads her to the window and tries to convince her to jump. In a trance like state the narrator almost considers it but the spell is broken by the boom of guns coming from the cove. They hear Maxim running towards the sea where a ship has run aground.
The narrator runs down to the coast and finds that Maxim has taken an injured sailor to the doctor. She stands with the onlookers watching the tugboats rescuing the ship. After a long day, she returns home to find Maxim is still out. The harbormaster comes to the door and tells her that the divers also found another boat while rescuing the ship. It is the boat that Rebecca had taken out and there was a body aboard.
Maxim arrives while the harbormaster is talking to her and he relays the story to him. After the man leaves the narrator tries to apologize about the dress fiasco. But Maxim waves it off and tells her it doesn’t matter because they have lost their chance at happiness. She asks him to explain and he tells her that the body on the boat is Rebecca. Then he confesses that he shot her and put her body in the boat before he sunk it.
The two finally have the discussion about his prior marriage. Maxim tells her his marriage was not based on love. Although she was beautiful and charming she was also evil and duplicitous. She told him on their honeymoon that she would make his home a showplace and would be the perfect hostess but she wanted him to let her live her life to suit herself.
Since he loved his family and was proud of Manderley, he agreed. Rebecca put on the perfect hostess face but spent most of her days in London with her wild friends. She also had lovers in the boathouse, including her cousin, Frank. She also tried to seduce Beatrice’s husband and Frank. For a while he let the behavior pass, but finally he decided he could take no more. He confronted her at the boathouse. He told her that if she didn’t give up her wild partying and lovers he would divorce her. She laughed at him and told him that he had nothing to take to court. Everyone thinks she is the perfect wife including their servants. Then she told him she was pregnant with Frank’s child and was going to tell everyone it was Maxim’s child, therefore it would be heir to Manderley.
Maxim became so angry that he shot her and carried her body to the boat, locked her body in the cabin below and poked holes in the hull. Then he rowed away in a dinghy. Another body washed up ashore month later and everyone assumed it was Rebecca. He identified it as Rebecca and allayed everyone’s fears.
The narrator comforts her husband and assures him that he can just tell the police that he made a mistake. They were the only two who knew the truth. As she is embracing him the phone rings. It is the local magistrate asking if there is any chance he was wrong in his identification of his first wife. They spend the rest of the night in each others arms.
As day dawns there is a change to the current Mrs. de Winter. She takes charge of the household. Mrs. Danvers is surprised at the forceful way she is treated. The magistrate arrives at lunch and he discusses the body found with Maxim and Frank. The body is definitely Rebecca. The magistrate speculates that Rebecca went down to the cabin when the weather picked up and the boat capsized. He thinks it was an accident. Maxim tells his wife that there was no bullet wound. It must have missed the bones.
At the inquest the boat builder testifies that the boat was sunk purposefully. When they question Maxim whether his marriage was happy, the narrator faints. Finally the death is ruled to be a suicide. Afterwards while Maxim is attending the interment of Rebecca’s body, Jack arrives at Manderley. He is drunk and abusive to the narrator. When Maxim returns he says Rebecca did not commit suicide and tries to blackmail Maxim. He has a note that Rebecca wrote to him on the night of her death asking him to meet her at the boathouse. He claims she would not have killed herself after writing such a note.
Although Frank thinks it might be a good idea to pay the blackmail, Maxim insists on calling the magistrate. When he arrives Jack shows him the note and tells him to arrest Maxim for killing his wife. He tells the magistrate that he and Rebecca were in love and planning to marry. Since he is obviously drunk the magistrate does not trust his claims. He asks for proof and Jack says to call Ben, the mentally handicapped man on the beach. But, Ben denies ever seeing Jack at the beach and that he doesn’t want to be put in an asylum.
Then the magistrate asks if he can prove they were even lovers and Jack calls Mrs. Danvers concedes to his claims but says that sex was a game to Rebecca and she didn’t care about Jack. She sounds unhinged which makes her testimony seem unreliable. She produces Rebecca’s appointment book and shows that on the day she died she had visited a doctor in London. They decide to check with the doctor the next day to investigate whether she had a motive to kill herself.
Since they expect to hear about Rebecca’s pregnancy the next day, the husband and wife spend the night together seeking solace in each other. When the magistrate discovers the pregnancy he will see a clear cut motive for Maxim. The next day they drive to London with the magistrate and Jack. At the doctors office, they learn that Rebecca had used an assumed name for her appointments. She called herself Mrs. Danvers. The doctor tells them that Rebecca had an incurable disease and would have been dead in a few months. She could not have been pregnant as her uterus was malformed. This gives the magistrate a motive for suicide. Then he advises Mr. and Mrs. de Winter to take a vacation and spend some time away so the gossip will have a chance to die down.
They plan to spend the night at an inn, but after Maxim calls home, the butler tells him Mrs. Danvers is missing. Maxim becomes anxious and insists they drive back to Manderley. When they reach Manderley, they see it is in flames.
The Narrator – this character is never given a name. She goes from paid companion of Mrs. Van Hopper, a wealthy American, and on to the second wife of Maxim de Winter. She is shy and has a fragile self esteem. She agrees to marry the wealthy older Maxim after knowing him a short time. She is young and impressionable. When everyone compares her to the first Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca she always feels that she comes up short. She is not as charming, beautiful, or poised. She thinks her husband is still in love with his deceased wife. But, she is loyal and in love with her husband.
Maxim de Winter – he is the owner of Maderley, the family estate. He is middle aged and handsome. He is also cultured, classy and intelligent. He also hides his emotions in an attempt to put up a strong front. He often hides his passions, even from his young wife. The world thinks he was devoted to his first wife, but he hated her and killed her. Her misuse of him makes him think he is incapable of love. But, his young wife teaches him to love again.
Rebecca – the first Mrs. de Winter. The face she showed the world was a charming and vivacious woman. But in reality she was cruel. She used men for her own entertainment. She used her beauty as a weapon. Her presence was so strong that she seems to haunt Manderley. Others still idolizes her but her husband does not. He feels guilt for killing her, but still hates her for the many times she cuckolded him. In the end we learn she set him up to kill her so she wouldn’t die from the disease she had that was killing her. It was a way to torture him one last time.
Mrs. Danvers – this is a character that has been played out in many books and movies. The subversive and sinister housekeeper. She was in love with Rebecca and completely devoted to her. When Maxim brings his new wife home, she despises her immediately. In trying to destroy the young woman her madness shows.
Beatrice – she is Maxim’s sister and one of the few people who didn’t like Rebecca. She tries to protect and befriend the new Mrs. de Winter. She tries to help the narrator to take control of the household and offers the advice of developing a hobby. She, herself is an avid horsewoman.
Frank Crawley – the overseer of Manderley. He is a loyal retainer who tries to make the new Mrs. de Winter feel more accepted in her new role. He is another one who didn’t like Rebecca since she tried to seduce him. He is loyal to Mr. de Winter and is kind to the narrator.
Jack Favell – he is handsome but has low morals. He was one of Rebecca’s lovers and her first cousin. He is a drunk and tries to blackmail Maxim when he accuses him of killing Rebecca.
Daphne du Maurier Biography
Daphne du Maurier was an English playwright and novelist born in May 1907. Daphne was the second of three daughters. Her parents were both actors, Sir Gerald du Maurier and Mauriel Beaumont. Her grandfather was and author and the creator of Punch cartoon. He also created the character, Svengali.
Because of her many family connections, her entry into a literary career was smoothed. Some of her first stories were published in her uncle’s magazine, Bystander. She was also cousin to the boys used as inspiration for Peter Pan. Her families celebrity brought her in contact with lots of well known people of the time. Although she was praised as a romance novelist, du Maurier disliked that nomenclature. She asserted that she didn’t write romances because she didn’t guarantee happy endings. Most of her works ended with an unsure ending.
In 1932. she married Lieutenant General Sir Fredrick Arthur Montague “Boy” Browning. He was a senior officer in the British Army and the commander of I Airborne Corps, deputy commander of First Allied Airborne Army and known as the Father of the British Airborne Forces. He also competed in the Olympics on the bobsleigh. The couple had three children, Tessa, Flavia, and Christian.
With a few works published already under her belt, du Maurier wrote her novel, Rebecca, after seeing a dilapidated mansion called Menabilly. She was finally given a lease to it in 1943 and began restoration. Her husband died there in 1965.
“Rebecca” made Daphne du Maurier’s career as a writer. She was awarded the National Book Award and was voted by the BBC as the nations most loved novel. Daphne Du Maurier could have rested on that one novel, but she went on to create more classics. Among them are My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat and The House on the Strand. She also wrote The Birds a short story that Alfred Hitchcock based his movie by the same name on.
After years of movies made from her novels, she decided to take the reigns and partly finance “The Scapegoat” made from her book of the same name. She chose Alec Guinness to play the lead role and was not happy with the choice afterwards. The only movies she liked that were made from here books were when Alfred Hitchcock made Rebecca and Nicolas Roeg made Don’t Look Now.
In her later years, Daphne du Maurier turned to nonfiction, such as “The Years Between” about the return of an officer thought to have been killed in the war. This was later made into play.
In April of 1989 Daphne du Maurier died at the age of eighty one in her home in Cornwall. The same home she set many of her books in. She was cremated. Her ashes were scattered off the cliffs of Fowey, Kilmarth, Cornwall. Of course she has lived on in her writings. Many of her books have never been out of print. Her name continues to be treasured by fans the world over.