Rebecca Summary

Daphne du Maurier


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Rebecca Summary

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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier begins in the present, as the narrator recalls events of the past at Manderley, an estate in the English countryside. The story then flashes back, to when the narrator stayed at the Hotel Cote d’Azur in Monte Carlo with Mrs. Van Hopper, for whom she was acting as a companion. Mrs. Van Hopper possesses few good qualities. In fact, she is ill-mannered, vain, greedy, and patronizing. When she falls ill, the narrator is free to explore unhindered, and meets often with Maxim de Winter, who owns Manderley and has recently become a widower. When Mrs. Van Hopper decides to return to America, de Winter tells her that he is in love with her companion and plans to marry her.

They marry and honeymoon in Italy. In the following weeks, the narrator tries to adjust quickly to managing a large estate, but though Frith, the senior butler, is kind and patient with her, Mrs. Danvers is not—she came to Manderley when de Winter was married to his first wife, Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers refuses to make changes at the narrator’s request, and de Winter is hesitant to discuss Rebecca.

One day, while out with her dog—which had been Rebecca’s dog—the narrator comes upon a shed. She meets Ben, who lives in the shed and talks in half sentences. She becomes frightened and runs back to the manor house, where she tells de Winter. He seems displeased that the shed was not locked. Then, the narrator meets Jack Favell talking with Mrs. Danvers. Jack is Rebecca’s cousin. Maxim de Winter finds out about Jack’s visit and is cross with Mrs. Danvers, which does not improve her treatment of the narrator.

At the request of the locals, Maxim agrees to host a masque ball, a tradition at Manderley. Mrs. Danvers suggests the new Mrs. de Winter model her costume after Caroline de Winter’s portrait. Caroline is one of Maxim’s ancestors. However, the costume horrifies Maxim and his friends; it is the same costume Rebecca wore at the last ball hosted at Manderley. Maxim demands she go and change, and his sister, Beatrice, convinces the narrator to attend the ball in a regular dress. Maxim ignores her all night, and she becomes certain that he hates her.

The day after the ball, a ship runs aground. Divers assess the damage and find a sunken boat that contains the body of a woman. It is Rebecca’s body. The narrator learns that de Winter falsely identified Rebecca’s body north of Manderley months ago. He reveals that he actually killed Rebecca, put her in the boat, and sunk it. Where the narrator thought he was mourning Rebecca’s loss, she was mistaken; he loves her and never loved Rebecca, who was both cruel and unfaithful.

An inquest is launched. At first, the authorities think Rebecca simply got trapped in a sinking boat, until it is discovered that someone made holes in the boat from the outside. Mrs. de Winter is convinced Maxim will be held responsible, and swoons her way out of the courtroom. However, he is spared as the authorities and the court come to believe that Rebecca put the holes in the boat to sink it. They think she took her own life.

Unfortunately, Jack Favell returns with a letter. The letter is from Rebecca, and it asks him to meet her the night she died. This, Jack insists, proves that Rebecca did not commit suicide, for why would she ask him to meet her and then kill herself by sinking to the bottom of the bay? He wants to blackmail Maxim, who refuses to play along and calls the local magistrate. The magistrate does not believe Jack’s story that he and Rebecca were romantically involved. Jack summons Ben, who supposedly saw them together, but Ben is too scared to say anything. The next day, all of them travel to London to meet with a doctor whom Rebecca had spoken to. They learn that she had cancer and would have died a painful death, which the magistrate assumes is evidence that she committed suicide. Maxim tells the narrator that he thinks Rebecca, unable to take her own life, pushed him into killing her.

Maxim and the narrator learn that Jack has placed a call to Mrs. Danvers and that she packed her belongings and left in a hurry. Upon returning home, they see that Manderley is burning. The reader is left to assume that Jack burned the manor down in retribution for Rebecca’s death.

Important themes woven throughout Rebecca are loyalty, flesh versus spirit, and guilt versus innocence. The narrator remains loyal to Maxim throughout the story, even when she doubts his love for her. In contrast, Rebecca was not a loyal wife, but instead lived a promiscuous lifestyle. Rebecca tormented Maxim while she lived (in the flesh) and after her death (in spirit). Daphne du Maurier flips the idea of guilt and innocence—by the end of the story, the murderer (Maxim de Winter) is considered innocent and the murdered (Rebecca) is considered guilty.