Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Rebecca is the novel that made Daphne du Maurier famous and that remains her best-known work. Rebecca has been called a modern Jane Eyre, and there are certainly striking similarities between the two novels. In each there is a shy, poor, and rather plain heroine who takes up residence in a grand country house. Once there she is terrorized by strange goings-on, falls in love with the master of the house (an older man), and lives to see the house burned to the ground by a deranged woman. The differences are few but important. Du Maurier’s heroine is not a governess but the second wife of a man whose tempestuous first wife died under questionable circumstances. The new wife’s shyness is made more painful when she compares herself with the exotic Rebecca.
In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester’s first wife is alive but mad and stands in the way of his marrying Jane. In the du Maurier story, Rebecca is dead but her spirit haunts the halls of Manderley and puts a strain on the marriage between Maxim and his new wife. Throughout the novel the new wife is convinced that her husband is brooding over the death of Rebecca. This misconception is reinforced by Mrs. Danvers, the sinister housekeeper who keeps Rebecca’s boudoir exactly as it used to be. She does her best to poison the heroine’s mind, even to the point of encouraging her to jump from a high window.
Maxim is distraught because the truth is that he killed...
(The entire section is 523 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Manderley is gone. Since the fire had destroyed their home, Mr. and Mrs. de Winter have lived in a secluded hotel away from England. Occasionally, Mrs. de Winter recalls the circumstances that had brought Manderley and Maxim de Winter into her life.
A shy, sensitive orphan, Mrs. de Winter had been traveling about the Continent as companion to an overbearing American social climber, Mrs. Van Hopper. At Monte Carlo, Mrs. Van Hopper forced herself upon Maxim de Winter, owner of Manderley, one of the most famous estates in England. Before approaching him, Mrs. Van Hopper informed her companion that Mr. de Winter had been recovering from the shock of the tragic death of his wife, Rebecca, a few months previously.
During the following days, the young woman and Mr. de Winter become well acquainted; when Mrs. Van Hopper decides to return to America, Maxim de Winter unexpectedly proposes to her companion. Already deeply in love with him, the young woman accepts, and they are married shortly afterward.
After a long honeymoon in Italy and southern France, Mr. and Mrs. de Winter return to Manderley. Mrs. de Winter is extremely nervous, fearing that she will not fit into the life of a great estate like Manderley. The entire staff gathers to meet the new mistress. Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, who had been devoted to her former mistress, immediately begins to show her resentment toward the new Mrs. de Winter.
Gradually, Mrs. de Winter pieces together the story of Rebecca. She learns that Rebecca had been a beautiful, vivacious woman and a charming host. As Mrs. de Winter becomes acquainted with the relatives and friends of her husband, she becomes convinced that they find her lacking in those qualities that had made Rebecca so attractive and gracious. One day, she goes secretly to the closed rooms Rebecca had occupied. Everything is as Rebecca had left it before her fatal sail in her boat. Mrs. Danvers suddenly appears and forces her to view Rebecca’s lovely clothes and other personal possessions.
When the bishop’s wife suggests that the traditional Manderley dress ball be revived, Mr. de Winter gives his consent. Mrs. de Winter announces her intention of surprising them all with her costume. At Mrs. Danvers’s suggestion, she plans to dress as an ancestor whose portrait hangs in the hall at Manderley; but as Mrs. de Winter descends the stairs that night, a silence falls over the guests, and her husband turns angrily away without speaking. Realizing that something is wrong, Mrs. de Winter returns to her room. Beatrice, Mr. de Winter’s sister, goes to her immediately and explains that Rebecca had worn the identical costume to her last fancy dress ball. Again, Mrs. Danvers has humiliated her new mistress. Although Mrs. de Winter reappears at the ball in a simple dress, her husband does not speak to her all evening. Her belief that he has never ceased to love Rebecca becomes firmly established in her mind.
The next day, a...
(The entire section is 1219 words.)
Chapter 1 Summary
A woman dreams she is standing outside the iron gate of the driveway and for a while, she is not allowed to enter. She calls to the lodge keeper but can see that the lodge is empty; however, with the ability so often given to dreamers, she exhibits supernatural powers and passes through the gate. The drive looks like it always has, yet it is narrower, unkempt, and overgrown as it had never been when she lived there. The woods, which had always been menacing, have finally encroached on the property.
She walks the winding drive, sometimes losing the path in the overgrowth, and her walk is so prolonged that she thinks it may lead into wilderness rather than to the house. Then she comes upon the house suddenly and tears...
(The entire section is 551 words.)
Chapter 2 Summary
It is certain that they can never go back to Manderley again, for the past is still too close to them. Everything they have tried to put behind them would be stirred up again; the unrest and “blind, unreasoning panic” would again be their constant companions. De Winter is patient and uncomplaining, but she knows he remembers more often than he tells her.
Suddenly he will look puzzled and a cold, lifeless mask will close over his face; he will smoke ceaselessly and talk quickly about anything in an attempt to ease the pain. It is said that people who endure great suffering emerge stronger and better for having experienced it, and this has happened to them. Both of them have known fear and tragedy. At some point in...
(The entire section is 769 words.)
Chapter 3 Summary
Every year, Mrs. Van Hopper vacations at the Cote d’Azur and pursues her two passions: playing bridge and claiming all distinguished visitors as her friends. Even if she only saw them once from a distance at the post office, she manages to introduce herself to them and invite them to her suite. It is all done so quickly that her victims rarely have an opportunity to escape.
Every day she claims a sofa in the hotel lounge, where she has coffee after lunch and dinner, and everyone in the hotel must pass by her. Sometimes she sends the girl as “bait to draw her prey.” The girl hates her task but does what she is told, asking the unsuspecting target for the address of a shop or some other ruse to get the notable...
(The entire section is 802 words.)
Chapter 4 Summary
Mrs. Van Hopper is sick with influenza and will be bedridden for two weeks; during that time, she will be under the care of a skilled nurse, leaving the girl free to pursue her own interests. After canceling her employer’s obligations for the fortnight, she feels lighthearted and liberated. She goes to the dining room a bit earlier than usual and is surprised to see de Winter already seated at his usual table next to her (she thinks perhaps he is dining early so he can avoid nosy Van Hopper).
The young girl is nervous and does the kind of thing she often does: she tips over the vase of flowers as she unfolds her napkin, spilling water all over the tablecloth and herself. De Winter gallantly asks if she would like to...
(The entire section is 772 words.)
Chapter 5 Summary
The girl is glad that first love can happen only once, because it is a fever and a burden. Whenever Van Hopper asks what she has been doing with her time, she lies to her employer and tells her she is taking tennis lessons. Though she does not remember much about Monte Carlo, the girl does remember her days there were filled with passion: trembling fingers, impatient elevator rides, de Winter’s smile as he waited for her in his car. She remembers the schoolgirl thrill of wearing his jacket when it got a little chilly. Whether they talk or not does not matter to them.
She tells de Winter she wishes memories could be bottled up so they would never grow stale and could be relived any time. He is silent but finally asks...
(The entire section is 660 words.)
Chapter 6 Summary
Even now, she hates everything about packing. She has heard that the Cote d’Azur has been remodeled and is under new management, and she wonders whether the suite of her former employer, Van Hopper, even still exists.
The evening before the two weeks of Van Hopper’s convalescence are up, she announces that they will be leaving tomorrow. They will eventually go to New York, and the misery on the girl’s face must be visible because Van Hopper scolds her for being ungrateful for the opportunity to travel the world without having any money of her own. Finally Van Hopper sends the girl to the office to make the arrangements, but the girl stops in the bathroom and mourns at having to leave de Winter. She fears they will...
(The entire section is 809 words.)
Chapter 7 Summary
Maxim de Winter and his new wife arrive at Manderley in early May, after seven weeks of marriage. The young girl envisions a perfect homecoming, but the closer they get the more she begins to panic. Her husband reassures her that she has been the topic of conversation on Manderley for weeks and everyone will love her if she just acts herself. She will not have to do anything to run the house, as Mrs. Danvers “does everything.”
The young girl envies her husband’s comfortableness with Manderley and wishes she felt the same immediately rather than sometime in the future. The drive twists and turns, and around each bend she hopes to get a glimpse of her new home; however, she is disappointed at every turn and is soon...
(The entire section is 794 words.)
Chapter 8 Summary
The new Mrs. de Winter had not realized that life at Manderley would be so “orderly and planned.” On her first morning on the estate, she is downstairs for breakfast a little after nine o’clock and discovers that her husband is nearly finished eating. He dismisses her apology and explains that running the estate is a full-time job and he cannot afford to get off to a late start. He points her to the sideboard where a sumptuous breakfast is ready and tells her this is a meal which they serve themselves.
While they were in Italy, de Winter ate only a croissant and fruit for breakfast, and his new wife sees this grand array of breakfast foods as being wasteful, wondering why he does not see this wastefulness as...
(The entire section is 806 words.)
Chapter 9 Summary
Suddenly the young girl hears a car and realizes Beatrice and her husband must have arrived. It is earlier than she expected and de Winter has not returned to the house yet. As the guests enter the house, she is suddenly struck with fear and races away, despising herself for her cowardice. In her confusion, she finds herself in the west wing of the house rather than her own rooms in the east wing.
It is quiet and dark, and the silence seems oppressive to her. She opens one of the bedroom doors and all the furniture is covered in white sheets; the room smells stale and dusty from disuse. After shutting the door behind her, the girl walks to an alcove at the end of the hallway and is shocked to see how close the ocean is...
(The entire section is 689 words.)
Chapter 10 Summary
As the Lacys’ car leaves the driveway, de Winter grabs his wife’s arm and asks her to join him on a walk, despite the rain. She wonders why a visit with his own sister and brother-in-law has made her husband so tired and impatient. He explains that a little time with family “goes a very long way” and Beatrice “invariably puts her foot in it.” When his wife tells him that Beatrice was surprised that she was not a “social butterfly,” de Winter says his sister “can sometimes be infernally unintelligent.”
Jasper the dog accompanies them on their walk and at one point along the trail veers right out of habit; de Winter explains that the path leads to a small cove in which he used to keep a boat. They...
(The entire section is 812 words.)
Chapter 11 Summary
The weather is bad for the next week. Being unable to see or hear the sea from her rooms in the east wing allows the young girl’s thoughts to be peaceful, though she thinks often about the cottage on the beach and these thoughts disturb her. Though the couple spends their time together doing ordinary things, that place has somehow created a barrier between them. She is now nervous and fearful that any casual mention of the sea will trigger another episode of melancholy in her husband.
This nervousness intensifies her “shyness and gaucherie,” making her “stolid and dumb” in front of visitors who come to call on the newlyweds. The guests coming to pay their respects always look doubtfully at the new Mrs. de...
(The entire section is 718 words.)
Chapter 12 Summary
Mrs. Danvers keeps to herself most of the time. The young girl’s new maid is Clarice, the daughter of someone on the estate. Clarice has never been a maid before, so her expectations are low; she is the only person in the house who is on awe of the new mistress. It is easier for the new Mrs. de Winter now, knowing the cause of Danvers’ resentment and dislike: the housekeeper had adored Rebecca.
Beatrice told her sister-in-law this fact over lunch one day, and from that moment everything begins to make sense to the girl. Everything the new Mrs. de Winter does is a painful reminder to Danvers of her beloved Rebecca. Even the smallest things must be painful to the older woman. Every small change the young girl wants to...
(The entire section is 642 words.)
Chapter 13 Summary
At the end of June, de Winter has to spend several days in London, and he leaves his wife at Manderley alone. She worries about her husband and fears something dreadful will happen to him. Robert brings her the message that de Winter arrived safely and she is tremendously relieved. Now she feels free to do what she likes and is shocked at the feeling.
She and Jasper walk through the Happy Valley to the cove and enjoy the solitude, though she feels guilty for doing so. Jasper again escapes to the adjoining cove, and she follows him. It looks less intimidating at low tide, and she can now read the name on the buoy: Je Reviens (“I come back”). It seems to her an ill-fitting name for Rebecca’s boat....
(The entire section is 796 words.)
Chapter 14 Summary
Once she is in the west wing, the young girl is unsure where to go. She calculates the room in which she saw Favell and Danvers; she enters and turns on the light. The girl is shocked because the room is fully furnished, as though it is in current use. At first, she expects Rebecca herself to appear; then she remembers the woman has been dead for a year.
This is, indeed, the room in which Favell and Danvers had been standing, and suddenly she feels like an uninvited guest. The slippers, brushes, and coverlet are all so vivid, and this is the most beautiful room in the house, just as Danvers had told her. As the girl explores a bit more, she is startled by Danvers who appears and asks her if anything is wrong. The girl...
(The entire section is 586 words.)
Chapter 15 Summary
Frith takes the message that de Winter will return at about seven o’clock this evening, and the girl is disappointed that her husband did not ask to speak to her. She had slept badly and had bad dreams when she did sleep. This morning she looks tired and drawn. At ten o’clock, Beatrice calls and asks her to go visit Gran, and the girl is eager to go, hoping the visit will make the day pass more quickly.
Beatrice tells the young girl she does not look well—too thin and no color—and wonders what is wrong with her. After the girl convinces the older woman that she is not pregnant, Beatrice assures her sister-in-law it would be a wonderful thing if she and de Winter had a child. Beatrice drives to her...
(The entire section is 573 words.)
Chapter 16 Summary
One Sunday afternoon, while a crowd of people are gathered for tea at Manderley, the topic of the fancy dress ball is broached. In front of their guests, de Winter makes no objection as long as his wife and Crawley (who would have to do most of the work) agree. Once the three of them are alone, de Winter is disgruntled because everyone expects Manderley to provide the grand entertainments for the county.
His wife is a bit humiliated that neither man thinks she is capable of doing anything to prepare for the ball. As host, de Winter never dresses up, but his wife says she will surprise the men with her choice of costume for the ball. She feels as if she is being treated a bit like a child by her husband and wishes...
(The entire section is 782 words.)
Chapter 17 Summary
Clarice, pale and scared, is waiting for her mistress. As Clarice unhooks the offending dress with trembling fingers, she asks the girl what she will wear now. The young Mrs. de Winter says she wants to be alone and will manage without help. She tells her weeping maid not to let the others see her so upset or to speak to the others about what just happened. Clarice leaves and Beatrice arrives to console the girl, saying the girl could not possibly have known what a tragic mistake she was making: she is wearing the exact dress Rebecca wore at the last fancy dress ball.
Seeing the girl at the top of the stairs in that dress had made Beatrice think, for “one ghastly moment,” that the dead woman had come to life. The...
(The entire section is 570 words.)
Chapter 18 Summary
The young Mrs. de Winter is “blurred and stupid from her short, heavy sleep,” so it takes her a while to realize that her husband did not come to bed last night. She put on her blue dress and attended the ball not for noble reasons but to keep her guests from thinking the de Winters had quarreled. She could bear anything as long as the outside world does not know about it. Now she realizes her marriage is a failure and the kind of love she has for de Winter is not the kind of love he needs. He is still in love with Rebecca, and “Rebecca is still the mistress of Manderley.”
The girl sees a note under her door. It is from Beatrice, apologizing for leaving without saying goodbye. Though de Winter had an early...
(The entire section is 761 words.)
Chapter 19 Summary
Below Danvers and the girl, de Winter is running and shouting for Frith. He tells the butler that a ship, in the fog, must have mistaken their small bay for the larger harbor. Frith is to tell everyone in the house to prepare food and drink and inform Crawley about what has happened. As de Winter heads back to the bay to help, Danvers turns from the window, her face once more an expressionless mask, and shuts the window. The girl is still in a daze, unsure of herself or the housekeeper. Danvers makes the arrangements for food to be prepared as the girl walks down to the terrace.
Looking up, she sees the window where she and Danvers had just been and notes how high and remote it seems. Suddenly she feels feverish and...
(The entire section is 807 words.)
Chapter 20 Summary
A long, shocked silence reigns in the library after de Winter’s startling confession until he begins to kiss his wife passionately and tell her loves her. She has dreamed of his saying these words to her, but she is stunned to hear them now. He stops, assuming her lack of response means the girl does not love him.
Finally the girl is able to speak and assures her husband that she does love him, but he does not believe her. Neither of them speaks as they ponder what will happen when the body in the sunken boat is identified as Rebecca. After he murdered Rebecca, de Winter thought he would go mad waiting for something to happen and pretending to grieve. He answered letters of sympathy and tried to act sane and normal in...
(The entire section is 799 words.)
Chapter 21 Summary
De Winter takes the telephone call in an adjoining room, and his wife hears the murmur of his voice as fear settles into the pit of her stomach. She is afraid that de Winter’s secret is about to be revealed; however, her overwhelming emotion is relief, knowing her husband has never loved Rebecca. She no longer hates Rebecca now that she knows how vicious, rotten, and evil the woman had been. Her husband had never loved Rebecca, so Rebecca can no longer hurt her and she is free of the woman forever.
The telephone call is from Colonel Julyan, the local magistrate. He asked if it were possible de Winter made a mistake in identifying his wife’s body; de Winter said of course it was possible. Julyan will join de Winter...
(The entire section is 668 words.)
Chapter 22 Summary
The news of Rebecca’s body being discovered headlines the local paper, and the staff at Manderley is distressed and shocked. The young girl knows she cannot ignore the news. Frith tells her the staff is willing to help however, they can, but Danvers has taken the news badly; the housekeeper went to her room right after lunch and has not been down since. Danvers seems quite ill.
After Frith leaves, the girl reads the awful newspaper story. It is true enough to be factual, yet it is “sprinkled with little inaccuracies” which give readers the titillation they so desire. All the papers make mention of the story, as both de Winter and Manderley are important to the region. As de Winter reads each account, he gets paler...
(The entire section is 791 words.)
Chapter 23 Summary
Crawley and a policeman attend to the girl after she nearly fainted in the courtroom. Crawley takes her home as de Winter asked, since de Winter may be at the inquest for a long time. She is worried that if the coroner continues harping at de Winter, her husband will lose his temper and say things he does not mean.
Crawley is driving fast, something the careful man never does, and the girl tells him she does not trust Danvers and Favell and is afraid they might “make mischief.” Neither Crawley nor the girl is certain how much the other knows, so they do not have much to discuss on the drive to Manderley. As she goes to her room to lie down, the girl wonders how the estate manager will be able to help. All she can...
(The entire section is 820 words.)
Chapter 24 Summary
Colonel Julyan is repulsed by Favell, and his disgust puts the magistrate on the de Winters’ side. He asks the raving Favell why he did not speak up at the inquest if he felt so strongly about de Winter’s guilt. It is clear that the man’s primary interest is blackmail, and Julyan asks Favell if he has any proof to support his accusations. In an arrogant rant, Favell admits he and Rebecca were lovers and that is why de Winter killed her.
Julyan again asks for proof, such as a witness who saw the murder. It takes him a moment, but Favell finally says he might be able to produce such a witness. Crawley looks at de Winter, but de Winter’s eyes never leave Favell. Suddenly the girl knows who Favell might mean and, in...
(The entire section is 756 words.)
Chapter 25 Summary
Finally, for the first time that evening, de Winter looks at his wife: “In his eyes she reads a message of farewell.” Everyone else in the room disappears for the couple as they share a silent, poignant moment of parting. Danvers still does not recall anyone in her beloved Rebecca’s life named Baker; she says that Rebecca never needed a doctor. In fact, she despised them.
Favell is dismissive, sure that this Baker fellow will not prove to be helpful to Rebecca’s case. Crawley says Baker is a well respected women’s specialist, and it seems odd that Rebecca would see a doctor but not tell anyone. Favell says he told Rebecca she was too thin, but Danvers says nothing. She seems dazed and bewildered by the...
(The entire section is 694 words.)
Chapter 26 Summary
A beautiful new day is beginning at Manderley, a day of peace, quietude, and grace. Whatever else happens today, Manderley will stay at peace. The girl is up early, but she lets her husband sleep, as the day ahead of them will “be a weary thing and long.” Their future lies in the hands of an unknown doctor named Baker.
After her bath, the girl hears Danvers quietly unlock the bedroom door and the day becomes real to the girl. After Clarice brings tea, the girl wakes her husband. As he bathes, his wife packs a suitcase, knowing they might have to stay in London tonight. As the girl leaves her bedroom and goes downstairs, she feels emptiness all around her and it saddens her. Crawley will wait at Manderley until de...
(The entire section is 728 words.)
Chapter 27 Summary
Outside the doctor’s house, no one speaks for several moments. Favell looks gray and ill. He speaks first, asking if anyone knows whether cancer is contagious. No one answers him. Favell is so shaken that de Winter asks him if he will be able to drive, and Julyan tells the man to collect himself and quit making “an exhibition of himself in the street.”
Favell is bitter, saying that none of the others have anything to worry about any more; de Winter has been exonerated and Julyan will be considered family to the de Winters from now on. The magistrate warns Favell that he has the power to ensure that Favell is dealt with if he tries to blackmail de Winter again. Favell only looks at de Winter with his “old...
(The entire section is 680 words.)