Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter
Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter, middle-aged owner of Manderley. He is detached, moody, mysterious, at times gracious, friendly, and apologetic for his seeming rudeness, only to return unaccountably to his reserve. This reserve is finally removed with the lifting of the burden on his conscience.
Mrs. de Winter
Mrs. de Winter, Maxim’s young wife, the narrator. A shy, sensitive orphan, she first meets Maxim through her older traveling companion, Mrs. Van Hopper. Deeply in love with him, she happily accepts his proposal and marries him. Puzzled and troubled by Maxim’s strange shifts of mood and his abstracted manner and by Mrs. Danvers’ obvious dislike of her, she thinks herself unwelcome, an inferior successor to Rebecca at Manderley. Desiring Maxim’s love, she yet remains aloof because of her brooding insecurity and thus hinders his revealing his painful memories to her.
Rebecca de Winter
Rebecca de Winter, Maxim’s dead wife, a very beautiful woman who charmed many people but who tortured her husband with flagrant infidelities. When she learned that she would soon die of cancer, she taunted her husband with a false story of her unborn child by another man until she drove him to murder her.
Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper at Manderley. Tall, gaunt, with a face like a death’s head, she is cold, formal, and...
(The entire section is 452 words.)
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Themes and Characters
In Rebecca, du Maurier explores the relationship between past and present. For Maxim and his second wife, the past and the present are inextricably linked. The wife's insecure past leads her to feel insecure in her new marriage, and Maxim's past relationship with Rebecca damages his relationship with his new wife. Manderley, Maxim's family home, most clearly symbolizes the relationship between the past and present. Because Rebecca made Manderley beautiful, Maxim endured a marriage he hated. Ironically, his obsession with glorifying his heritage leads to Manderley's destruction. The novel suggests that either clinging to the past or trying to escape it is equally dangerous. As Maxim's wife learns, one achieves an uneasy truce with time only by remembering the past while living firmly in the present.
Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
The novel also depicts the battle between good, represented by Maxim and his new wife, and evil, embodied by Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers. Good emerges triumphant in the end, but Maxim and his wife carry permanent scars as a result of their encounter with evil. Interestingly, du Maurier shows that passive, naive goodness cannot defeat evil. When the wife is timid and guileless, she unwittingly helps the forces of evil. It is only when she herself becomes strong that she can help Maxim defeat Rebecca. This theme is complicated by the narrator's motivation. She eagerly helps Maxim defeat Rebecca, not because...
(The entire section is 397 words.)
Rebecca, the title character, is dead before the novel opens but her presence pervades the entire work. She is responsible for Maxim's disquiet, much of his second wife's insecurity, and Mrs. Danvers's revenge. While Rebecca is portrayed as completely malevolent, her character remains believable, partly because the reader is given only glimpses of her and partly because these glimpses are always through the eyes of another character. The evil of her servant, Mrs. Danvers, is also believable because du Maurier convincingly shows how Mrs. Danvers, a plain woman, could be dazzled by the power and beauty of someone like Rebecca. The second wife is portrayed as excessively timid and innocent while her husband is portrayed as sophisticated and jaded. Maxim is also the most elusive of the four major characters, revealing little of himself to anyone. This elusiveness enhances the novel since the reader never knows for certain if Rebecca and Mrs. Danvers have ultimately crushed his spirit.
(The entire section is 158 words.)
Mrs. Danvers came to Manderley as Rebecca's maid soon after Rebecca and Maxim were married. She is very formal and intimidating toward the new Mrs. de Winter, showing her how things are done at the house and practically insisting that the traditions that Rebecca started be continued. She has two encounters with Mrs. de Winter that are particularly odd. In the first, Mrs. de Winter goes for the first time to the rooms that Rebecca occupied after seeing Mrs. Danvers in the window with a strange man, who turns out to be Jack Favell. While she is in the room, Mrs. Danvers comes in and, as if she is a curator in a museum showing off a prized collection, shows her Rebecca's belongings. She touches the bed, the clothes, and the hair brushes adoringly. She says that she allows no one else into Rebecca's rooms, that by keeping them intact it is like Rebecca has never really left, remarking that "It's not only in this room.. . . It's in many rooms in the house. In the morning-room, in the hall, even in the little flower-room. I feel her everywhere. You do too, don't you?"
It is Mrs. Danvers who suggests the costume for the ball that makes Maxim angry with his wife because it is the same one that Rebecca wore. The evening of the ball, she sees Mrs. Danvers in the hall, an evil smile on her face: "The face of an exulting devil."
On the day after her humiliation at the masquerade ball, Mrs. de Winter finds Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca's room. Mrs. Danvers tells...
(The entire section is 323 words.)
Maxim de Winter
When he first appears at Monte Carlo at the beginning of the novel, Maxim is the mysterious, handsome forty-two-year-old stranger who has suffered the tragic loss of his wife eight months earlier. After a brief courtship, he asks the book's narrator to marry him, and he takes her back to his country estate, Manderley, which is famous all over the world. Whenever his late wife, Rebecca, is mentioned, he becomes excessively emotional. He and his new wife move into a wing of the house on the far side of the one he occupied with Rebecca. He encourages her not to do things that Rebecca did. She assumes this to mean that he still mourns the memory of his late wife and is not willing to let Rebecca's place in his heart be taken by another.
Once the boat that Rebecca died in is found, Maxim confesses the truth to his wife: Rebecca was, in spite of the glowing praise of almost everyone who knew her, a spiteful, bitter woman who threatened to make him responsible for her child by another man, and in a fit of rage he killed her. The most incriminating piece of evidence against him is that he identified a body that washed up on the shore far away, months after her disappearance, as Rebecca. Because he is well liked in the community, the officials are willing to accept that his identification was a mistake. There is no evidence of foul play on the corpse that they find on the sunken boat because Maxim's shot passed through her heart without touching any bone....
(The entire section is 377 words.)
Mrs. de Winter
The narrator of this book is never called by her given name. Not until she is married to Maxim de Winter is she directly referred to by name. She was a poor orphan, whose parents both died within five weeks of each other. She took a job as companion to the wealthy American, Mrs. Van Hopper, with whom she is staying at Monte Carlo in the south of France when they meet Maxim de Winter.
After Maxim marries her and takes her back to his estate, Manderley, she feels self-conscious about her position as mistress of the house. In her embarrassment, she leaves the details of the house to the servants, thus permitting them to continue with the patterns they had become used to under Maxim's late wife, Rebecca. She allows herself to be bullied by Rebecca's personal maid, Mrs. Dan-vers, who continually corrects her about how things should be done, remarking that "Mrs. de Winter," meaning Rebecca, arranged things. Mrs. Danvers is always ready to embarrass the new Mrs. de Winter by pointing out her timidity; however, the other servants and laborers at Manderley, as well as people who live nearby and stop there, are kind to her.
When Maxim agrees to throw a grand costume ball at Manderley, his wife, at the suggestion of Mrs. Danvers, orders a costume that reproduces the gown and wig worn by a de Winter ancestor in one of the mansion's oil paintings. As the party approaches, her childish excitement rises to a fevered pitch, but when Maxim sees her costume, he...
(The entire section is 374 words.)
When the narrator first encounters Favell, he has been sneaked into Manderley by Mrs. Danvers. He is there on a day when the other servants are off, and his car is hidden behind the house. He is a bold, annoying man, who makes leering, suggestive remarks, offering Mrs. de Winter cigarettes and asking her to go for a ride in his car. He is obviously familiar with the estate: the young dog, Jasper, knows him, and he refers to Mrs. Danvers as "old Danny." She later finds out that he is Rebecca's cousin and that Maxim does not want him in the house. In addition, he and Rebecca were lovers; Favell contends that at the time of her death, Rebecca was planning to run away with him and marry him.
Favell is the driving force for the action in the book's later chapters. Upset that an inquest has determined that Rebecca died by suicide, he shows up at Manderley with a note that she sent him on the afternoon of the day she died, asking him to meet her that night as she had something important to tell him. Using this as proof that she did not intend to kill herself, he attempts to blackmail Maxim, and when that does not work, he insists that the authorities be called to investigate, leading them to call Ben as a witness, to go through Rebecca's diary, and, finally, to drive to London to interview her doctor. At last, Favell gives up. Outside of the doctor's house, he is feeling sick. Maxim and his wife find out later that Favell actually returned to Manderley to take...
(The entire section is 284 words.)
Ben is a mentally retarded man who lives near Manderley and spends his time near the cove where Rebecca kept her boat. When he first shows up, speaking in riddles that she does not understand, he frightens Mrs. de Winter. When Favell is trying to prove that he and Rebecca were lovers, he sends for Ben as a witness that he was a frequent night visitor to the cottage where she often slept. Ben is confused, however, and afraid that the authorities have sent for him to put him in an asylum, and he refuses to say anything about what he knows.
Frank is the manager of business affairs at Manderley, an efficient and faithful employee who, though boring, is always extremely tactful about what he says in social situations. Soon after she meets him, Mrs. de Winter feels that she can trust Frank. When she is uncomfortable about how Maxim might feel about his dead wife, Frank assures her that she is just what Maxim needs, making him one of her first friends at Manderley. She even feels comfortable enough with him to ask him directly if Rebecca was beautiful, and he replies: "I suppose she was the most beautiful creature I ever saw in my life." From this she assumes that he, like everyone else, was in love with Rebecca. Later, when Maxim tells her the truth about Rebecca, he explains that Frank had wanted to quit his job because she kept pestering him sexually and would not leave him alone. When Maxim is accused of killing...
(The entire section is 1054 words.)