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Maxim De Winter is a well-respected member of the upper classes. He is initially perceived by the reader and the narrator to be a deeply tortured man, suffering after the death of his glittering socialite wife, Rebecca.
Maxim is proud, witty but yet sad. He endears himself to the narrator by treating her with the respect her employer cannot manage. Once married, he returns with her to the family home he shared with Rebecca. The narrator is unsure of how to behave. She is told by Maxim not to emulate Rebecca, yet she has no other role model on whom to base her new life as a lady.
Maxim is passionately anxious every time Rebecca is mentioned, and this is interpreted as grief. It is only after Rebecca’s boat is discovered that the true nature of his passion is revealed-
‘I hated her’
We discover that Maxim had been forced into a cruel bargain with Rebecca. She would continue her affairs with other men, but would remain as mistress of Manderley to preserve Max’s dignity and reputation. It is clearly an agreement that Maxim later regrets. We see the power Rebecca had over him, in forcing him to kill her rather than her die slowly of cancer. Maxim is ultimately a man wounded by pride who wishes to free himself from the bonds of his amoral first wife but who is tied to his way of life by history and tradition.
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