Chapter 17 Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 570

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...

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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 girl is stunned and can only repeat stupidly that she ought to have known. Even worse, Beatrice reveals that de Winter thinks that his wife chose the dress deliberately. Colonel Lacy is informing the guests that their hostess is unfortunately without a costume tonight; however, the girl insists she will not be attending the ball. When Lacy finally comes to the door to see what is happening, Beatrice tells him that the girl refuses to come downstairs, despite Beatrice’s insistence that she will explain the misunderstanding to de Winter.

Lacy unwillingly leaves to make the new announcement, and soon Beatrice has to leave because dinner is being held for her. The girl knows Beatrice would have stood by her husband’s side if this had happened to her, but the girl simply sees her cowardice as another indication of her own “bad breeding.” All she can see is de Winter’s eyes blazing while the others stared at her. She looks out the window and sees men still working on the outdoor lights. She imagines all the dismayed guests whispering that the second Mrs. de Winter is nothing like their Mrs. de Winter, their Rebecca.

Finally, she irons a blue dress from her closet and dresses to go downstairs. The hum in the dining room is a sharp contrast to the empty silence in the rest of the house. She feels a draft and sees the door to the west wing has blown open. She stands in the dark corridor for a moment to collect herself before joining the party.

It is the girl’s first and last party at Manderley, and she remembers many isolated moments about the evening: costumes, music, dancing, and great kindness from Lacy and Crawley. Her husband neither speaks to her nor touches her all night. Crawley is tireless in his efforts to act as host, assuming duties which should have been hers. The girl makes conversation and dances, but the night is a blur to her. She remembers Clarice’s delight at seeing the fireworks and finally hearing the sounds of cars coming up the drive, relieved that the guests will soon be gone. The band plays “Auld Lang Syne” and many future plans are made for dinner at the guests’ homes.

When only the family remains, Beatrice tells the girl the ball was a great success and the girl looks charming though exhausted in her blue dress. The young girl walks slowly upstairs and wearily gets into bed, wondering how long it will be before her husband comes to bed. He does not come to bed at all. 

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