Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 794
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 frustrated despite the luxurious beauty all around her. Suddenly there is a clearing ahead of them and she is shocked to see a wall of blood-red rhododendrons rising high above them on either side of the car.
The sight is shocking, as nothing about the drive has prepared her for the sight. The flowers startle her “with their crimson faces, massed one upon the other in incredible profusion, showing no leaf, no twig, nothing but the slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic,” unlike anything she has ever seen. To the girl the rhododendrons are monsters, too beautiful and powerful to be plants at all.
Finally Manderley is ahead of them, and de Winter swears at what he sees, explaining that Danvers has done exactly what he did not want her to do: she has assembled the entire Manderley staff to greet them. He assures his wife that he will do everything and she will not have to say anything at all. Still nervous, she fumbles for the door just as the butler reaches it to help her out; de Winter greets the man, Firth, and asks if everyone is well. Firth assures his employer that this gathering is Danvers’ doing.
She looks and feels nervous as she observes the sea of assembled faces overflowing the main entryway into the galleries above and dining room below the staircase. A tall, gaunt figure dressed in black advances toward her out of the crowd, her parchment-white face and skeleton-like figure making a clear impression on the young girl. She holds out her hand and the emaciated woman takes it, though her hand is limp, lifeless, and heavy in the young girl’s grasp.
As de Winter introduces Danvers to his wife, the older woman’s hollow eyes never leave her new mistress’s face, making the girl feel shame and discomfort at her gaze. In the confusion of the greeting, the girl drops her gloves and Danvers looks at her with scorn, her eyes saying clearly that she thinks the young girl is ill-bred and gauche. After giving a short, effortless speech to his assembled staff, de Winter takes his wife to the library for tea, closing the doors behind them.
Two cocker spaniels rise to greet them; the mother is blind in one eye and soon loses interest in the newcomer, while her son, Jasper, thumps his tail as the girl strokes his ears. The room is comfortable, and the new mistress of Manderley soon feels better. The fresh scents from outside mingle with the smell of old books, and it is a peaceful room, perfect for meditation. Seeing her husband in this setting reminds her how little she knows about her his real life, and suddenly she has a vision of their growing old here together.
After tea, de Winter asks about the work being done in the east wing, explaining that he is redecorating the suite in which they will live. Firth walks his new mistress to the east wing where the intimidating housekeeper is waiting. The ocean is not visible from this wing of the estate, but de Winter insisted that, though he has never lived here, this is the place he wanted redecorated for his new wife.
Danvers is waiting for her, and it is clear the housekeeper feels pure contempt, pity, and scorn for the young girl. She derides her for not being as forceful and sophisticated as the first Mrs. de Winter and the girl does all she can not to let the intimidating woman see her nervousness. Finally de Winter comes in, enthusiastic about the redecorating.
The couple does not see the housekeeper for the rest of the day, and they spend their evening in the library by the fireplace. While de Winter settles into his usual chair to read the newspaper, his young wife realizes she must be sitting in her predecessor’s chair and petting the dog just as Rebecca had done. Unconsciously she shivers at the thought.