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 resentful of the new Mrs. de Winter, who has replaced the Rebecca she adored. She is the first to reveal to Mrs. de Winter what Rebecca really was like with men. After the closing of the inquiry into Rebecca’s death, Mrs. Danvers apparently sets fire to Manderley and disappears.
Frank Crawley, estate manager at Manderley. A thin, colorless bachelor, he is a devoted friend of Maxim.
Jack Favell, Rebecca’s cousin, tanned and good looking, but flashy, with hot, blue eyes and a loose mouth. He is a heavy drinker who attempts to blackmail Maxim after the discovery of Rebecca’s sunken boat.
Colonel Julyan, a magistrate who suspects the truth about Rebecca’s death but keeps it to himself.
Mrs. Van Hopper
Mrs. Van Hopper, an overbearing American social climber who forces herself upon Maxim at Monte Carlo.
Beatrice Lacy, Maxim’s sister, tall, broad-shouldered, handsome, tweedy, inquisitive, blunt, and chatty.
Major Giles Lacy
Major Giles Lacy, Beatrice’s fat and genial husband.
Dr. Baker, a London physician visited by Rebecca (under Mrs. Danvers’ name) the day of her death. He reports that she was dying of cancer, though she appeared in good health.
Frith, Maxim’s elderly butler.
Clarice, Mrs. de Winter’s young maid.
Ben, a simple-minded old man.
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...
(The entire section is 1,007 words.)