Posted on 2010-10-22, updated at 2012-03-11. By anonymous.
Rebecca is a novel by Daphne du Maurier. When Rebecca was published in 1938, du Maurier became ? to her great surprise ? one of the most popular authors of the day. Rebecca is considered to be one of her best works. Some observers have noted parallels with Jane Eyre. Much of the novel was written while she was staying in Alexandria, Egypt, where her husband was posted at the time.
"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" is the book's often quoted opening line, and from here its unnamed narrator recollects her past, telling the story of her transition into womanhood.
While working as the companion to a rich American woman vacationing on the French Riviera, she becomes acquainted with a wealthy Englishman, Maximilian (Maxim) de Winter. After a fortnight of courtship, she agrees to marry him, and after the marriage accompanies him to his mansion, the beautiful West Country estate Manderley.
Only upon their arrival at Manderley does the new bride realize how difficult it will be to lay to rest the memory of her husband's first wife, Rebecca. Rebecca is understood to have drowned in a sailing accident off the coast next to the mansion a year before, but her memory has a strong hold on the estate and all of its inhabitants and visitors, especially the domineering housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, one of literature's most infamous female villains.
Mrs. Danvers, who was profoundly devoted to Rebecca, tries to undermine the second Mrs de Winter, suggesting to her that she will never attain the urbanity and charm that Rebecca possessed. Whenever the new Mrs. de Winter attempts to make changes at Manderley, Mrs. Danvers describes how Rebecca ran Manderley when she was alive. Each time Mrs. Danvers does this, she implies that the new Mrs. de Winter lacks the experience and knowledge necessary for running an important estate such as Manderley. The second Mrs. de Winter is cowed by Mrs. Danvers' imposing manner and complies with the housekeeper's suggestions.
Lacking self-confidence and overwhelmed by her new life, the protagonist commits one faux pas after another, until she is convinced that Maxim regrets his impetuous decision to marry her and is still deeply in love with the seemingly perfect Rebecca. The climax occurs at Manderley's annual costume ball. Mrs. Danvers manipulates the protagonist into wearing a replica of the dress shown in a portrait of one of the former inhabitants of the estate -- the same costume worn by Rebecca to much acclaim the previous year, shortly before her death.
In the early morning hours after the ball, the storm that had been building over the estate leads to a shipwreck. A diver investigating the condition of the wrecked ship's hull discovers the remains of Rebecca's boat. It is just prior to this shipwreck that Mrs. Danvers reveals her contempt for and dislike of the second Mrs. de Winter. Taking the second Mrs. de Winter on a tour of Rebecca's bedroom, her wardrobe and luxurious possessions, which Mrs. Danvers has kept intact as a shrine to Rebecca, she encourages the second Mrs. de Winter to commit suicide by jumping out of an upstairs window, but is thwarted at the last moment by the disturbance created by the shipwreck.
The revelations from the shipwreck lead Maxim to confess the truth to the second Mrs. de Winter; how his marriage to Rebecca was nothing but a sham; how from the very first days of their marriage, the husband and wife loathed each other. Rebecca, Maxim reveals, was a cruel and selfish woman who manipulated everyone around her into believing her to be the perfect wife and a paragon of virtue. She repeatedly taunted Maxim with sordid tales of her numerous love affairs and suggested that she was pregnant with another man's child, which she would raise under the pretence that it was Maxim's and he would be powerless to stop her. Maxim, truly hating her, shot Rebecca and disposed of her body on her boat, which he then sank at sea. The narrator is relieved to hear that Maxim had never loved Rebecca, but really loves his new wife.
Rebecca's boat is raised and it is discovered that holes had been deliberately drilled in the bottom and the sea-cocks were opened, which would have caused it to sink. There is an inquest and despite it not being clear who drilled the holes, a verdict of suicide is brought. However, Rebecca's first cousin (and also her lover) Jack Favell appears on the scene claiming to have proof that Rebecca could not have intended suicide. Favell attempts to blackmail Maxim because he believes that Maxim killed Rebecca and then sank the boat.
Rebecca, it is revealed, had an appointment with a Doctor Baker shortly before her death, presumably to confirm her pregnancy. When the doctor is found he reveals Rebecca had been suffering from cancer and would have died within a few months; furthermore, due to the malformation of her uterus, she could never have been pregnant. The implication is that knowing she was going to die, Rebecca lied to Maxim that she had been impregnated by another man because she wanted Maxim to kill her. Maxim feels a great sense of foreboding and insists on driving through the night to return to Manderley. However, before he comes in sight of the house, it is clear from a glow on the horizon and wind-borne ashes that it is ablaze.
It is evident at the beginning of the novel that Maxim and the second Mrs. de Winter now live in some foreign exile. The events recounted in the book are in essence a flashback of the narrator's life at Manderley.
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