Rebecca (novel)  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Rebecca is a 1938 Gothic novel by English author Dame Daphne du Maurier. It concerns an unnamed young woman who impetuously marries a wealthy widower, only to discover that he and his household are haunted by the memory of his late first wife, the title character. A best-seller which has never gone out of print, Rebecca sold 2.8 million copies between its publication in 1938 and 1965. It has been adapted numerous times for stage and screen, including a 1939 play by du Maurier herself, the film Rebecca (1940), directed by Alfred Hitchcock, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the 2020 remake directed by Ben Wheatley for Netflix.

The novel is remembered especially for the character Mrs. Danvers, the fictional estate Manderley, and its opening line: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

Contents

Plot

While working as the companion to a rich American woman on holiday in Monte Carlo, the unnamed narrator, a naïve young woman in her early 20s, becomes acquainted with a wealthy Englishman, George Fortescue Maximilian "Maxim" de Winter, a 42-year-old widower. After a fortnight of courtship, she agrees to marry him and, after the wedding and honeymoon, accompanies him to his mansion in Cornwall, the beautiful estate Manderley.

Mrs. Danvers, the sinister housekeeper, was profoundly devoted to the first Mrs de Winter, Rebecca, who died in a boating accident about a year before Maxim and the second Mrs de Winter met. She continually attempts to undermine the narrator psychologically, subtly suggesting to her that she will never attain the beauty, urbanity, and charm her predecessor possessed. Whenever the narrator attempts to make changes at Manderley, Mrs. Danvers describes how Rebecca ran it when she was alive. Each time Mrs. Danvers does this, she implies that the narrator lacks the experience and knowledge necessary for running an important estate. Cowed by Mrs. Danvers' imposing manner and the other members of West Country society's unwavering reverence for Rebecca, the narrator becomes isolated.

The narrator is soon 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 narrator into wearing a replica of the dress shown in a portrait of one of the house's former inhabitants—hiding the fact that Rebecca wore the same costume to much acclaim shortly before her death. The narrator has a drummer announce her entrance using the name of the lady in the portrait: Caroline de Winter. When the narrator shows Maxim the dress, he angrily orders her to change.

Shortly after the ball, Mrs. Danvers reveals her contempt for the narrator, believing she is trying to replace Rebecca, and reveals her deep, unhealthy obsession with the dead woman. Mrs. Danvers tries to get the narrator to commit suicide by encouraging her to jump out of the window. However, she is thwarted at the last moment by the disturbance occasioned by a nearby shipwreck. A diver investigating the wrecked ship's hull's condition also discovers the remains of Rebecca's sailing boat, with her decomposed body still on board.

This discovery causes Maxim to confess to the narrator that his marriage to Rebecca was a sham. 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. On the night of her death, she told Maxim that she was pregnant with another man's child, which she would raise under the pretense that it was Maxim's, and he would be powerless to stop her. In a rage, Maxim shot her through the heart, then disposed of her body by placing it in her boat and sinking it at sea. The narrator thinks little of Maxim's murder confession but is relieved to hear that Maxim has always loved her and never Rebecca.

Rebecca's boat is raised, and it is discovered to have been deliberately sunk. An inquest brings a verdict of suicide. However, Rebecca's first cousin and lover, Jack Favell, attempts to blackmail Maxim, claiming to have proof that she could not have intended suicide based on a note she sent to him the night she died. It is revealed that Rebecca had had an appointment with a doctor in London shortly before her death, presumably to confirm her pregnancy. When the doctor is found, he reveals that Rebecca had cancer and would have died within a few months. Furthermore, due to the malformation of her uterus, she could never have been pregnant. Maxim assumes that Rebecca, knowing that she would die, manipulated him into killing her quickly. Mrs. Danvers had said after the inquiry that Rebecca feared nothing except dying a lingering death.

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.

Characters

Main characters

  • The Narrator/the Second Mrs de Winter: A timid, naïve, middle-class woman in her early twenties, who enjoys sketching. Neither the narrator's first nor maiden name is revealed. She is referred to as "my wife", Mrs de Winter, "my dear", and so on. The one time she is introduced with a name is during a fancy dress ball, in which she dresses as a de Winter ancestor and is introduced as "Caroline de Winter", although this is clearly not her own name. She signs her name as "Mrs M. de Winter", using Maxim's initial. Early in the novel she receives a letter and remarks that her name was correctly spelled, which is "an unusual thing," suggesting her name is uncommon, foreign or complex. While courting her, Maxim compliments her on her "lovely and unusual name". Despite her timidity, she gradually matures throughout the novel, refusing to be a victim of Rebecca's phantom-like influence any longer and becoming a strong, assertive woman in her own right.
  • Maximilian "Maxim" de Winter: The reserved, unemotional owner of Manderley. He marries his new wife after a brief courtship, yet displays little affection toward her after the marriage. Emotionally scarred by his traumatic marriage to Rebecca, his distance toward his new wife causes her to fear he regrets his marriage to her and is still haunted by Rebecca's death. Maxim killed Rebecca in a blind rage after she told him that she was carrying her lover's child, that he would have to raise as his own. He does eventually reveal to his new wife that he never loved Rebecca but loves her, but not until several months of marriage have passed. In the 1940 film adaptation, his full name is George Fortescue Maximilian de Winter.
  • Mrs Danvers: The cold, overbearing housekeeper of Manderley. Danvers was Rebecca's family maid when she was a child and has lived with her for years. She is unhealthily obsessed with Rebecca and preserving Rebecca's memory. She resents the new Mrs de Winter, convinced she is trying to "take Rebecca's place". She tries to undermine the new Mrs de Winter, but her efforts fail. After her scheme is ruined, Mrs Danvers apparently burns Manderley to the ground, preferring to destroy it than allow Maxim to share his home with another lover and wife. She is nicknamed Danny which is derived from her last name; her first name being unknown or unimportant, but in Sally Beauman's sequel Rebecca's Tale it was said to be Edith.
  • Rebecca de Winter: The unseen, deceased title character, who has been dead for less than a year. A famous beauty, and on the surface a devoted wife and perfect hostess, Rebecca was actually unfaithful to her husband Maxim. Her lingering presence overwhelms Manderley, dominating the visitors, the staff and the new Mrs de Winter. Through dialogue, it is slowly revealed that Rebecca possessed the signs of a psychopath: habitual lying, superficial charm, expert manipulation, no conscience and no remorse. She was also revealed to be somewhat sadistic—Danvers tells a story of Rebecca, during her teenage years, cruelly whipping a horse until it bled. In the 1940 film adaptation, her maiden name was said to be Henrich.

Recurring characters

  • Frank Crawley: The hard-working, dutiful agent of Manderley. He is said to be Maxim's trusted advisor and faithful confidant. He soon becomes a good friend to the second Mrs de Winter, and helps her in the self-doubt of her inability to rule Manderley as its mistress.
  • Beatrice Lacy (formerly de Winter): Maxim's wilful and quick-witted sister, who develops an immediate fondness for the new Mrs de Winter. Prior to the novel, she had married Giles Lacy. She, along with her brother, is one of the few people who knew Rebecca's true, vile nature, and was one of her victims: Beatrice's husband was seduced by her.
  • Giles Lacy: The slightly slow-witted husband of Beatrice, and Maxim's brother-in-law. He was one of the many men who fell for Rebecca's charms.
  • Frith: The middle-aged, kind and devoted butler at Manderley. He had worked for the de Winters when Maxim's late father was a boy.

Supporting characters

  • Robert: A footman.
  • Mrs. Van Hopper: The narrator's employer at the beginning of the novel, an obnoxious, overbearing American woman who relentlessly pursues wealthy and famous guests at the various hotels she stays at in order to latch on to their fame and boost her own status through association.
  • Clarice: Mrs de Winter's faithful and trusted maid. She aided her lady and mistress in fitting her white, frilly gown for the fancy dress ball. She replaces the original maid, Alice, later on.
  • Jack Favell: The crafty and sneaky first cousin of the late Rebecca de Winter and her most frequent boyfriend/lover. He and Rebecca had grown up together as children, causing mayhem, and he shares many of her worst traits, suggesting insanity runs in their family. He is strongly disliked by Maxim and several other characters. Since Rebecca's untimely demise, his one and only true friend and confidante is Mrs Danvers, whom he calls "Danny", just as Rebecca had done.
  • Colonel Julyan: The investigator of the inquest into the true cause of Rebecca's untimely demise.
  • Dr. Baker: A doctor, who specialises in oncology. A few hours prior to her death, Rebecca went to see him in secret, when he diagnosed her with an unspecified type of cancer.

Location

  • The fictional Hôtel Côte d'Azur, Monte Carlo
  • The fictional Manderley, a country estate which du Maurier's editor noted "is as much an atmosphere as a tangible erection of stones and mortar"




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Rebecca (novel)" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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