Special thanks to Sarina Byron, a BSR contributor who wrote this great recap! Sarina is a British Author and Contributing Writer living in California. Sarina enjoys bringing forth a different perspective and encouraging a different way of thinking through her writing. Visit her blog to read her reviews, and check the end of the review for a link to her Instagram.
Daphne du Maurier
***** Everything below is a SPOILER *****
What happened in Rebecca?
The book opened in a dream.
Our nameless protagonist—or rather the second Mrs. de Winter, also a borrowed name—is living hotel to hotel in Europe. Her story, and that of those attached to her, is told in a flashback.
Her nameless self was a lady’s companion to Mrs. Van Hopper when she met Maxim de Winter in Monte Carlo. Mrs. Van Hopper, a raging snob, declared the crowd at the Hotel Cote d’Azur disappointing this season. Her eyes scanned the room for a worthy acquaintance and fretted that her food was inferior to that of her companion. Meanwhile, her companion suffered a dry ham and tongue the waiter had decided was worthy of her station.
Her prayers were answered when Max de Winter was shown the table next to them. Mrs. Van Hopper immediately whispered something about a dead wife. Mrs. Van Hopper often employed a ruse to gain introductions to guests of distinction, and in this instance, it was her nephew’s letter. Our narrator returns to find her lady already seated with Mr. de Winter, happily chatting about her nephew, opening the door for multiple such encounters.
After this introduction, Mrs. Van Hopper and her companion often found themselves in the company of Max de Winter. Mrs. Van Hopper pushed the boundaries of familiarity with Max de Winter and passed the blame on to her companion. He rudely brushed off Mrs. Van Hopper’s invitation to her room for a drink but later sent a letter to her companion apologizing for his rudeness. She didn’t respond but struggled to take her mind off him.
Mrs. Van Hopper awoke in the clutches of a nasty flu the next day, causing her companion to head down to the dining room by herself. She noticed Max de Winter occupied a table next to her. She assumed he was lunching early to avoid running into them. Unnerved by having to sit alone next to him, she knocked over her flower vase. Max de Winter reduced the awkwardness of the situation by inviting her to dine with him.
His behavior was nothing like she had observed around her lady. He shared about the loneliness and despondency that had plagued him for a year. Max insisted upon driving her to the Monaco town square despite her protests. He pointedly asked her about her plans and what she planned to do with herself should Mrs. Van Hopper tire of her.
They spent the most beautiful day together, so much that our lady couldn’t bring herself to head up to her room. She couldn’t bear the thought of a lonely evening without Max. She opened the poetry book he gave her at the title page and saw it was a gift to him from someone called Rebecca. It reminded her of Mrs. Van Hopper’s comments about Rebecca having drowned in the Bay near Manderley.
Their excursion became a daily morning affair. Mrs. Van Hopper remained unaware, assuming her protege was working on her tennis. When she tried to further the conversation about why Max preferred her company, he got annoyed and told her it was for her company but if that wasn’t enough, she could leave now and find her own way back. His outburst brought tears to her eyes, and she asked to go back. He held her on their drive back and encouraged her to call him Maxim like his family. She spent a miserable evening helping Mrs. Van Hopper get dressed to entertain her guests. Our protagonist spends the evening imagining the familiarity with which Rebecca would have addressed him.
Out of the blue, Mrs. Van Hopper received a letter that sealed her decision to head back to New York. Unable to bear the idea of being separated from Max, our protagonist panics and begins looking for him as they dined between intervals of packing. She lost the battle to her tears at many points during the day. When she had not seen him until the next day, she burst upon him in his room with the news that Mrs. Van Hopper was preparing for an imminent departure. Max de Winter appeared amused at her state of panic. He asked her to breakfast and then asked her to marry him. Despite her shock, she accepted.
He asked her if she wanted to break the news to Mrs. Van Hopper or if he should. Having decided on the latter, they headed there whilst Max talked about how a license-only wedding can be arranged much faster. He reminded her he already had a wedding with the bride in white, bridesmaids, and guests. He left the women alone to tie up loose ends. Mrs. Van Hopper commented on the smartness of her companion but also declared her ineptitude at being the mistress of Manderley. She took great pleasure in breaking to her young protege that Max had admitted being driven to companionship by an empty house. Her delusions of love were unfounded.
They arrived at Manderley in early May. The second Mrs. de Winter now dreaded coming home to Manderley. She desperately wanted to see it but didn’t feel prepared to lead the beast. Max tried to ease her nerves by telling her not to worry about the house as Mrs. Danvers handled all that. They arrived to find the entire staff waiting at the door. Mrs. Danvers, a stern old woman who was as stiff and unfriendly as her voice, stood at the head of the pack. Max made a quick speech and rushed into the library for their tea. By a warm fire in the library, they met two cocker spaniels. The older of the two, the mother, was blind in one eye, but the younger one, Jasper, came bounding up to them.
Frith popped his head in after tea to ask if the new Mrs. de Winter would like to see her room. They led her to the east wing, where Mrs. Danvers showed her around. Mrs. Danvers inquired after her maid and rejected the idea of the house maid doubling into that position. She learnt that Mrs. Danvers had come to Manderley when Rebecca was a bride. On her way out, Mrs. Danvers made a comment about Max and Rebecca using the rooms on the other side of the house.
When she returned to the library, Max inquired how they got on, to which the second Mrs. de Winter couldn’t help sharing that she found her a bit stiff. Max, however, was not interested in talking about her, preferring to show her around. That night they didn’t change for dinner, sparing the new Mrs. de Winter the agony of picking a dress. They retired to the library again after dinner, where she realized she was following in the exact footsteps of Rebecca. Jasper was not at her knee because he loved her; he was there because Rebecca had given him love from that exact chair.
Max’s sister invited herself to lunch the next day. As she awaited the appointed hour, the second Mrs. de Winter was shown to the morning room. This chamber appeared to have preserved the very essence of Rebecca. Mrs. Danvers called on the house phone and threw her off balance. She didn’t connect the title of Mrs. de Winter with herself and had nothing to say about the day’s menu. The mail schedule for the day appeared to be mocking her lack of correspondence.
Beatrice, Max’s sister, showed up at the appointed hour. Our young protagonist panics at their arrival and takes off down hidden back corridors. She lost her way and ran into Mrs. Danvers, who informed her she was in the west wing. As Mrs. de Winter walked away from her, Mrs. Danvers called out that she would be happy to show her the west wing at any time at all.
Rebecca joined Beatrice, Max, Major Lacy (Beatrice’s husband), and Frank Crawley in the drawing room. Beatrice commented the new Mrs. de Winter was nothing like the sorts Max usually preferred. She looked Mrs. de Winter up and down before commenting to Max that he was looking much better now and supposed they had the new wife to thank for that.
Lunch was uneventful, and Beatrice took charge of her sister-in-law after that. She pointed out the differences between Max and herself whilst doling out generous advice on her appearance. Beatrice brought up Mrs. Danvers and oddly used the same words as Max about her not minding the new Mrs. de Winter’s involvement.
Beatrice felt it her duty to share that Mrs. Danvers was jealous of our protagonist because she had adored Rebecca. Before they all left, Max invited them up to view the renovated rooms in the east wing. The men moved faster than the women, and Beatrice lingered with our protagonist in the renovated rooms. They discussed their wedding gift, and Beatrice assured her hostess they weren’t upset at Max and her getting married abroad.
She gave her a compliment that would only make sense much later, that she was very different from Rebecca.
Having waved them off, Max insisted on walking his new wife down to the beach with Jasper. They started walking down a beautiful path running following a charming stream. Max let her in on its name at Manderley: Happy Valley. Walking through Happy Valley was all-engrossing. All too suddenly, it was over, and they were on the beach. The change was so sudden, it was almost rude.
Jasper ran off in an unknown direction, which unsettled the poor new mistress. She couldn’t let him be as Max advised and chased after him, happening upon a man who appeared unstable. Following Jasper had led her to a cottage that most likely contained a piece of string she needed. The strange man followed her in and started talking to her about “her” not coming back. Our protagonist quietly answered his questions and then rushed to join Max across the shingle.
She couldn’t help asking Max who the man was. As it turns out, he was an old keeper’s son who still lived on the estate. The new Mrs. de Winter noticed Max was bothered by the cottage and the beach. She tried to ask him about it, but he wouldn’t give any straight answers, rather expressing regret at ever leaving Italy.
Back in the house, Max apologized with an explanation that Beatrice always makes him feel unsettled. As they drank their tea, our protagonist reached for a handkerchief in her pocket, finding one that doesn’t belong to her. It had a tall R dwarfing the de W next to it. A little more of Rebecca came to life with the mac, which was missing buttons, implying the previous owner had draped it instead of buttoning it up. A pink mark on the handkerchief flaunted the wearer’s lipstick, and it smelt faintly like the azaleas in Happy Valley.
The new Mrs. de Winter walked on eggshells around Max, avoiding any mention of the sea or the cottage. In particular, when Frank Crawley visited, she went into a dither about using the right words, knowing the fashionable and right things, and even just assuming she was not like Rebecca.
To make matters worse, Manderley came with its own set of social obligations, such as the annual Manderley ball and a garden party the Bishop’s wife brought up on their last visit. She added more color to Rebecca’s misty form: her dark hair, alabaster skin, and little party touches, to name a few. She found herself loathing, turning into a dislike for them.
On her way back, she saw Frank by the gates and decided to walk the rest of the way with him instead of staying in the car. They talked about Max and her walk down to the beach where she met Ben. Frank assured her Ben was harmless and told her how Rebecca furnished and used the cottage for moonlight picnics. She learnt where Rebecca used to moor her boat and how her body washed up two months later.
She found herself confessing to Frank that she didn’t feel good enough for Max and perhaps she shouldn’t have married him. The idea seemed to distress Frank beyond measure, and he exclaimed she must never think so and she was exactly what Max needed. Despite Frank’s comforting and soothing, she couldn’t help asking him if Rebecca was beautiful. He admitted her status as the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
It didn’t matter everyone was telling her not to think about Rebecca; our protagonist couldn’t help thinking about her all the time. This was not helped by the fact that she was living in the belly of the beast. Manderley and Rebecca seemed to be mirrors of each other.
A gift of painting books arrived from Beatrice. The same day, a china ornament the new Mrs. de Winter had accidentally broken was discovered missing by Mrs. Danvers, who insisted on dismissing Robert for the offense. Our protagonist couldn’t see someone else take the blame for her fault, and she owned up to Max. Max insisted she tell Frith and Mrs. Danvers herself, but she was too scared of them to do so. They decided to send it to the makers in London and told Robert to rest easy.
Mrs. Danvers attempted to chide the new Mrs. de Winter, but Max dismissed her. Our protagonist was so shaken by the episode that she confided in Max about feeling more comfortable in the company of her maid, Clarice. Max was not particularly understanding and asked her to simply get over her shyness. She attempted to elicit a reaction by saying he probably married her because she could never stir gossip. This comment inflamed Max, who asked her what she knew of the gossip at Manderley. When he learnt she knew nothing of it, he recognized his lack of understanding towards her. They argued in a circle that ended with her assuming Max was missing Rebecca by way of the broken china cupid.
The new Mrs. de Winter still felt like an imposter in her home. She walked all the way to the woods to eat a small snack of biscuits and apples. She assumed in Max’s absence they would gossip about how she didn’t like the cook’s creations. And she found herself drawn to the beach again and to Rebecca’s boat. It read Je Reviens on the side, as opposed to regular boat names.
Jasper insisted on bounding into the cottage again, where they ran into Ben again. When the new Mrs. de Winter asked him why he was in there, Ben sought assurance she wouldn’t put him in the asylum. When he sensed she was kind, he presented her with a shell. He told her about the time Rebecca threatened to put him in the asylum for peeping in the windows. As she headed back to the house, she saw a man in the west wing and Mrs. Danvers’ arm closing the window. She overheard Mrs. Danvers telling someone they may be able to sneak out without being seen by Mrs. de Winter.
As Mrs. Danvers went to look for her, the man ran into the protagonist. She caught Mrs. Danvers and the man, Mr. Favell, in an odd dance with their eyes and expressions. She even caught him in a lie that he left his car halfway down the drive because he didn’t want to disturb her. Curiosity piqued, she decided to explore the west wing. She expected to find it covered in sheets, but the whole place looked like it was actively occupied. A dressing gown lay on a chair, bedroom slippers graced their own spot, and a set of brushes and combs sat on a table. Rebecca’s presence was palpable in the room and her closet.
Mrs. Danvers entered the room just then and offered to show her around the room properly. She spoke eloquently of every little thing in the room. She shared how she used to brush Rebecca’s hair every night, and when she wore it longer, Max brushed it for her. Our protagonist learnt Rebecca’s body was torn apart by the current when she drowned. She learnt Max had suffered for months, never sleeping, only smoking through the night. Mrs. Danvers’ longing for Rebecca came to the surface as she spoke of her. She began asking the new Mrs. de Winter if the dead could come back as she felt Rebecca often returned to watch Max and his new wife. Exhausted by this exchange, our protagonist retired to her room and laid down to let the sick feeling pass.
Max left a message with Frith that he would be home by 7 PM on the appointed day of his return. The new Mrs. de Winter enjoyed a hearty breakfast before Beatrice picked her up for a visit to Max’s grandmother. She looked a lot like Max and asked after Beatrice’s son, Roger. The new Mrs. de Winter wondered if old people notice everyone talks down to them, almost like children. She pictured their grandmother at Manderley, walking around the ground with the ease of home. The grandmother suddenly forgot who the new Mrs. de Winter was and began asking for Rebecca. Beatrice apologized profusely for bringing our protagonist to see their grandmother. She explained Rebecca had an innate ability to charm absolutely everyone, and their grandmother had built a strong bond with her.
She came home to find Max ranting about Favell’s visit to Manderley. Mrs. Danvers came out of the room looking ashen, but Max brightened as soon as he saw his wife enter the room.
Visitors maintained a constant stream at Manderley, and inevitably the annual ball came up. Lady Crowan insisted upon it, pushing Max, Frank, and Mrs. de Winter until she obtained agreement for the ball. After the guests departed, the trio discussed Mrs. de Winter’s costume. The men took pleasure in teasing her about her straight hair, to which she proclaimed she would leave them speechless at her costume.
The buzz about the ball spread like wildfire. Clarice was most excited about the event she would get to witness and even more so as her mistress promised she would be the first to know of her costume. Mrs. Danvers suggested she should copy the white lady painting in the hall. As she considered the idea, Rebecca returned, and she found herself responding to situations in her life. Max observed her outward expressions and questioned her sanity. He told her those expressions revealed forbidden knowledge, but he wouldn’t tell her what it was.
The day of the ball saw everyone descend upon Manderley in excitement. Even the house was showing off its own personality that day. The new Mrs. de Winter was looking forward to surprising everyone dressed as the painting of Caroline de Winter. However, when she walked into the room, everyone stopped as if they had seen a ghost. Max was positively thunderous and ordered her to go change at once.
Beatrice followed her and explained Rebecca had worn exactly that outfit for her last ball at Manderley. Our heroine, as expected, was so mortified that she didn’t want to go down for the party. Giles and Beatrice couldn’t convince her and left holding their defeat. Eventually, duty took over, and she changed to greet the guests after dinner.
Beatrice declared the ball a raging success. The new Mrs. de Winter didn’t seem to think so. She kept imagining conversations about her inadequacy taking place in the party and in the kitchen. Maxim didn’t come to bed that night.
The marriage of the de Winters had failed—at least that’s what the new Mrs. de Winter appeared to think. She found a note from Beatrice slipped under her door that emphasized forgetting about the dress as soon as humanly possible. All traces of the ball were almost gone, and Robert informed her of Max’s departure before Beatrice and Major Lacy’s.
She phoned Frank to check if Max was at the office. During this conversation, she couldn’t help sharing her misgivings at having married Max. She told Frank she ought to have known Max would always love Rebecca, and he assumed her error to be a cruel joke. Frank insisted upon heading up to the house right then, but she hung up the phone. She didn’t want to see him at all.
She wanted to confront Mrs. Danvers and headed to do so immediately. Mrs. Danvers didn’t deny putting her up to it. In fact, she confessed she hated her for being the new Mrs. de Winter. She hated her for using her desk, her phone, her pen, and even her name. She had looked after Rebecca since she was a little girl and always knew her spirit couldn’t be defeated. Rebecca had tamed wild horses and slept with multiple men, all for the sport. She taunted our protagonist that she would never be a Mrs. de Winter. Max could not love his new wife, and she shouldn’t even try to gain his love. She began to goad the new Mrs. de Winter to jump off the terrace and end everyone’s misery. Just then, a shot-like sound from rockets in the Bay, indicating a ship had gone ashore.
Preparations began to bring the crew in instantly as the sea was too turbulent to pull it out of the harbor that day. The Captain of the ship came up to the house that evening with news they had found a boat with a body. They suspected this body may be Rebecca.
Our protagonist yearned to tell Maxim she was all grown up now. She wanted to face this challenge with him, but when he came in, he had a haunted look. He told her it was all over, and they would never get their chance. Max then confessed he had shot Rebecca in the cove and locked her body in the boat’s cabin before drowning it. He expected to be found out and have their life cut short immediately.
He then told her all about his terrible marriage with Rebecca. She had been immensely charming and could convince anyone of her sweetness, so good that she even managed to convince Max before he married her. However, he knew within five days he had been tricked. It was too late, though, and she made him a deal. She would play the perfect wife and perfect hostess, and she would make Manderley the best estate home in the country. They agreed upon that and returned to Manderley.
Rebecca lived up to her side of the bargain; Manderley became more beautiful than it had ever been. Their parties were the stuff of legends, and Rebecca moved amongst her visitors with an angelic smile on her face. No one knew she kept a flat in London where she entertained her lovers. As time went on, she grew sloppy. She started having the men over at her cottage by the beach. She insistently went after Frank, got her way with Beatrice’s husband Giles, and began to have her cousin and lover Jack Favell over as often as possible. Max began to near the end of his patience and warned her against having them in his home, but all he got from her was jeers.
One day, Rebecca returned from a day trip in London and went straight down to her cottage. Max was intending to draw a line that day and followed her. She spoke to him of raising a son (who may or may not be his) at Manderley. His patience gave out, and he attacked her, shot her right there and staged it to look like she drowned in her boat. No one had seen him at the house that night as he had been dining with Frank, and he slid back in as if he had never been there. When Mrs. Danvers knocked on his door later that night, he told her to go back to bed.
The phone began ringing with the district magistrate and reporters within hours of the body being found. For the first time ever, the new Mrs. de Winter asked for the lunch menu to be changed. Mrs. Danvers’ surprise brought her to the morning room. She asked a number of questions in the manner she was accustomed to employing with the new Mrs. de Winter. She demanded an explanation as to why the menu change message was sent through Robert, why the reporters were calling, and why Max went out early that morning. Our protagonist informed her that none of those questions are for her to answer, and she wasn’t concerned about how the old Mrs. de Winter did things. She was going to do things her own way from now on.
Max called to say he was coming up to the house with Frank and Colonel Julyan. They discussed various possibilities of that fateful day, all of which pointed to it being a terrible accident. Meanwhile, the newspapers had a field day making up all sorts of stories about the de Winters. Frank calmed the de Winter’s nerves by reminding them none of them had anything to hide and journalists had to sell papers. Mrs. de Winter was sure, however, that Frank knew what had happened the night Rebecca died.
The inquest took place at the market town of Lanyon. Mrs. de Winter chose not to go in but slipped in towards the end. The boat-builder was giving his testimony. He insisted the condition of the boat had been exemplary. Because people had blamed him for Rebecca’s accident, he had inspected it after it resurfaced. He found three holes in it that were clearly not made by rocks.
As the Coroner began asking Max probing questions, Mrs. de Winter fainted in her seat. Frank brought her back to Manderley and headed back to Leyton to be with Max. Our protagonist struggled to focus on good thoughts, so she began to imagine what Mrs. Van Hopper may be up to in the States. However, her mind slipped to them talking about Rebecca again. Jasper interrupted her thoughts with his wet nose.
Max came in around tea time with the news that her death had been ruled a suicide. They coudn’t find a motive, but they knew enough to rule suicide. The body from the church crypt was to be exhumed and replaced with the real body immediately.
Jack Favell arrived that evening and insisted upon waiting, even as our protagonist informed him of Max’s absence. He leveled accusations at Max based on a note Rebecca left him on the fateful day. She asked him to meet her at the cottage late at night. He accused Max of having killed her and of the new Mrs. de Winter having a “good” time with Frank behind Max’s back. He claimed Frank chased Rebecca and didn’t get very far with her. In order to make it all go away, he named a sum Max could pay him annually. Max grew tired of his behavior and asked Colonel Julyan to head over to the house. Jack was convinced this would put Max away.
Colonel Julyan arrived to see a drunk Jack insisting upon calling witnesses. They fetched Ben, who grew distressed with every question. He insisted he had not seen anything at all. They called Mrs. Danvers next to confirm Rebecca was in love with Jack and was going to marry him. Mrs. Danvers sneered at all of them, telling them men meant nothing to Rebecca and they were all fools. She began to cry loudly, which no one around her knew how to deal with. They all waited for it to end.
As Mrs. Danvers began to quiet down, they tried to retrace Rebecca’s steps, leading them to her diary. They found an unexplained appointment in her diary with a phone number but no exchange. They tried various exchanges in London until they found the right one. It used to belong to a doctor who had given up his practice.
They found his address from the current tenant and headed to his house immediately. He told them Rebecca had seen him under the name Mrs. Danvers. She had advanced cancer and would have only lived for another three to four months. He expected her to start needing morphine soon after she visited him.
This satisfied Colonel Julian. Jack Favell lost all grounds for foul play, and they all headed home. Mr. and Mrs. de Winter arrived home to Manderley to find the place alight. The staff told them Mrs. Danvers had left with her luggage but would possibly return to exact revenge. The de Winters headed back to Europe, and Manderley became a distant dream that haunted Mrs. de Winter regularly.
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