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Rebecca

Daphne du Maurier

Chapters 5-7

Chapters 1-4

Chapters 8-11

Summary

In the days following their initial afternoon together, the heroine and Maxim go driving together frequently, and she finds herself falling helplessly in love with the older man. He is always reserved and proper in his kindness, save once, when, the heroine having accused him of "charity" toward her, he tells her furiously that he has only remained in Monte Carlo for the sake of her company, because he has been dead inside and she makes him feel alive. Despite this one outburst, the heroine cannot imagine him ever returning her feelings; and she often compares herself, unfavorably, to his dead wife Rebecca. Meanwhile, Mrs. Van Hopper knows nothing of the pair's excursions; the heroine attributes her absences to imaginary tennis lessons.

Then, abruptly, Mrs. Van Hopper decides to leave Monte Carlo and take a boat to New York; the heroine, as her companion, is of course expected to come along. On the morning of their departure, the heroine goes up to Maxim's room, with the intent of saying goodbye; she expects she will never see him again. To her shock, however, he insists that she have breakfast with him, and then brusquely proposes marriage. When he has convinced her that he is serious in his proposal, the heroine accepts, and he volunteers to break the news to Mrs. Van Hopper. The older woman is less than pleased at the news: privately, she accuses the heroine of having deceived her about her activities in Monte Carlo, and to her face she warns her that she will never manage as mistress of Manderley. "Personally," the older woman says, with more than a little spite, "I think you are making a big mistake--one you will bitterly regret."

The narrative now jumps ahead, skipping over the de Winters' quick marriage and honeymoon in France and Italy, and moving directly to their arrival at Manderley, a huge and beautiful manor house set in a coastal valley in England. Beautiful though the heroine finds it, the scale of her new home also intimidates her, especially when the entire staff of servants comes out to greet her, led by the butler, Frith. The scene has been organized, against Maxim's orders, by Mrs. Danvers, the gaunt, hollow-eyed housekeeper, who greets the heroine--now Mrs. de Winter--with stiff formality. After returning the housekeeper's welcome, she is led inside by Maxim, and is met by his two cocker spaniels. The couple takes their tea in the library, a musty room that looks down to the sea, and then while Maxim opens his mail, the heroine goes upstairs with Mrs. Danvers to see her bedroom, which is in the newly renovated east wing, facing away from the ocean. The housekeeper is civil and respectful, but in her manner the heroine nervously senses an undercurrent of hostility and resentment, and she is relieved when Maxim comes upstairs to complete the tour with them. Then husband and wife go downstairs for dinner, and the heroine, settling into her chair, begins to think about Rebecca, whose place she has taken as Mrs. de Winter and Mistress of Manderley.

Commentary

The heroine's quest for a self has strong Oedipal overtones. The Oedipus complex is a psychological theory that suggests that young men have a strong desire to kill their father and marry their mother, as the character Oedipus did, unknowingly, in Sophocles's classical Greek play. In Rebecca, the complex is reversed: the heroine must overcome a maternal figure in order to marry the paternal figure of Maxim. (This female reversal of the Oedipal complex is sometimes called an "Electra complex," after a character in Greek drama who conspired to murder her mother.) It is in these chapters that the Electra complex is acted out: a maternal figure--Mrs. Van Hopper--is overcome, and the marriage takes place. But the victory is not complete, and the marriage not yet whole; for the real maternal figure, the real "older woman," still stands in the heroine's way--in the figure of Rebecca.

Victory over Mrs. Van Hopper was easy--so easy, in fact, that Maxim could accomplish it himself, simply by carrying off the heroine. But while the heroine loves him, and he seems to loves her, there still persists a distance between them, a distance that becomes obvious during her first months as mistress of Manderley. From the heroine's point of view, the distance stems from his continued attachment to Rebecca, whose influence is as strong as Mrs. Van Hopper's was weak. The fact that she is dead only increases her strength: how can the heroine hope to compete with a dead woman? How can the heroine "kill"--even in a metaphorical sense--a woman who exists only in her husband's memory?

Rebecca is not the typical ghost story: although characters frequently speak of Rebecca's presence at Manderley, her ghost never actually manifests itself. But then, the ghost does not need to actually appear, for it has a living spokesperson in the house, representing its interests. From the beginning we see clearly Mrs. Danvers's wickedness: we read, "Someone advanced from the sea of faces, someone tall and gaunt, dressed in deep black, whose prominent cheek-bones and great, hollow eyes gave her a skull's face, parchment- white, set on skeleton's frame." This living servant looks like death incarnate; she is the perfect representative for a dead woman. And though Mrs. Danvers may look skeleton-like and frail, her powers overcome physical reality, just as Rebecca is able to exert her influence at Manderley despite her very death. It is thus Rebecca, and not the heroine, who is the true mistress of Manderley; and as such she seeks to deny the heroine her identity--to ensure that her shadow forever eclipse this new Mrs. de Winter.

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Maxim's Reliability

by Pimms_delight, October 13, 2014

I disagree with your remake that to question's Maxim's account of Rebecca is to miss the point. The reason we know Maxim is telling the truth (up to a point) is because of everyone else's reactions to Rebecca. Especially Frank and Danvers.

That's what's so scary about Rebecca is that she is forever beautiful, forever young and forever unable to answer our questions. She has planned to tell Frank about what had happened in London that day so she couldn't have had some big conspiracy to get Maxim to kill her, it was probably spur of the... Read more

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