In the days that follow, the heroine feels adrift in the vast halls of Manderley. She loses her way frequently, having to ask servants for directions, and once she wanders into the closed-off, dusty west wing, where she encounters the sinister Mrs. Danvers and slips away as soon as possible. She constantly feels nervous, worrying that the servants are secretly laughing at her, and all the while, the specter of her perfect, beautiful predecessor, Rebecca, hangs over her. The heroine's mood lightens somewhat with a visit from Maxim's sister Beatrice and her husband Giles, and from Frank Crawley, Manderley's overseer; she feels awkward at first, but Beatrice, a talkative, athletic woman, draws her aside and treats her with friendly consideration. She encourages the heroine to stand up for herself with the servants, particularly Mrs. Danvers--who, we learn, "simply adored Rebecca." Beatrice also advises her to buy new clothes and find herself a hobby, something like horseback riding, Beatrice's own passion. As the visitors depart, Maxim's sister mentions that the heroine is far from what she had expected: "you see," she says, "you are so very different from Rebecca."
After their guests depart, Maxim and the heroine take a walk together in the rain over the house grounds, accompanied by Jasper, one of the spaniels. They descend into a beautiful valley, where a stream runs through a bed of azaleas--the "Happy Valley," Maxim calls it. The heroine is entranced by the place, and it comes as a shock to her when the valley opens suddenly onto a shingled beach. Jasper runs away from them, then, down the rocks toward the sea, and then around a bend in the rocks. Maxim refuses to follow him, but the heroine chases the dog, finally finding him on a second beach, where a mildly retarded man is digging for clams. She asks him for some string to make a leash for Jasper, but he doesn't understand, so she goes over to a dilapidated boathouse nearby and scavenges some twine to lead the dog back to the estate. She rejoins Maxim, and they have a fight: he tells her heatedly that the beach and the boathouse evoke bad memories for him, and she goes tearfully inside to tea. "Oh, God, what a fool I was to come back," Maxim says bitterly.
The rest of the week sees much rainy weather, and people from the neighborhood come to call on the new mistress of Manderley. The heroine suffers through these visits, even returning some of them, and begins to learn more details about Rebecca, who was apparently famous for her beauty, wit, charm, and her skill as a hostess. After one of her visits, to the wife of the local bishop, the heroine encounters Frank Crawley, whose quiet company she enjoys, and walks with him. She asks him about Rebecca, and though he seems reluctant to speak of her, he tells the heroine that the boathouse by the beach was hers once, and that she used it to give "moonlight picnics, and--one thing and another." Rebecca moored her boat at the boathouse, he says, the same boat that she took out the night she drowned, and Frank tells the heroine how the body was washed up miles away two months later, and how Maxim had to go to another town in order to identify his wife. When the heroine begins to confide in Crawley about her feelings of inadequacy in her attempt to live up to Rebecca's precedent, the overseer grows upset, and tells her, "forget it, Mrs. de Winter, forget it, as he has done, thank heaven, and the rest of us. We none of us want to bring back the past, Maxim least of all."
The more we learn about Manderley, the more it comes to stand as a symbol for the heroine's self. The heroine's inability to assert her authority--manifested in her fear of the servants and the way she easily gets lost in the corridors and rooms--symbolizes her failure to accept who she has become, namely, Mrs. de Winter. By failing to make her new home fully her own, by allowing Mrs. Danvers to continue to run the house, she effectively cedes her new title back to the previous Mrs. de Winter, Rebecca. The house remains as it was when Rebecca ran it, because Rebecca's servant is still in charge, and the west wing remains closed off and unchanged, a symbol of Rebecca's continued presence in the household. At one point, Mrs. Danvers calls the heroine on the house telephone, and asks "Mrs. de Winter?" The heroine, without thinking, replies: "I am afraid you have made a mistake... Mrs. de Winter has been dead for over a year." In her own mind, she cannot accept that she, and not Rebecca, is mistress of Manderley.
Meanwhile, more information emerges concerning Maxim's first wife. The book is, in a sense, a mystery story, in which the heroine accumulates knowledge gradually, and often accidentally. In these chapters, she learns about Mrs. Danvers's relationship with Rebecca from the friendly, amusing Beatrice, and then she hears about the boathouse/cottage, and the manner of Rebecca's death, from Frank Crawley. She also meets Ben, the retarded man on the beach, and his appearance marks the first hint of the secrets that are being kept from her. "She's gone in the sea," he says out of nowhere, obviously referring to Rebecca, "she won't come back no more." Then he adds, "I never said nothing, did I?", leaving the reader to wonder what he said "nothing" about.
Throughout the first half of the book the heroine is a prisoner of her assumption that Maxim adored Rebecca, that she was beautiful, brilliant, flawless. The reader, however, may notice that Beatrice and Giles, who, Maxim says, almost never came to the house during Rebecca's lifetime, now come immediately to meet the heroine, and are very friendly; if they had truly liked Rebecca, one might expect them to treat Maxim's new wife coolly--or to refrain from visiting at all--especially as the marriage has taken place so soon after Rebecca's death. And then there is Frank Crawley, a paragon of virtue, who seems genuinely shocked when the heroine compares herself unfavorably to Rebecca. "I should say," he replies blusteringly, "that kindliness, and sincerity, and if I may say so--modesty--are worth far more to a man, to a husband, than all the wit and beauty in the world." The heroine takes this comment as merely an attempt to console her; and yet, if read carefully, the statement seems to suggest that kindliness, sincerity, and particularly modesty, were all lacking in Rebecca.
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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