Sitting in the library with Jasper beside them, husband and wife discuss the true story of Maxim's marriage to Rebecca. She was beautiful, charming, and brilliant, he says, but she was also wicked, selfish, and deceitful. Their marriage was a sham from the beginning: on their honeymoon in Monte Carlo, they stopped at the same vista where Maxim would later drive the heroine, and Rebecca told him that she would be a perfect hostess, a wonderful mistress of Manderley; but that in return, he would have to let her live her life as she pleased. Because he loved Manderley and his family name, and wanted to avoid scandal, Maxim agreed. And so for years, everyone believed that he had a perfect marriage, and Rebecca turned Manderley into the greatest showplace in England. But all the while, she was spending her days in London, where she galavanted with a shady group of friends, or in the boathouse, where she took her various lovers. She had a voracious sexual appetite; she and her cousin Jack Favell were lovers, but she also tried to seduce Beatrice's husband Giles, and even Frank. And because appearances were maintained all the while, Maxim allowed the debauchery to continue.
But eventually Rebecca pushed her husband too far. One night, he went down to her cottage on the beach with a gun, hoping to frighten Favell with it. He found Rebecca alone, and told her that he would divorce her if she did not break off her relationship with Favell and her other friends. Rebecca laughed, and told him that he would never be able to prove any of her infidelities in a court of law: he would have no evidence, and all the servants would be on her side, and so would all who knew the couple and attended their galas. Rebecca proceeded to tell him that she might tame her behavior anyway; she was pregnant with Favell's child, which everyone would assume was Maxim's child, and which she would raise as heir to Manderley. Upon hearing this, Maxim broke down, and he shot her. He carried her to her sailboat, locked her corpse below decks, and then took the boat out to sea, where he drove spikes into the hull and rowed away in the dinghy, letting the boat sink. Months later, a drowned female body turned up in another town; thinking that it might belong to the mysteriously vanished Mrs. de Winter, authorities asked Maxim to come look at the body. To quell all suspicion, Maxim identified the body as Rebecca's, even though he knew that Rebecca's body was still where he had left it, at the bottom of the cove.
When she has heard this story, the heroine embraces her husband, and tells him that their situation is not as bad as he thinks: no one knows the truth except for the two of them; Maxim can tell the police that he made a mistake with the earlier corpse, and there will be nothing to make anyone suspect foul play. Just then the telephone rings.
In the fairy tale "Bluebeard," a young bride opens a locked room in her husband's castle and discovers a terrible secret: he has killed all his previous wives and stowed them there. In Rebecca, the fairy tale is turned on its head. Like the girl in "Bluebeard," the heroine discovers that Maxim killed his first wife; but it was Rebecca, not Maxim, who was evil, and Rebecca rather deserved the death she received. This discovery is one of the book's two major plot twists--twists that come as shocks to readers and characters alike. Every characteristic we thought we could ascribe to Rebecca with certainty--her beauty, her wit, her charm, her perfection--turn out to be illusions, concealing a nature that was in fact utterly depraved. Once a figure of such perfection that the heroine could never hope to equal her, Rebecca has now become a figure of consummate evil.
As is the case with any good mystery thriller, all of the strange details of Rebecca's plot fall into place with the disclosure of one over-arching explanation. We now understand Favell's relationship with his cousin and her housekeeper, as well as Beatrice and Giles's reluctance to visit Manderley, and Frank Crawley's distress at the heroine's suggestion that Maxim is still in love with Rebecca. The cryptic comments that Ben made on the beach now make sense: he must have witnessed Rebecca meeting with her lovers, and she threatened him with the insane asylum if he ever told anyone. And finally, we understand how Rebecca got on so well with the sinister Mrs. Danvers, and why Mrs. Danvers remains so devoted to her now that she is dead; the two women shared in common a truly evil streak.
The reader may object to the fact that the novel expects us to sympathize with an admitted murderer (Maxim), and to accept without question his account of his dead wife's character. But to take this view misses the point: here there are no shades of gray; just as Rebecca is revealed to be wholly bad, so too must we accept Maxim as wholly in the right. Everything in Rebecca--every hint and piece of foreshadowing--has been leading up to this point: now the heroine finally realizes, with a strange sense of relief, that the first wife, the unassailable maternal figure who seemed to have such a hold on Maxim, was in fact completely evil--thus Maxim did not love her; indeed, he could not have loved her. Rather, his affections are reserved solely for the heroine. All ambiguity disperses, and this new certainty saves and transforms their marriage; it also allows the heroine, for the first time, to become who she is: namely, Mrs. de Winter. The only question left is whether the transformation comes too late--whether Rebecca's corpse can now bring down Maxim, as her ghost almost brought down the heroine.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!