Literature Study GuidesRebeccaChapters 1 2 Summary

Rebecca | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca | Chapters 1-2 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 1

Rebecca begins with a famous description of the narrator's dream: "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again." The narrator dreams that she is approaching Manderley, the estate where she lived years ago, when she was first married. She describes what Manderley might have looked like after the passage of many years had rendered it overgrown with foliage and the "monstrous" rhododendrons that once grew there. The narrator describes her dream of traveling up the long drive and into the house itself, which first appears as it might have when she lived there and then transforms into a tomb-like place, empty of life. As Chapter 1 ends, the narrator returns to reality, which is a "bare little hotel bedroom" that she shares with her husband.

Chapter 2

The couple is wandering through Europe to avoid the people and troubling memories associated with their former life at Manderley. They live in a series of small hotels, relishing the anonymity, calm, and even boredom—great contrasts with the drama and distress they faced at Manderley. The narrator recalls brief, long-ago scenes. She mentions names—Mrs. Danvers, the dog Jasper—and foreshadows conflicts using images such as "that freezing, superior smile of hers" and "the stealthy movement of a woman in evening dress." The narrator has clearly escaped a terrible fate, but she only hints at its exact nature. The narrator then focuses on the present time in an unidentified Mediterranean setting and subsequently on the grand hotel in Monte Carlo where she met her husband. Here the real story begins to unfold, as the narrator describes her job as the former paid companion of Mrs. Van Hopper, a wealthy American woman traveling through Europe. She recalls servants' and hotel clerks' slights and the boorish behavior of Mrs. Van Hopper, who is quick to pounce on anyone who offers the possibility of connections in society. It is she who first mentions Maxim de Winter to the narrator. "It's Max de Winter ... the man who owns Manderley," Mrs. Hopper says after peering at him through her lorgnette. "You've heard of it, of course. He looks ill, doesn't he? They say he can't get over his wife's death."

Analysis

The opening chapters of Rebecca introduce its conflict, main characters, settings, and some important themes and symbols, as the narrator returns to Manderley in a dream. The first and most obvious symbol is Manderley itself, which represents the past, dark secrets, and loss. As the narrator remarks when she first sees the estate in her dream, "There was Manderley, our Manderley, secretive and silent as it had always been." The narrator goes on to describe another important symbol in the novel, the rhododendrons: "The rhododendrons stood fifty feet high, twisted and entwined with bracken, and they had entered into alien marriage with a host of nameless shrubs." As the novel progresses, the meaning of this symbol becomes apparent: the rhododendrons are associated with Rebecca and her sexuality.

The opening dream sequence at Manderley is also significant because the narrator's time there is like a nightmare from which she has woken but which she cannot entirely forget. The conflict between the pull of the past and the couple's need to break from it begins in these opening chapters and is a major theme throughout the book. For instance, Chapter 2 begins with the narrator observing of Manderley that they can never go back, because the things they have tried to forget "would stir again, and that sense of fear ... might in some manner unforeseen become a living companion, as it had been before."

Rebecca exemplifies the gothic form from its opening chapters. First, there is the looming, isolated, overgrown, and ruined mansion that is not just a symbol but almost a character. The gothic tradition includes stories where supernatural, frightening events and highly charged emotions pervade sometimes isolated, grand castles. Rebecca draws from this tradition and makes it more modern. Instead of a castle set on a moor, there is Manderley near the water; in the place of dukes or duchesses, du Maurier offers the British upper class of the 1920s and 1930s. Other gothic touches include the eerie dream sequence, the mysterious figures, and the suggestion of dark secrets from the past. Who is Mrs. Danvers? Who is the ghostlike figure that marks the ground with the "imprint of a high-heeled satin shoe"? What terrible events took place at Manderley that have caused the narrator and her husband to flee and to fear its memory still? By posing these questions, the beginning of Rebecca draws the reader into a gothic story.

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