Rebecca | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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Rebecca | Plot Summary

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Rebecca is told in flashback by a nameless narrator who is living a nomadic life with her husband, Maxim de Winter, wandering from one European hotel to another. She looks back on her life prior to and just after her marriage. The novel opens with the description of the narrator's dream of Manderley, the seaside mansion where she once lived. In the dream, the mansion is overgrown with plants and empty as a tomb. The narrator then returns to her life in the present day, describing how she is living in a hotel room with her husband. Finally, she begins telling her story chronologically.

In 1930s Monte Carlo, the narrator is working as a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, an older American woman who delights in associating with the rich and well connected. When a mysterious widower, de Winter, dines next to them, Mrs. Van Hopper brashly introduces herself, as her shy young companion winces in embarrassment. Despite this uncomfortable first meeting, the older Englishman pursues the naïve young woman and they quickly marry.

After their honeymoon, the newlyweds arrive at Manderley, de Winter's famously beautiful seaside estate. The second Mrs. de Winter soon finds herself and her new home haunted by the household members' memories of, and her own fantasies about, her husband's first wife, the Rebecca of the book's title. Though the narrator learns that Rebecca drowned in a boating accident, her presence is everywhere in the showplace home she created. In fact, the deceased first Mrs. de Winter becomes one of the the narrator's antagonists. While the narrator finds a few allies in her husband's sister, brother, and the estate manager, Frank, she constantly feels awkward, inadequate, and insecure at Manderley, especially around the servants. She often compares herself to the glamorous and sophisticated Rebecca and cannot believe that her husband loves her.

Mrs. Danvers, the sinister housekeeper, takes every opportunity to undermine the second Mrs. de Winter, whom Mrs. Danvers sees as an interloper. The narrator's questions of identity culminate at the annual fancy dress ball, when Mrs. Danvers convinces the narrator to wear a costume once worn by Rebecca, angering Maxim. At her lowest point, and goaded by Mrs. Danvers, the narrator considers suicide. But the startling discovery of Rebecca's wrecked sailboat, with her body still on board, gives her reason to live. Maxim confesses that he despised Rebecca, who flaunted her affairs with other men to him, and killed her in a fit of jealous rage. Finally able to believe that Maxim loves her, not Rebecca, the narrator begins to more confidently assume her role as the second Mrs. de Winter. She suffers with him through the inquest into Rebecca's death and is relieved when the death is ruled a suicide. Though Rebecca's cousin and lover, Jack Favell, tries to tell the authorities that Rebecca didn't commit suicide—that Maxim murdered her—the discovery that Rebecca was dying of cancer gives the inquest ruling even more validity.

Favell vows revenge, and as the de Winters return from their meeting with the doctor who informed them of Rebecca's cancer diagnosis, they learn that Mrs. Danvers has fled the estate. As they near Manderley, they see the mansion in flames. The loss of Manderley sends Maxim and Mrs. de Winter into their life of perpetual exile.

Rebecca Plot Diagram

Falling ActionRising ActionResolutionClimax123456789101112Introduction


1 The narrator looks back on her past life at Manderley.

Rising Action

2 The narrator recalls meeting widower Maxim de Winter.

3 The narrator and Maxim fall in love and marry.

4 The couple arrive at Manderley to begin married life.

5 The narrator meets her nemesis, housekeeper Mrs. Danvers.

6 The narrator meets Ben and Jack Favell.

7 The narrator visits Rebecca's bedroom.

8 Misled by Mrs. Danvers, the narrator wears Rebecca's dress.


9 Goaded by Mrs. Danvers, the narrator nearly kills herself.

Falling Action

10 Maxim tells the narrator he had not loved Rebecca.

11 Though he murdered Rebecca, Maxim is cleared of guilt.


12 Manderley burns; Maxim and the narrator become exiles.

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