top of page

A Man, a House, and Two Women

Recent adaptation Rebecca (2020) of the same title by Daphne Du Maurier yet again has attempted to cope with a dubious image of Maxim de Winter – one of the main characters – an aristocrat whom the nameless heroine of the book and the narrator of the story falls in love with or rather, by binding herself with him, falls into a trap of self-deception and delusion.

The challenge of adapting the book by Daphne Du Maurier lies in the difficulty of portraying a man who is seemingly not lovable, admirable, or kind, yet has an obvious status, influence, money, and power. An epitome of a ‘true man’, so to speak, based on the traditional male paradigm. But the true man Maxim de Winter is not or, at least, he does not appear to be the one. And, this is exactly what film makers and screenwriters who attempt to adapt the book to screen are struggling with. For, Daphne Du Maurier wrote a cunning, complex, and mind twisting story of a man, a house, and two women.

On the one hand, the story shows a seeming triumph of a ‘good’ woman over the ‘bad’, but, at the same time, tells of duality and oneness, independence and freedom, submissiveness and psychological masochism, traditionalism and rebellion, jealousy and devotion, passion and love. In addition, it is a story of a female struggle with the male paradigm of sex, dominance, money, status, and men’s views over women and their places in the male world. But, it is also a 'love' story of a possessive and jealous man and his passion for an unusual and outstanding woman - Rebecca, and his search for happiness with another one - the opposite to Rebecca. In essence, it is a story of a man, a house (Manderley), and two women. Different, yet drawn to each other, these women get bound with the house itself and with the man who owns it. They have their victories and failures, but it is Rebecca, the first Mistress of Manderley, who defeats Maxim de Winter by destroying his pride and ego even from beyond the grave.

Rebecca (1940) and Rebecca TV series (1997)

Unfortunately, none of the adaptations attempted – Rebecca (1940), Rebecca TV series (1997), and Rebecca (2020) – succeed in showing the complexity of the book and its message, glazing over the essence of the story with diversions, changes, and misinterpretations that suited better the male paradigm. It is no surprise, though, as Daphne Du Maurier, back in 1938, dared to tackle issues which even nowadays scare off many a male film maker/screenwriter.

At the time of publication, Daphne Du Maurier feared that her book was ‘too gloomy’ and the ending was ‘too grim’ to appeal to readers. But readers proved otherwise. The book became an immediate and overwhelming commercial success.

Estate that was used to depict Manderley in Rebecca (1940)

The book Rebecca (1938) was written in Egypt where Daphne Du Maurier was with her husband, Frederick Browning, an officer in the Grenadier Guards, stationed there with his battalion. Daphne missed England very much, which found its reflection in the book’s lavish descriptions of the Cornish nature and the gardens of Manderley. The prototype and the inspiration for Manderley was the house Menabilly located near Fowey in Cornwall. The book's success allowed Daphne Du Maurier to lease Menabilly that served her as an inspiration for several other of novels. She called Menabilly the ‘House of Secrets’.

Manderley as Menabilly was not only a house of secrets but also a ‘fortress’ of tradition - the only true love of Maxim de Winter. His bond to it reflected his male pride and ego. The two women - Rebecca, the first wife of Maxim de Winer, - and the nameless narrator of the story, his second wife, represent a female duality – separately present in the two women, yet united in each of them. One side is obvious, and the other one is hidden.

Rebecca was the ‘breeding, beauty, and brains.’ An independent, intelligent, freedom loving, she broke all male conventions and took a stand in life, resembling a man in her attitude and fearlessness. Being a strong opponent, she cannot be intimidated or manipulated by Maxim de Winter. Knowing Maxim’s bond with the house, Rebecca negotiates a deal with him. She is to make Manderley famous, glamorous and most talked about estate in the country, and he will let her live the free life she is used to. Not being able to divorce her, as he is too proud to admit a defeat, Maxim de Winter agrees. However, the deal puts quite a strain on him, as his ego is permanently wounded by Rebecca’s superiority.

One day years later, the tension heightens when Maxim de Winter finds his wife return earlier from London than expected. He takes his gun and goes to the sea cottage to talk to her. Not being able to contain his temper when provoked by Rebecca saying she is pregnant with a child from another man, Maxim de Winter shoots her. The bullet goes right through the heart and instantly kills her. Having committed a double murder, he then proceeds to wash the blood off the floor of the cottage, puts Rebecca’s body into the cabin of the yacht and sinks it. The dark secret takes hold of his mind and heart. To take his mind off the murder of his wife and a child, he goes to Monte Carlo.

In Monte Carlo, Maxim de Winter meets an inexperienced, naïve, submissive, painfully shy young girl – the narrator of the story. Attracted by her weak character and her submissiveness, bordering with masochism, he decides that he will have her for himself. He proposes to marry him but denies the girl a romantic wedding, saying he has already had one. The changing of hands ‘deal’ is sealed behind the closed doors in the suite of Miss Van Hopper – a rich American lady to whom the nameless girl was a paid companion.

On coming to Manderley, the new Mrs de Winter falls in love with the estate, not knowing that she falls in love with Rebecca’s personality and charm imprinted in it. Everything at the estate speaks of Rebecca – interiors, daily routines, traditions, servants’ behaviour, the garden. Unconsciously captivated with the Rebecca’s ‘touch’, the girl submits to her, yet at the same time fears her. The influence of Rebecca’s charms become apparent when on the advice of Mrs Danvers, the girl chooses her costume for the ball. The exact same one that Rebecca chose a year ago. By putting the costume on, the girl transforms into a beautiful woman, very much resembling Rebecca.

However, the self-transformation and self-growth of the new Mrs de Winter is not what Maxim de Winter wishes for. Without any explanation he orders to take the costume off. Lacking on self-identity and confidence, not to mention character and strength, the girl accepts the situation and even blames herself for everything.

The real mind-boggling twist comes when Maxim de Winter confesses to the girl of the double murder he had committed. In such a situation any other normal person would be appalled, but not the girl. As if in a trance, she can only think of one thing – how to conceal the secret and help Maxim de Winter avoid punishment. But what about the readers? The readers follow the trap set by Daphne Du Maurier. So much the readers are engrossed in what the girl thinks and feels that they also become the accomplices of the committed murder.

Readers, forgetting the confession, are led under the name of ‘love’ through the dark and twisting passages of fight for the truth to the final scene of Maxim de Winter being stripped of his pride and ego. In the book, Daphne Du Maurier does not reveal who sets Manderley on fire. But by the red colour of the sky visible in the horizon in the final scene, we can guess that it was Rebecca indeed, as red colour in the book is connected to her.

In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock was the first film maker to attempt to adapt the book to screen. All other adaptation consciously or not followed his movie’s path. Some did it with more bravery, like in the Rebecca TV series (1997), and some with less, like in Rebecca (2020) Netflix movie.

Now, going back to the first movie made by Alfred Hitchcock let’s see major turning points of the story and how they were interpreted or rather misinterpreted by him.

Rebecca (1940) by Alfred Hitchcock vs Rebecca (1938) by Daphne du Maurier

1. First acquaintance with the heroine

We first meet the nameless young girl walking on a path by the sea with her sketching album under her arm, alone. Such introduction of the heroine plants in the viewer’s mind a thought that the girl might possess some degree of freedom and independence. Which of course is not true.

In the book, we first ‘see’ the heroine at the dining room of the Hotel Cote d’Azure in Monte Carlo, sitting at a table with Mrs Van Hopper – an American lady. We sense straight away the girl’s dependency, shyness, and inferiority. Daphne Du Maurier does it simply by letting the girl to describe the difference in dishes that are served to herself and Mrs Van Hooper. Mrs Van Hopper has a plate ‘heaped high with ravioli, her eyes dart suspiciously from her plate to mine’. The heroine, on the other hand, is served a plate of ‘ham and tongue that somebody had sent back to the cold buffet half an hour before as badly cut’.

In Daphne Du Maurier’s story there can be no mistake in thinking that the girl possesses neither freedom nor independence nor any kind of status.

2. Meeting Maxim de Winter

Before we are offered a chance to meet the heroine, we see Maxim de Winter, standing on the edge of a cliff, looking down at the sea, appearing as if he is about to jump off the cliff. But at the very moment the viewer thinks he will indeed jump a young girl with a sketching album under her arm appears on the path and cries out: No. Stop! A short dialogue follows at the end of which Maxim de Winter says: ‘Well, get on with your walking. Do not hang about here screaming.’ The scene makes the viewer to believe that Maxim de Winter is tormented by something or challenging his fate. He also appears as a person who does not want to be disturbed by some passing by young girls.

In the book, the solitude of Maxim de Winter is not broken by some young girl. Rather, it is infringed by a person of his own status – Mrs Van Hopper. The heroine is simply ‘used’ by both parties in their social etiquette battle.

While in the hotel lounge, Mrs Van Hopper ‘invites’ Maxim de Winter to have coffee with her, sending the heroine to pass on an order to a waiter for an extra coffee cup, obviously excluding the girl from the company of herself and Maxim de Winter. Yet, Maxim de Winter, in opposition to Mrs Van Hopper proclaims: ‘I’m afraid I must contradict you. You are both having coffee with me.’ In the following scene, the girl becomes a sort of ball in the ‘tennis’ game of Mrs Van Hopper and Maxim de Winter. Being a ‘hostage’ of the situation and lacking in power, the heroine helplessly sits and bears the scene peppered with extreme rudeness and bullying by Maxim de Winter. The culmination of the ‘battle’ comes when Mrs Van Hopper suggests the heroine to make herself useful and help Maxim de Winter unpack. Maxim de Winter escapes by concluding: ‘I cling to the family motto. He travels the fastest who travels alone.’

While Hitchcock’s version leaves some space for a future romance, Daphne Du Maurier clearly shows that nothing good can come out of the acquittance with Maxim de Winter.

3. Invitation for a ‘ride’

During an unexpected and prompted by Maxim de Winter lunch in the hotel dining room, the heroine reveals some things about herself - her love of painting, her late father’s occupation - a painter (an invention of Hitchcock), her relation to Mrs Van Hopper – a ‘friend of the bosom’ e.g. a companion, and her plans for the day. At the same time, Maxim de Winter does not reveal a thing about himself. Finding out that the heroine is going to sketch in the afternoon, he offers to drive her to her chosen spot, finishing his suggestion with a phrase: ‘Come on. Eat up like a good girl.’ The later refers to the food on her plate that she did not want to finish.

Daphne Du Maurier uses the same scene as a ‘bait’ setting. Seeing the clumsiness of the heroine at the table, Maxim de Winter ceases the moment and invites her to share lunch with him. Not revealing anything about himself, he tries to fish out as much information about the girl as possible, asking her suggestive questions and leading her to expose information about herself – her first encounter with Manderley, her being alone – both of her parents died, - and her love to her father. But in particular, he is interested at what price Mrs Van Hopper bought the privilege of having a ‘friend of the bosom’, in other words a companion. Satisfied with all the answers he sums it up: ’I shall have to congratulate Mrs Van Hopper. You’re cheap at ninety pounds a year.’ He also plays quite well on the notion of both of them being alone in the world: ’You know. We’ve got a bond in common, you and I. We are both alone in the world. Oh, I’ve got a sister, though we don’t see much of each other, and an ancient grandmother whom I pay duty visits to three times a year, but neither of them make for companionship.

The difference in presenting the intentions of Maxim de Winter is obvious. Alfred Hitchcock makes it light and innocent, albeit a bit patronising on Maxim de Winter's side. Daphne Du Maurier, on the other hand, shows the alarming signs of the situation and what it is leading to, hinting to true intentions of Maxim de Winter in regards to the heroine.

4. ‘Courting’ in Monte Carlo

The courting starts from the scene at the belvedere. The heroine sketches a portrait of Maxim de Winter while he watches the sea. There is a brief mention of Manderley and a man who has drowned somewhere near Monte Carlo, as well as couple of scenes in the car - one focusing on the subject of Maxim de Winter ‘charity and kindness towards the girl. There is also a scene of a slow dance where the heroine dressed in an elegant frock dances with Maxim de Winter. Never mind that the heroine could not have afforded such a frock in the first place. All glamorous, all refined.

In the book, the courting scenes not only reveal more of what sort of man Maxim de Winter is, but also offer the heroine glimpses of his first wife’s identity image. At the very first ride suggested at lunch by Maxim de Winter, he takes the heroine up the winding mountain road, reaching a summit which ‘edge bordered a vertical slope that crumbled into vacancy, a fall of perhaps two thousand feet.’ Although enjoying the ride, the heroine is suddenly sobered by the view of the vertical slop. At the summit, she finds out that this place bears a significance to Maxim de Winter and he has been there before. On the way back, Maxim de Winter talks about Manderley and the nature that surrounds it, flowers, shrubs, bushes – all of which give much food for the heroine’s daydreaming:

The daffodils were in bloom, stirring in the evening breeze, golden heads cupped upon lean stalks, and however many you might pick there would be no thinning of the ranks, they were massed like an army, shoulder to shoulder. On a bank below the lawns, crocuses were planted, golden pink, and mauve. The primrose was more vulgar, a homely pleasant creature who appeared in every cranny like a weedToo early yet for bluebells, their heads were still hidden beneath last year’s leaves…’

Arriving at the hotel, the heroine finds in the pocket of the car a poetry book which Maxim de Winter allows her to take with her. The poetry book is a first tangible encounter with Rebecca, for it is her who gave the book to Maxim de Winter, signing it ‘Max – from Rebecca. 17 May.’ ‘The book was well worn, well thumbed, falling open automatically at what must be a much-frequented page’:

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days:

I fled Him, down the arches of the years:

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind: and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vistaed slopes I sped

And shot, precipitated

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,

From those strong feet that followed, followed after.

For Daphne Du Maurier the ‘courting’ in Monte Carlo is the premises for acquainting the young girl with her rival, the first wife of Maxim de Winter, Rebecca. For, the image of mysterious Rebecca the heroine begins to form in her mind will be the one that she will be constantly comparing herself to and also competing with and resenting.

5. Proposal

The proposal by Maxim de Winter happens quickly, almost accidentally with some lightness to it, taking place over the breakfast brought to Maxim de Winter’s suite. The heroine goes with the flow, although a bit shocked at the swiftness of events. Some minutes later, Mrs Van Hopper is summoned to the suite and is told the news. Watching the scene, one might think Maxim de Winter is a noble rescuer of the heroine from the grasp of the overbearing and annoying Mrs Van Hopper.

Daphne Du Maurier, however, leads the reader further along the winding path of Maxim de Winter’s intent. The opening line of Maxim de Winter as the heroine enters his room to say good-bye is: ‘What do you want?’ The phrase that does not really bring love or romance into mind. As girl proceeds to explain the reason for her visit, Maxim de Winter gets more and more annoyed, sounding as if his plans have been meddled up with. Dressed, he proceeds to the dining room for his breakfast, dismissing the fact that Mrs Van Hopper is waiting for the heroine in her suite. His proposal reminds more of a business proposal of a new employer: ‘So, Mrs Van Hopper has had enough of Monte Carlo, and now she wants to go home. So do I. She to New York and I to Manderley. Which would you prefer? You can take your choice.’ The way the proposal is made points yet again at his true intention - to acquire the girl for himself. To hint at the mistake the girl is making Daphne du Maurier places a hard, pale quarter of a tangerine onto her plate: ‘The tangerine was very sour. I had a sharp, bitter taste in my mouth, and I had only just noticed it.’ Tangerine symbolises happiness, contentment, energy, motivation, lies, betrays and relationships. The happiness certainly has a sour taste for the heroine.

The news of the engagement is delivered to Mrs Van Hopper by Maxim de Winter himself, behind the closed door of her suite, as if some secret deal is made. The heroine is being changed hands, and the conditions are known only to Mrs Van Hopper and Maxim de Winter. Meanwhile, the heroine tears out a page that has an inscription made by Rebecca from the Maxim de Winter’s love poetry book and burns it.

6. Arriving at Manderley

The arrival at Manderley is accompanied by rain. The welcome is brief but grand – all the servants including the housekeeper, Mrs Danvers, are present. We get a quick glimpse of the imposing hall, and then proceed straight to the bedroom of Mrs and Mr de Winter in the east wing of the house, where the heroine is changing into a beautiful frock for dinner.

In the book, the arrival at Manderley is not accompanied by rain. In fact, rain was left behind in London. Manderley greets the heroine with sunshine and blue skies and a beautiful, lush garden. The garden, as the heroine to discover later, was tastefully designed by Rebecca. The scarlet rhododendrons being the favourite flowers of hers: ‘… the nameless shrubs had disappeared, and on the either side of us was a wall of colour, blood red, reaching far above our heads. We were amongst the rhododendrons. They startled me with their crimson faces, massed one upon the other in incredible profusion, showing no leaf, no twig, nothing but the slaughterous red, luscious and fantastic, unlike any rhododendron plant I had seen before.’

On entering the hall, the heroine sees a group of servants. A woman with the face resembling a skull comes forward and greets her. It is Mrs Danvers. The skull resemblance is symbolic as it denotes transformation that is up to the heroine to go through or not. Mrs Danvers will make it clear from the beginning: ‘It’s for you to make your own time, Madam. I’m here to carry out your orders.’ But the heroine will not take up the hint.

While in the newly renovated bedroom, Mrs Danvers shares with the heroine more information on Rebecca and once again points that she is at the service of the new Mistress of the house: ‘If you find anything not to your liking you will tell me at once?

7. Dresses, night gowns, and underwear

The heroine in her bedroom - Rebecca (1940)

The Hitchcock’s movie shows many beautiful dresses and frocks, most of which is worn by the heroine herself. She is always dressed elegantly but understated. Yet, when the heroine orders a more elaborate evening dress and dolls herself up for one of the dinners, Maxim de Winter is rather surprised: ‘What on earth have you done to yourself?’ and then quickly: ‘Oh, dear, oh dear, you look lovely, lovely. It’s very nice for a change.’

The question of the heroine’s undergarments is never raised. Instead, it is the underwear and a night gown of Rebecca that are in focus. Mrs Danvers shows them to the heroine during the tour of Rebecca’s bedroom: ‘I keep her underwear on this side. They were made specially for her by the nuns of the Convent of Saint Claire.’ And then picking up Rebecca’s night gown: ‘Did you see anything so delicate? Look, you can see my hand through it.’

For Daphne du Maurier it is not so much the question of the gowns and undergarments that Rebeca wore, but the clothes that the heroine possess or rather a lack of proper garments. Arriving at Manderley, the heroine has the same clothes that she had before she married Maxim de Winter. He never bothered to take her shopping neither in London nor in Paris while they were there. The fact that Maxim de Winter’s sister is quick to point out: ‘I wonder Maxim did not stay a week or so in London and get you something decent to wear. I must say, I think it’s rather selfish of him. So unlike him too. He’s generally so particular.’

The heroine was very shy about her underclothes as they were plain and inexpensive, unsexy even: ‘I used to sneak my chemise and nightgowns out of my drawer and mend them myself rather than ask her [Alice the housemaid] to do them. I had never thought of my underclothes before. As long as they were clean and neat I had not thought the material or the existence of lace mattered.’ Such attitude reveals a lot about the sexuality or rather absence of it in the heroine.

Later, the heroine will go to Rebecca’s bedroom and would examine the clothes there: ‘I got up from the stool and went and touched the dressing-gown on the chair. I picked up the slippers and held them in my hand. I touched the quilt on the bed, traced with my fingers the monogram on the nightdress case, R de W, interwoven and interlaced. The nightdress was inside the case, thin as gossamer, apricot in colour. I touched it, drew it out from the case, put it against my face.’

The way the heroine is dressed and her attitude towards her undergarments point at her undiscovered sexuality and sensuality. She certainly is a tactile person and is responsive to sensual pleasures. However, all of her senses are dulled and Maxim de Winter is not keen on awakening them.

8. The Ball

An idea of throwing a costume Ball comes from the heroine. She is also keen on organising it all by herself without the help of Mrs Danvers. This intention is shared with Maxim de Winter and he approves. The heroine’s choice of the costume comes out of the suggestion made by Mrs Danvers, as the heroine could not decide on what to wear. She copies the dress from a portrait in the family gallery and makes her entrance wearing the costume on the evening of the event, stunning her husband: ‘What the devil do you think you are doing? Go and take it off. It does not matter what you put on. Anything will do.’ However, we never see what she chooses to put on instead, as the Ball is interrupted by the rockets from the bay, signalling something has happened down there.

In the book, the suggestion of organising a costume Ball does not come from the heroine but from the guests visiting Manderley. Under their pressure Maxim de Winter gives in and agrees. Unlike in the movie, the heroine is not organising the event. This is done by the estate Manager, Frank, and Mrs Danvers. Deciding on the costume takes the heroine some time. She wants to impress her husband and the estate Manager, Frank, by appearing as someone they would never imagine her to be: ‘You won’t know me. You will both get the shock of your lives.’

The idea for the costume comes from a portrait in the family gallery: ‘I went upstairs to the minstrel’s gallery to have a look at the pictures. I knew them well of course by now, but had never studied them with a view to reproducing one of them as a fancy-dress. Mrs Danvers was right of course. What an idiot I had been not to think of it before. I always loved the girl in white, with a hat in her hand. It was a Raeburn, and the portrait was of Caroline de Winter, a sister of Maxim’s great-great grandfather.’

And so, the costume is made in London and the heroine all excited and thrilled is transformed into a beautiful woman and makes her appearance: ‘How do you do Mr de Winter?’ only to get an order to go and change. She would change indeed into a blue frock and would eventually join Maxim de Winter and would stand next to him the whole evening without uttering a word. One of the guests would call her a ‘forget-me-not’: ‘I tell you what, you ought to say you are a forget-me-not. They’re blue, aren’t they? Jolly little flowers, forget-me-nots. That’s right, isn’t it, De Winter? Tell your wife she must call herself a ‘forget-me-not.’

For the heroine, wearing the ‘wrong’ costume was not just an unintentional blunder, it was an attempt of transformation, becoming a character, possessing a personality, being closer to the perfection – the one that Rebecca was.

9. The Confession

The discovery of Rebecca’s yacht with a skeleton of the body prompts Maxim de Winter to make his confession in the Rebecca’s cottage where the heroine finds him sitting: ‘It’s over now, the thing’s happened. The thing I have dreaded day after day.’ He then proceeds to tell his story. He discloses that he hated Rebecca but for the reason he does not quite state, as, on the one hand, he says that she was ‘so lovely, so accomplished, so amusing’ that he was taken with her and charmed, and on the other hand, he accuses her: ‘She was incapable of love, of tenderness, or decency.’ He continues hinting that during their honeymoon in Monte Carlo Rebecca told him things about herself: ‘She stood there, laughing, her black hair blowing in the wind, and told me all about herself. Everything. Things I‘ll never tell a living soul.’ The heroine accepts without a doubt everything that Maxim de Winter tells her. Apparently, it was an accident during an argument between him and Rebecca. She ‘confessed’ to him of being pregnant with a child from another man. Maxim de Winter says he might have struck her. She stepped back and fell, hitting her head on the ‘heavy piece of ship’s tackle’. Maxim de Winter then takes her body to the yacht, locks it in the cabin, opens the seacocks and sinks the boat. Although the version of events is very close to the one described in the book, Alfred Hitchcock nonetheless does not dare to go with Daphne du Maurier's version of the confession, as it is too shocking. However, it is the one that makes the whole story so mind-boggling.

Daphne du Maurier sets Maxim de Winter confession in the library, by the fireplace, all proper and very English, all very decent. Against this proper decency, the reader then is presented with rather disturbing truths. But the most horrifying truth of all is that Maxim de Winter is a heartless murderer: ‘I killed Rebecca. I shot Rebecca in the cottage in the woods. When I killed her she was smiling still... I fired at her heart. The bullet passed right through. She did not fall at once. She stood there, looking at me, that slow smile on her face, her eyes wide open…I’d forgotten that when you shot a person there was so much blood. I had to go for water from the cove. I had to keep going backwards and forwards to the cove for water. Even by the fireplace, where she had not been, there was a stain.’

The heroine listens to the full confession and then accepts the story, worrying only about one thing: ‘He didn’t love Rebecca. He didn’t love Rebecca.’ The fact that Maxim de Winter committed a double murder does not horrify her, she becomes his accomplice in trying to escape the punishment. But before Maxim de Winter ‘buys’ her support, he gives her a prepayment: ‘Then he began to kiss me. He had not kissed me like this before. I put my hands behind his head and shut my eyes…

10. The Inquest

An unavoidable for Maxim de Winter inquest happens at the local school in Kerrith. The heroine, Mrs Danvers, Mr Favell are present among other public. The village fool is questioned, as well as the boat maker, Mr. Todd. Being a proud craftsman, Mr. Todd draws the attention to some abnormalities: ‘But there is a little more to it than that. The seacocks are the valves to drain out the boat. Yesterday, when I examined the boat, I found they’d been opened.’ When Maxim de Winter questioned to the reason of the yacht’s sinking or being made sank he gives no reason. The heroine realises the danger and faints. Later, sitting in the car beside the school where the inquest takes place, the heroine and Maxim de Winter encounter Mr Favell who shares with them a note that Rebecca wrote to him on the day she died. To settle the matter Maxim de Winter takes Mr Favell to the private room in the local pub where the heroine, the estate office Manager, Frank, and the colonel Julian join them.

In the book, although accompanying Maxim De Winter to Kerrith, the heroine stays out, not being present at the inquest. The reader does not hear what Maxim de Winter says there. The heroine joins in only at the very end of the inquest: ‘Somehow, in spite of myself, I found I was coming to the building where the inquest was being held. There has been little publicity about the actual time, and because of this there was no crowd waiting, as I have feared and expected.’ When Mr Todd is questioned, she faints and is being taken home by Frank, the estate Manager. She then waits for the news at Manderley: ‘After a minute Maxim came into the room. He looked very tired, old. There were lines at the corner of his mouth I had never noticed before. ‘It’s all over’, he said.’

The outcome of the inquest – the verdict: suicide. But the real ‘trial’ for Maxim de Winter is yet to come.

11. The ‘Trial’

While at the private room in the local pub, Mr Favell tries to bring Maxim de Winter to justice. He brings the evidence – the note Rebecca wrote to him on the day she died: ‘Jack darling, I have just seen the doctor and I’m going down to Manderley right away. I shall be at the cottage all this evening and shall leave the door open for you. I have something terribly important to tell you. Rebecca.’ Mr Favell then challenges the colonel Julyan to whether such a note could have been written by a person planning to commit a suicide. In absence of witnesses, Mr Favell calls for Mrs Danvers. She reluctantly reveals the name and the address of the doctor in London that Rebecca used to visit and the party, namely Maxim de Winter, Mr Favell, the colonel Julyan head to London to question the doctor for a possible motive of Rebecca’s ‘suicide’.

Unlike in the movie, Daphne du Maurier in her book creates a real suspenseful investigation scene at the library in Manderley with various hints, guess, and witnesses. While Maxim de Winter is at the vicarage to attend to Rebecca’s burial in the family crypt, the heroine has an unexpected visit from Mr Favell: ‘I’m going to see justice is done to Rebecca. Suicide… God Almighty… You and I know it wasn’t suicide, don’t’ we?’ But she does not have time to answer, for Maxim de Winter comes home. Mr Favell then produces a note written to him by Rebecca on the day of her death: ’I tried to ring you from the flat, but could get no answer. I’m going down to Manders right away. I shall be at the cottage this evening, and if you get this in time will you get the car and follow me. I’ll spend the night at the cottage, and leave the door open for you. I’ve got something to tell you and I want to see you as soon as possible. Rebecca.’

Mr Favell proceeds to blackmail Maxim de Winter with the note, yet the later puts a poker face and calls for the colonel Julyan. As Maxim de Winter tries to bluff his way through, the ad hoc ‘investigation’ proceeds. Mr Favell refers to the village fool, Ben, as a witness, but when he is brought to Manderley he is not able to say anything remotely comprehensive. Then Mrs Danvers is called to the library. Mrs Favell insists on her confirming that Rebecca was in love with him. To which Mrs Danvers replies: ‘She was not. She was not in love with you or with Mr de Winter. She was not in love with anyone. She despised all men. She was above all that.’

Looking for a motive of a possible ‘suicide’, not a murder, the colonel Julyan tries to find out what Rebecca did on the day of her death. Mrs Danvers producers Rebecca's diary and a mysterious name ‘Baker’ that no one heard of emerges. A number ‘M 0488’ scribbled in a hurry next to it. A further investigation reveals that it used to be a number of a doctor in London, who closed his practice half a year ago and is now retired. A decision is made to drive up to London next day to see the retired doctor.

12. The ‘Motive’

The very much thought after motive for a supposed suicide is found at the doctor’s office (in the movie the doctor still has his practice). In the presence of four men: Maxim de Winter, Mr Favell, the estate Manger, Frank, and the colonel Julyan, the doctor finds the record of Mrs Danvers – Mrs de Winter used it instead of her own name – and announces that she was terminally ill and had months to live. Interestingly enough, unlike in the book, Alfred Hitchcock chooses to include only men in this little committee.

In the book, Maxim de Winter, the colonel Julyan, Mr Favell, and the heroine take off on the journey to London. The heroine and Maxim de Winter pack their suitcases to stay a night in London, for the car drive takes about 6 hours. They arrive to London and find it hot and dusty. Driving around, they ask different passers by for the location of the Baker’s cottage, and finally find it. But they do not go in straight away but sit in the cars and wait for the time of five o’clock tea to pass, as they do not want to disturb the doctor during his tea time. As soon as they hear the doctor's family start playing tennis, they go in. The doctor is surprised to see such a large party but agrees to assist. He looks at the records and finds a file under Mrs Danvers name - Rebecca used it instead of her name, - and shares its content. The ‘motive’ for a supposed suicide is supplied but also another revealing truth:’ The X-rays showed a certain malformation of the uterus, I remember, which meant she [Rebecca] could never have had a child; but it was quite apart, it had nothing to do with the disease.’ Rebecca has indeed tricked both her husband and her lover.

13. The End

Maxim de Winter and his estate Manager, Frank, head home to Manderley, while Mr Favell rings to Mrs Danvers telling her the news about Rebecca’s illness. We then see Mrs Danvers a candle in hand going around Manderley, looking sinister. On the approach to Manderley, Maxim de Winter and Frank see unusual light in the horizon: [Frank:] ‘That cannot be the dawn breaking. In the winter you see Northern lights, isn’t it? [Maxim de Winter:] That’s not the Northern lights, that’s Manderley.’ They surge forward and find Manderley in flames. The heroine is standing outside with Maxim's dog. In the windows of the west wing, a figure of Mrs Danvers is visible. The flames consume her.

Daphne du Maurier, however, intended a different kind of message and for that reason the reader is not to know who set the fire to Manderley. The heroine and Maxim de Winter first dine in one of the restaurants in London: ‘It was quiet and happy and friendly in the restaurant. Maxim and I were together. Everything was over. Everything was settled. Rebecca was dead. Rebecca could not hurt us. She had played her last joke as Maxim had said. She could not do no more to us now.’ Meanwhile Maxim de Winter makes a call to his estate Manager, Frank, and receives some news: ‘Something rather odd though, he [Frank] thinks Mrs Danvers has cleared out. She’s gone, disappeared. She’d been packing all day, stripping her room of things, and the fellow from the station came for her boxes at about four o’clock. They looked for her and could not find her. She must have gone straight out of the house and through the woods. She never passed the lodge-gates.’

Although Maxim de Winter seems worried, the heroine thinks otherwise: ‘There was nothing to worry about at all. Mrs Danvers had gone. We should praise God for that, too. Everything had been so easy for us, so very easy. Eat up you fish.’

Yet, Maxim de Winter insists on driving to Manderley instead of staying overnight in London. So, they set off on their journey. The heroine falls asleep in the car and dreams of Manderley and Rebecca: ‘I was sending out invitations. I wrote them all myself with a thick black pen. But when I looked down to see what I had written it was not my small square handwriting at all, it was long, and slanting… I pushed the cards away from the blotter and hid them. I got up and went to the looking-glass. A face stared back at me that was not my own. It was very pale, very lovely, framed in a cloud of dark hair. The eyes narrowed and smiled. The lips parted. The face in the glass stared back at me and laughed. And I saw then that she was sitting on a chair before the dressing-table in her bedroom, and Maxim was brushing her hair. He held her hair in his hands, and as he brushed it he wound it slowly into a thick rope. It twisted like a snake, and he took hold of it with his hands and smiled at Rebecca and put it around his neck.’

The heroine wakes up and sees ‘Northern lights’ in the horizon, but it is not Northern lights at all but Manderley in flames. Rebecca has won indeed.

Seraphima Bogomolova

bottom of page