The thrill that people find in a Gothic novel is based on fear, desire and sin—the things that lack in the average person’s life. However, all these would be nothing without a Gothic Hero to embody all of those things. The Gothic Hero delights the reader with his elusiveness and the foreboding danger that always seems to follow him. As opposed to the seemingly perfect, savior-like personality the traditional hero has, the villainous allure that the Gothic Hero possessed enchants the reader. In Rebecca, Maxim de Winter is a true Gothic Hero. Experiencing a fall from grace in which he showed villainous impulses; Maxim isolated himself from the world and eventually received retribution for his crime.
Maxim de Winter, like the Gothic Hero, experienced a rush of emotions which caused him to do something rash that haunted him for the rest of the story. Everyone in the story assumed that Rebecca, the late Mrs. de Winter, was killed in a sailing accident (du Maurier 33); no one suspected that the “accident” could have been doing of the late lady’s own husband, Mr. de Winter. When Maxim married Rebecca he thought he knew her true nature. He thought she was a lovely, kind, generous woman, but five days after their marriage Rebecca told him “about herself, told [him] things [he] shall never repeat to a living soul. [He] knew then what…[he] had married. Beauty, brains, and breeding. (du Maurier 272).” She had all the qualities of what a proper wife should have and more; more was the problem. She knew too much; she was “damnably clever.” (du Maurier 271) Rebecca used everyone she knew, she charmed everyone. Everyone was taken in by her web of lies, everyone except Maxim. Maxim saw Rebecca for what she really was. “She was vicious, damnable, rotten through and through…Rebecca was incapable of love, of tenderness, of decency. She was not even normal.” (du Maurier 271) As the traditional Gothic Hero did, Maxim had a temper that got the better of him. At the end of the novel, Maxim confessed to his new wife, “I knew then I could not stand this life of lies and filth and deceit any longer.” (du Maurier 277) He told her. “The thing had got to be settled…I thought I’d take a gun and frighten [them]…The servants never knew I had come back to the house at all.” (du Maurier 278) Maxim flared at her the moment he saw her, but Rebecca answered calmly and coolly as she always did, perfectly and devilishly collected. (du Maurier 278) Maxim got madder and madder, then Rebecca hinted that she was with child. (du Maurier 279) After that Maxim lost it and made the first moved that caused him to become a Gothic Hero in a novel that was not written during the Gothic period: committing a crime that caused him to fall from grace. Rebecca smiled. “When [he] killed her she was smiling still. [He] fired at her heart. The bullet passed right through. She did not fall at once. She stood there, looking at [him], that slow smile on her face, her eyes wide open…[he’d] forgotten…that when you shot a person there was so much blood.” (du Maurier 280)
After his crime, the common Gothic Hero isolates himself from the world, Maxim de Winter showed these traits in du Maurier’s Rebecca. Even at the start of the novel, the narrator does not know what it is wrong with Maxim, but she is sure that there is something dreadfully wrong, but because of Maxim’s secretive and allusiveness, she does not know what is wrong with him. After their marriage there is still hardly a difference. Upon their first meeting “[h]is face was arresting, sensitive, medieval in some strange inexplicable way, and [the narrator] was reminded of a portrait seen in gallery…of a certain Gentleman Unknown. (du Maurier 15)” Maxim appeared to be unapproachable and mysterious. Not long after their meeting, Maxim shows a sort of fondness towards the narrator, yet, to the narrator, he still seemed as mysterious as ever. Maxim’s sister, Beatrice, mentioned him having a “fine-drawn look” (du Maurier 93). Maxim himself proclaimed to have been cut-off from the world when addressing the narrator. “We’ve got a bond in common, you and I. We are both alone in the world.” (du Maurier 25) The way Maxim isolated himself after his “fall from grace” is a prime example of a true Gothic Hero.
The Gothic Hero is a man who, in the general aspects, is quite unlike the average hero. He has many, usually serious, flaws. He generally has a bad temper and has committed a serious felony. At the start of the Gothic period in literature, the hero was what captured the readers. It was not the exotic location or the erotic scenes, though readers received thrills from those as well. What grabbed the attention was the hero that played the part of the villain. Maxim de Winter is one such “hero”. Normally, we would not name the person who kills another the “hero” in a book, but Maxim is. He justified his case and du Maurier persuaded us to take his side, for the moment at least. Though it was written well after the rage for Gothic Heroes, Rebecca is nonetheless the guardian of a true Gothic Hero; Maxim de Winter.