Rebecca Summary and Analysis of Chapters 18-20


The next day, the narrator wakes up and discovers that Maxim never came to bed. She realizes that Mrs. Van Hopper was right to warn her against marrying Maxim. Ever since she came to Manderley, everything had pointed to the fact that Maxim is still in love with Rebecca. He only married her to fend off his loneliness and, even now, she is merely intruding on his privacy at Manderley. The narrator wishes that she could fight off Rebecca, but she knows that Rebecca is too strong for her, even in death.

The narrator finds a note left for her by Beatrice, who tries to give her some encouragement about the costume disaster at the ball. The narrator goes downstairs and calls Frank Crawley, hoping that Maxim is with him. She explains Maxim’s absence to Frank and tells him that Maxim is still in love with Rebecca. Frank tries to argue with her and urges her to wait for him to come to the house and explain everything, but the narrator hangs up on him.

While walking on the grounds, the narrator notices Mrs. Danvers watching her from Rebecca’s window and decides to confront her about the costume ball. Mrs. Danvers accuses her of trying to take Rebecca’s place as mistress of Manderley. Nevertheless, it does not matter, she asserts, because Maxim is still in love with Rebecca, and the narrator can do nothing to save her marriage. Then, Mrs. Danvers begins to describe Rebecca’s vivacious childhood and seductive power over men. Every man was in love with her – Maxim, Jack Favell, even Frank Crawley.

Suddenly, Mrs. Danvers changes her tone and urges the narrator to jump out the window, declaring, “Why don’t you go? We none of us want you. It’s you who ought to be dead, not Mrs. De Winter.” The narrator falls into a trance and, as Mrs. Danvers leads her to the window, looks down at the foggy terrace. She begins to think that death is the only way for her to stop feeling the pain of Maxim’s rejection. Just as the narrator is about to let go of the ledge, the narrator hears a thunderous noise from the cove: a ship has run aground and launched its rockets to signal for assistance. The trance is broken, and the narrator hears Maxim’s voice as he runs down to the cove.

Mrs. Danvers leaves to prepare with Frith, and, after drinking a small glass of brandy to settle her nerves, the narrator goes down to the cove to watch the action. The ship has run aground two miles off shore, and the coastguard is sending divers into the bay to assess the damage. The narrator stays near the harbor for most of the afternoon and watches the tugboats attempt to dislodge the ship. When she returns to Manderley, Maxim has already come and gone, and the narrator has tea alone.

Captain Searle, the harbormaster of Kerrith, arrives and tells the narrator that the divers have discovered the wreck of a small sailing boat at the bottom of the bay. The boat is the same vessel that Rebecca took out on the night she died and, more importantly, there is a body in the cabin. Maxim arrives and hears the same news from Captain Searle. After he leaves, the narrator goes to Maxim in the library and apologizes for her mistake with the costume. Maxim does not seem to remember the costume ball and, looking at her in despair, tells the narrator that they have lost their chance at happiness. He explains that the body that was found in the cabin of the boat actually belongs to Rebecca: in a fit of rage, Maxim shot her, dragged her body into the cabin of the sailboat, and sank it in the cove.

Maxim then tells the narrator the truth about his marriage to Rebecca. Although she was beautiful and sophisticated, she was also vicious, manipulative, and spiteful, and Maxim despised her. During their honeymoon in Monte Carlo, she had made a bargain with Maxim, agreeing to be the perfect hostess of Manderley if he promised to let her do as she pleased. Maxim agreed, and Rebecca made Manderley the most famous estate in the region, while simultaneously engaging in numerous extramarital affairs. Maxim permitted Rebecca’s inappropriate behavior as long as it did not interfere with the pretense of their happy marriage.

One night, after discovering that Rebecca had started to bring her lovers to Manderley, Maxim decided to confront her in the boathouse. After he threatened to divorce her for adultery, she told him that he had no proof: everyone believes that they had a truly happy marriage. She also confessed that she was pregnant with Jack Favell’s child, and, since he had no way of proving that the child was not his, would ensure that the child would inherit Manderley upon his death. Overcome with anger at her words, Maxim shot Rebecca through the heart. He put her body in the cabin of the sailboat, took it out into the bay, and then drove spikes through the hull to ensure that it would sink. A few months later, the body of a woman washed ashore in the area, and Maxim identified it as Rebecca, even though he knew that Rebecca’s body was still at the bottom of the bay.

After hearing Maxim’s explanation, the narrator is overwhelmed with relief because she now knows that he never loved Rebecca. She tries to persuade him that not all is lost; no one else knows the truth about Rebecca’s death, and he can tell the local magistrate that he made a mistake when he identified the other body. Suddenly, the telephone begins to ring.


At this point in the novel, Mrs. Danvers’ hostility and resentment for the narrator is clear. Yet, the narrator does not have an opportunity to understand Mrs. Danvers’ true motivations until this second confrontation in Rebecca’s bedroom. Significantly, the narrator learns the truth about Mrs. Danvers simply by asserting herself and confronting the housekeeper directly about her manipulation at the costume ball. In this way, Du Maurier suggests that the narrator’s assertiveness is the key to resolving the mysteries at Manderley; by confronting her fear and asserting herself, the narrator could have learned the truth about Mrs. Danvers and even Rebecca much earlier in the novel.

During the confrontation in the bedroom, Mrs. Danvers admits that she was angry with the narrator for attempting to take Rebecca’s place at Manderley. However, in truth, Mrs. Danvers is much angrier with Maxim for taking a second wife and forgetting Rebecca so quickly. She declares, “What do I care for his suffering? He’s never cared about mine. How do you think I’ve liked it, watching you sit in her place, walk in her footsteps, touch the things that were hers?” Through this revelation, the perspective of the novel shifts, and the reader sees the extent of Mrs. Danvers’ grief for Rebecca. It becomes clear that the narrator’s view of the situation was wholly one-sided: she never considered that Mrs. Danvers was still mourning Rebecca and would be personally distressed by Maxim’s decision to marry again so soon.

This epiphany unsettles the narrator’s sense of purpose, and she flounders in the sudden knowledge that she is and always was an intruder at Manderley. Unable to maintain her righteous anger at Mrs. Danvers, the narrator fades back into a passive state. Once weakened, the narrator has no psychological protection against Mrs. Danvers and quickly persuades herself that she does not belong at Manderley. The narrator reaches the height of despair when she considers jumping out of the window and killing herself. She now realizes that she has failed in her marriage and in her attempt to overcome Rebecca’s presence at Manderley.

The narrator is only saved from death by the sound of rockets, which break the narrator’s trance as they hit the cove. With their military implications, the rockets suggest that the narrator’s battle with Rebecca has still not ended, a fact that is later proven by the discovering of Rebecca’s body in the wreckage of the sailboat. The rockets also represent an intrusion of the outside world into the sheltered environment of Manderley. It is as if the people at Manderley are incapable of resolving the issues with Rebecca on their own and require an external intervention.

When Maxim finally tells the narrator the truth about Rebecca, he expects her to end their marriage. In fact, the narrator is overjoyed to receive confirmation that Maxim never loved Rebecca. Not only does it prove that her marriage is not a failure, the achievement of Maxim’s love is the end of the battle with Rebecca, at least for the narrator. Du Maurier suggests that the real problem with their relationship was a lack of communication. Maxim was so overwhelmed with guilt that he assumed that the narrator could not love him if she ever found out. As a result, he maintained an aloof persona and treated her with the condescension of a parent for the majority of the novel. Similarly, the narrator never talked about Rebecca with Maxim because she was terrified that he could never love her the way that he seemed to love Rebecca. Through communication and, more importantly, the narrator asserting herself, the major conflicts of the novel could have been resolved before Maxim and the narrator even returned to Manderley.