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Literature / Rebecca

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"Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."
The Second Mrs. de Winter's Opening Monologue from both film and novel

A 1938 novel by English author Daphne du Maurier (who also wrote Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel and the short stories that became The Birds and Don't Look Now).

While working in Monte Carlo as the companion for the wealthy Mrs. Van Hopper, our young, unnamed heroine meets the much wealthier Maxim de Winter — a moody, inscrutable widower presumed still to be in deep mourning for his late wife, the beautiful Rebecca, tragically drowned in a boating accident. Thus no one is more surprised than the shy little companion when Maxim not only seems attracted to her but impetuously proposes they wed there and then.

The first signs of trouble in Paradise appear when they arrive at Maxim's elegant old Cornish estate, Manderley. The servants have grown too fond of its late mistress and receive their new one coolly. Mrs. Danvers, the current housekeeper and Rebecca's former handmaid, is especially less than thrilled with the prospect of anyone taking Rebecca's place, and has made something of a fetish of keeping her things exactly as she left them — stationery in the desk, clothes in the cupboards — all monogrammed with that bold, decisive initial R.

As the novel progresses the shadow of Rebecca hangs more and more heavily over the house, making it increasingly difficult for our heroine to face the challenges not only of running a great estate but within her marriage — especially when it's increasingly clear that the two are related. Gradually, with a not-so-subtle assist from Mrs. Danvers, she begins to despair of ever living up to the perfect, proud, beloved Rebecca...

...then they find the remains of a boat....

In 1940, Alfred Hitchcock directed the film version, his first American project, which starred Joan Fontaine and Laurence Olivier. It received 11 Academy Award nominations, winning for Best Picture and Best Cinematography (Black and White). It was the only Hitchcock film to win Best Picture, and Hitchcock didn't win Best Director—he never did, in fact, and had to settle for a lifetime achievement Oscar late in life.

Other adaptations include a 1938 radio dramatization on Orson Welles' Campbell Playhouse, a 1939 stage play, a 1979 miniseries on The BBC starring Jeremy Brett, a 1983 opera, a 1997 miniseries on ITV starring Charles Dance as Maxim de Winter and Diana Rigg as Mrs. Danvers, a 2008 miniseries on RAI1 and a 2006 German-language stage musical.

A new adaptation was filmed for Netflix, directed by Ben Wheatley (High-Rise, Free Fire, Kill List) and starring Lily James as the second Mrs. de Winter, Armie Hammer as Maxim de Winter and Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers. It premiered on October 21st 2020, the day before what would have been Joan Fontaine's 103rd birthday.

This novel and its adaptations feature examples of:

  • '20s Bob Haircut: Mrs Danvers relates how, against the advice of everyone who believed Long Hair Is Feminine, Rebecca cut her hair into a modish short style that frames her face like 'a cloud of curls' a few years into her marriage. The second Mrs. de Winter also has a bob, but her hair is (at least, according to her) unflatteringly straight, childish and lank - yet another source of insecurity. This isn't the case in the film, which has her with longer hair.
  • Accidental Murder: In the musical, Maxim pushed Rebecca and she fell, though he says he's not entirely sure whether it was an accident or not.
  • The Ace: Rebecca is considered this posthumously, being unnaturally cultured, charming and gifted. Turns out to become a Broken Pedestal, as she was actually cruel and manipulative.
  • Adaptational Heroism: The musical, much like the 1941 movie, does this to Maxim by eliminating his murder of Rebecca. By extension, this removes the potentially psychotic element from his wife's decision to help him, helping to make her more sympathetic and heroic after The Reveal. It portrays her as becoming a confident woman that doesn't take Mrs. Danvers's bullying any longer so that the audience can root for her. She and Maxim are seen as very happy together and kiss at the end, which is much clearer than the ambiguous future of their relationship in the novel.
  • An Aesop: The novel has the message that abuse is abuse, and leaves the audience to think about how abuse can cause the victim to lash out in monstrous ways. Maxim is bad-tempered, dry, and a bit blunt, but wins over the narrator because she's polite to him and modest. He also scares her the night of the costume party and doesn't even seem to remember afterward. It's revealed that Maxim has a bad Hair-Trigger Temper because he's carrying the guilt that he murdered Rebecca in a fit of righteous fury when she threatened to have Favell's baby. He expects the narrator to leave him, but instead she resolves to stay by his side, no matter what happens. Only then does Maxim mellow, able to live with the guilt.
  • Affectionate Nickname: Both Rebecca and Favell called Mrs. Danvers 'Danny' affectionately.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Maxim is a widower in his forties or fifties when he marries the heroine, who is in her early twenties. As much as they love one another, and even without the spectre of Rebecca haunting them, there is a lot of insecurity on both sides due to the age gap. Maxim occasionally wonders whether he is too old to relate to her, and if she would have been better off with someone her age, while the heroine is resentful of being treated like a child, and feels inferior to Maxim due to her youth and naivete.
    • Invoked in the 1939 radio play version. Orson Welles, who both adapted it and voiced Maxim, was only 24 years old, so he added a line where Maxim ruefully admits to being old enough to be his second wife's father to make sure the audience understood the age gap between the characters.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Despite her fear of and anger towards Mrs. Danvers, the narrator sympathises with her bitter recollection of the night Rebecca died: Danvers, who had been away for most of the day, feared something was deathly wrong, and after a sleepless night of paranoia and premonition, rushed alone through Manderley's woods in the dead of night to find and help her beloved mistress, but was far too late. As the truth begins to come out, Danvers grows more and more emotional, gradually viewed less as a tyrant and more as a grieving old woman, who will never forgive herself for what she sees as her own failure. Nor, of course, does she forgive Maxim when she learns the truth....
  • The All-Concealing "I": Used in the novel to leave the narrator nameless, known only as the second Mrs. de Winter.
  • All for Nothing: Maxim put up with Rebecca for ten years before killing her, because she did wonders for Manderley, and divorcing her would have destroyed Manderley and him. A year after her passing, Manderley is burnt to the ground by Mrs. Danvers, making all of Maxim's hardships and humiliations meaningless.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: The second Mrs. de Winter becomes even more passionately in love with Maxim once he admits that he killed Rebecca. Justified because the second Mrs. de Winter's greatest fear was that Maxim still loved Rebecca. When he confesses to killing her, it proves that he doesn't and never did. However, the novel repeatedly hints that Maxim is actually rather weak-willed (as demonstrated by Rebecca's successful Suicide by Cop and not much of a bad boy in the archetypal sense at all).
  • Alpha Bitch: Rebecca to the people she was openly nasty to.
  • Ambiguously Bi: The second Mrs. de Winter. Her narration tells us almost nothing about Maxim, the man she supposedly adores, except for a vague description early in the novel that likens him to a Medieval painting. By contrast, she is obsessed with Rebecca's appearance and physicality in general - her height, her hair, even her smell. At one point she holds Rebecca's nightgown (explicitly stated to have been left unwashed since the last time it was worn) to her face and inhales the scent of her perfume. Du Maurier, herself bisexual, queer-coded many of her characters, which brings us to...
  • Ambiguously Gay:
    • Mrs. Danvers, who is depicted as a lesbian as blatantly as the censors would allow, what with her caressing Rebecca's minks and lingerie, and talking about how Rebecca would undress in front of her and take a bath.
    • Also, Mr. Frith the butler and Robert the footman seem pretty close to each other, and at one point Favell mocks Robert about his love life in front of the narrator.
  • Animal Motifs: Rebecca, the wild and untamed one, is likened to the horses she trained, whereas our young, submissive heroine is likened to the loyal de Winter dog, Jasper.
  • Antagonist Title: Arguably, since the heroine's main conflict (at first anyway) is that she can't live up to Rebecca's legacy.
  • Arch-Enemy: Mrs. Danvers to Maxim de Winter and the second Mrs. de Winter.
  • Author Avatar: The second Mrs. de Winter's original name being "Daphne" implies that she was supposed to be one, though there are articles suggesting that the real author insert is Rebecca (a lot of descriptors she uses for herself in these letters are similar to the descriptions of Rebecca in the novel). Of course, it could be both of them.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Discussed throughout the novel, with the narrator always thinking that Rebecca is conquering from beyond the grave. In the end, Rebecca loses her power to hurt the new couple, but Mrs. Danvers destroys Manderley and causes the bleak ending described in the prologue right when the couple were happy for the first time.
  • Beauty Is Bad: Rebecca was considered beautiful, fashionable and elegant, and turns out to be an utterly rotten human. This contrasts to the heroine's look, who is considered plain, but she is a much nicer person.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: Subverted. The second wife eventually gains the courage to give reasonable orders to her new serving staff - as soon as she becomes an accessory to murder. When Mrs. Danvers complains that it's not how "Mrs. de Winter" did things, the narrator reminds her that she is Mrs. de Winter now and this is how she likes to order her meals.
  • Big Bad: Rebecca, in the eyes of the unreliable narrator at least.
  • Big Fancy House: Manderley. The prologue to the novel includes Purple Prose describing it and its grounds. It may be based on Milton Hall, which du Maurier visited as a child, or else Menabilly, Du Maurier's home of twenty-six years.
  • Birds of a Feather: The heroine and Maxim are this.
    • Conversely, Rebecca and Favell get along too well for Maxim’s comfort.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: The widely adored Rebecca was an utterly selfish, narcissistic bitch who was nice to people to their faces but laughed and jeered at them behind their backs.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Manderley is burnt to the ground by Mrs. Danvers, in a sense ensuring Rebecca has one last laugh over Maxim from beyond the grave. But having come clean with each other regarding Rebecca, the framing device suggests that Maxim and the heroine are, if not happy together, then at least content, having overcome Rebecca's shadow and earned something of a happy ending.
  • Blackmail: Favell attempts to blackmail Maxim with his note from Rebecca, which suggests that Rebecca did not actually commit suicide, implicating Maxim himself.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Rebecca, by the end of her life, apparently.
  • Brick Joke: During one of their early dates, the heroine confesses that she wishes she were thirty-six years old, wearing black satin and white pearls. Maxim makes her promise never to wear pearls or black satin. Later she attempts Beautiful All Along — in a black dress with white pearls. Maxim is understandably put-off.
  • Brutal Honesty: Beatrice is famous for never sugarcoating her opinions and to tell people face-on she doesn't like them. Fortunately, she takes an immediate liking to the second Mrs. de Winter.
  • Bury Your Gays: Averted in the book with Mrs. Danvers, and played straight if one subscribes to the film's heavy suggestion she's a lesbian (or at the very least had Single-Target Sexuality toward Rebecca).
  • Byronic Hero: Maxim de Winter. A reclusive, introverted aristocrat and handsome widower, prone to broodiness and mood swings, and still seeming in the thrall of his late wife. And is tormented by the knowledge that he is her murderer, living in fear of being exposed each day, isolated from his friends and family by being one of the only few individuals to have seen past his monstrous wife's facade. Also Rebecca herself.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: The heroine is convinced that she's a complete failure compared to Rebecca, her husband's first (dead) wife, until she finds out that Rebecca was evil, and the husband never loved her and murdered her. Which cheers her up immensely.
  • Caretaker Reversal: In a psychological sense between Maxim and the narrator. After everything's out in the open between them, Maxim becomes tired and passive in many of their interactions, while his wife becomes quick-thinking and in some ways very manipulative on his behalf.
  • The Chain of Harm: Maxim is initially very gruff and patronizing toward his second wife, regularly calling her a fool with various degrees of debatable affection. Then we learn Rebecca was similarly patronizing and demeaning toward him- raising the possibility that Maxim accidentally internalized some of her worst traits. Notably, he stops doing it once he no longer has to carry Rebecca's death inside him like a secret.
  • The Charmer: Rebecca managed to charm whoever she met.
  • Cheshire Cat Grin: After what happened at the ball, the narrator gets freaked out by Mrs. Danvers, who sports a rather creepy smile.
  • Chilly Reception: While most people at Manderley are fairly indifferent to the heroine, and some grow to like her very much (especially Maxim's sister Beatrice), Mrs. Danvers is the epitome of Haughty Help. She's cold, passive-aggressive, condescending, and often downright mean to the new Mrs. de Winter, who has done nothing to her and generally tries to stay out of her way. Maxim actually warns the heroine of this before they get to Manderley, saying Mrs. Danvers is prickly towards new people in general and it's truly Nothing Personal. Once Mrs. Danvers gets used to her, she'll lay off. Except no. While Mrs. Danvers is a cold and unfriendly person in general, her specific hatred of the heroine is very, very personal, since she's a replacement for Rebecca, whom Mrs. Danvers loves.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: When the narrator finds the abandoned beach house, it's full of cobwebs.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Happens to the narrator when she sees Maxim for what she thinks is the last time at Monte Carlo. He asks her if she wants to go to New York with Mrs. Van Hopper or to Manderley with him. After realizing that he's serious this exchange follows:
    "You mean you want a secretary?"
    Maxim: "No, you little fool. I'm asking you to marry me."
  • Creepy Housekeeper: Mrs. Danvers. She is creepy in herself, with a deathlike appearance, and in her devotion to the memory of Rebecca such that she doesn't wash the clothes of Rebecca's scent and goes to her room every day.
  • Daddy's Girl: According to Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca could wrap her father around her little finger.
    • Also the narrator, whose dewy-eyed reminiscences of her own father reek of idealisation and daddy issues.
  • Dances and Balls: Rebecca and Maxim regularly entertained at Manderley, and another costume ball is held in the second Mrs. de Winter's honour, at the begging of the neighbours who loved the previous ones. It doesn't go well.
  • Dark Secret: Rebecca's murder. In theory, only Maxim and the new Mrs. de Winter know the whole story, but Favell guesses it, and one of the servants and the magistrate also figure out an unspecified amount, leading to a lot of worry about who knows what.
  • Death by Adaptation: Mrs. Danvers in the musical. In the novel she escaped the burning house, but in the musical she commits suicide.
  • Death by Falling Over: Rebecca, in the film version and The Musical; she stumbled and hit her head. This would be because of the Hays Code. In the book, she goads Maxim into shooting her.
  • Death Glare: Mrs. Danvers has a frightening one that she likes to shoot at the second Mrs. de Winter.
  • Deconstruction: Of Jane Eyre. Namely, Maxim isn't a bad boy like Mr. Rochester at all. He's an exhausted survivor of spousal abuse.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Maxim turns into a male example after he confesses to murdering Rebecca, though it's less of a defrost and more of a rapid dissolve into a puddle.
  • Depraved Bisexual: In the novel Rebecca is hinted to have had male and female lovers while married to Maxim. Mrs. Danvers contends that she loved no man at all.
  • The Disease That Shall Not Be Named: Rebecca was revealed to be dying of a tumor in her ovaries, which mean that she couldn't have children.
  • Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Rebecca exploited this, having emotionally abused Maxim and sexually harassed Frank, knowing that due to societal conventions, neither would want to talk about it publicly. The fact that she played the perfect Proper Lady in public only added to this; the idea that a woman, much less perfect, kind, elegant Rebecca, could torment a man would be seen as absurd, and Frank especially would, at best, be assumed to be lying if he said he didn't want any part of whatever went on between him and Rebecca, and at worst, be assumed to have been the aggressor. The narrative itself makes it clear that Rebecca's actions were awful regardless of gender.
  • Dragon Their Feet: Mrs. Danvers was once Rebecca's closest ally and confidant, and posthumously claims her vengeance by burning down Manderley.
  • Dramatic Sitdown: When Maxim asks the narrator to marry him, she has to sit down.
  • Driven to Suicide: Mrs. Danvers tries to do this to our heroine after the fiasco at the costume party, telling her how worthless and unlike Rebecca she is. This is foiled when they find the boat where Rebecca's Suicide by Cop happened.
  • Driving a Desk: As unconvincing as usual when Olivier is driving Fontaine around.
  • Dumbass Has a Point: The narrator's defining trait is that she is naive and totally lacking in worldly experience, and Maxim frequently refers to her as a fool. But in the interrogation scene she is far more aware of the dynamics of the situation than Maxim himself, and her narration makes several good points he has failed to notice - most importantly, that Julyan is starting to suspect him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: The narrator tries but does maybe not quite manage it; at the very least she and Maxim live in relative peace. It is hinted that she is satisfied, and her husband is with the woman he loves, despite feeling really bad about the earlier events of the book.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Mrs. Danvers is described as being very pale with a deathlike appearance and usually has dark hair (sometimes with grey streaks).
  • Enemy Eats Your Lunch: During his blackmail attempt in the car, Jack Favell helps himself to a chicken leg from the de Winters picnic basket.
  • Establishing Character Moment: In the book, Mrs. Danvers' assembly of the house staff to greet the arriving narrator. Maxim is very annoyed by it, saying he explicitly asked her not to do this and wanted a quiet arrival as if it were any other day. That Danvers does so anyway immediately places her as having an insubordinate streak to Maxim and the narrator and shows that she wants to intimidate the narrator and resents her taking Rebecca's place. In the film, it's downplayed and Maxim is more apologetic than angry and it's not as clearly insubordinate.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Mrs. Danvers adored Rebecca, whom she is implied to have raised since childhood, and is zealously loyal to her late mistress' memory. Rebecca herself is said to have felt the same way about Danvers, but also kept some very important secrets from her.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Danvers is quite disgusted by Favell's claim that Rebecca loved him and would have made him her husband, and considers the very suggestion an affront to Rebecca's honour — she claims Rebecca loved no man whatsoever.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: The title character is described by everyone as being incredibly beautiful, intelligent, cultured, loving, and basically the perfect wife. The end has Maxim reveal that she was actually a Bitch in Sheep's Clothing, who was excellent at getting people to adore her, and delighted in emotionally tormenting him.
  • Fainting: Deliberately or not, the heroine faints at the court room at the very moment her husband was about to break under pressure.
  • Fatal Flaw: For Rebecca, it's her pride and overconfidence. Mrs. Danvers noted that she despised doctors and refused to see one unless absolutely necessary. This ends up costing her dearly, as her ovarian cancer goes unnoticed until it's too late.
  • Flower Motifs:
    • Roses for the new Mrs. de Winter.
    • Rhododendrons and azaleas for Rebecca. The rhododendrons are particularly interesting: they are notoriously invasive, with a tendency to crowd out any native plants by depriving them of food and sunlight, ensuring their takeover of large areas. Moreover, they have a reputation (of uncertain validity) for "poisoning the soil," meaning that even once the rhododendron has gone, no other plant can thrive where it used to be. Sound familiar?
  • Fish out of Water: The marked class differences between Maxim and the narrator are a significant source of insecurity for the latter. Unlike Rebecca, who was born in that world and was considered a shining example of an upper class woman, the narrator is looked down upon, sneered at and perceived as inadequate by the staff and feels overwhelmed by the amount of knowledge she lacks. She does not know anything about running an estate, dealing with servants and even the simple act of making tea for her guests is stressful to her.
  • Fisticuff-Provoking Comment: After Favell has finished giving evidence against Maxim, he throws in a cheap gibe about how Frank (one of the Manderley servants) tried to sleep with Rebecca, and will no doubt sleep with the narrator too after Maxim has been convicted and hanged for murder. Maxim, who has stayed calm and collected throughout the whole ordeal, responds by leaping up and decking him in the face.
  • Foil: Rebecca, who was a self-centered and ruthless Manipulative Bastard Brainy Brunette, and the heroine, a kind and innocent girl almost always portrayed with Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold (even though she personally describes her own hair as "mousy" in the book).
  • Foregone Conclusion: The novel begins some time after everything has happened, with the de Winters living a grim, inconsequential existence overseas. Or, at least, they have a mundane existence but at least they have each other's company.
  • Foreshadowing: When the narrator is exploring the cove she discovers a buoy with the name of Rebecca's sunken boat painted on the side - 'Je Reviens', which means 'I come back'. She reflects on the cruel irony of the name, since Rebecca took it out sailing and never came back. Little does she know that the boat, with Rebecca's murdered body on board, is due to make a reappearance VERY shortly.
    • When the narrator first confesses to Frank that she feels inadequate compared to Rebecca, Frank reassures her that she has other qualities that are just as important. Those qualities? Kindliness and sincerity. Which begs the question why he doesn't think the perfect Rebecca had those qualities...
      • Even more eloquent, in a subtle Absence of Evidence way, is his answer to the narrator's question what Rebecca was like: "I suppose she was the most beautiful creature I ever saw." Period. For Frank, there was nothing to say for Rebecca apart from her extraordinary beauty.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Maxim gets to know the female protagonist during his holidays in Monte Carlo. They get married then and there.
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Debatably in the case of Rebecca herself, since her character derived from hearsay, but otherwise the main characters fit quit nicely:
    • The narrator (Phlegmatic), Maxim (Melancholic), Mrs. Danvers (Choleric), Rebecca (Sanguine).
      • Alternatively, Favell also counts as sanguine.
  • Genre Blind: Mrs. Danvers is suddenly being nice to the second Mrs. de Winter? Nope, don't find anything suspicious about her behaviour, and do as she asks.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Maxim gets decidedly snarky at the inquest. Not the cleverest tack to take when the police are suggesting you killed your wife....
  • Good Adultery, Bad Adultery: The titular Rebecca was, rather than the lovely and kind-hearted perfect wife her successor assumed her to be, a lying, manipulative, cruel sociopath who cheated on her husband Maxim with a series of lovers — and was not even really in love with them either. Maxim, meanwhile, is shown putting up with this until Rebecca actually intentionally provokes him into shooting her (because she has cancer and no way of treating it, and is apparently too afraid of committing actual suicide; as well as the fact that this makes him a murderer: her ultimate attack on him). She is, in fact, so awful that the heroine, Maxim's second wife, is glad he shot Rebecca. We also find out that Rebecca seduced Giles, Maxim's brother-in-law. Giles' wife (Maxim's sister) Beatrice either knows or strongly suspects this and avoids further visits with her brother for that reason. She and Giles still seem to get along well though, and the second wife at one point feels inferior because the two have a "good marriage".
  • Grande Dame:
    • Mrs. Van Hopper, who passes over into Rich Bitch territory.
    • Beatrice, who is on the more intelligent and sympathetic end of the scale.
    • Lady Crowen, who is rather ridiculous.
    • Maxim's grandmother was one before becoming senile.
  • Handsome Lech: Favell.
  • Happy Marriage Charade:
    • Maxim and Rebecca; they are thought to be a glorious couple even by the house servants, and neighbours for miles around speak of them, but their marriage is anything but.
  • Haughty Help: Mrs. Danvers the housekeeper is contemptuous of her employer's new wife, trying to bully and belittle her. Mrs. Danvers had a very close attachment to the previous lady of the house, the titular Rebecca, and does not believe that the replacement is worthy of Rebecca's place.
  • I Am Not Pretty: The second Mrs. de Winter thinks she is bland and childish, but others find her reasonably attractive.
  • Imagine Spot: In the novel, the heroine has a lot of them. Some of them are sweet, romantic flights of fancy; what life as the elegant, beloved Mrs. de Winter will be like, a domestic scene of her and Maxim and their future children, all right out of a fairytale. Others are her essentially having a panic attack and imagining the worst-case scenario of what might happen, or what people around her might be thinking. They're often extremely vivid and just as eloquently written as the rest of the story, emphasizing how they seem almost real to her in the moment.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: Mrs. de Winter thinks that her husband, Max, is cold with her because he is still in love with his late wife, Rebecca. She feels that she cannot measure up to Rebecca in Max's eyes. The truth turns out to be quite different.
  • Innocence Lost: The Reveal of Maxim's murder of Rebecca, the trial and Danvers' psychological torture took a toll on the protagonist, who can't revert to be The Ingenue she was at the beginning, as shown by her more mature outfits. Maxim notices the change and feels guilty of making her age so fast.
  • Interrupted Suicide: The opening scene in which the female protagonist yells at Maxim who takes a step towards the edge of a cliff. It's never revealed if this was an actual suicide attempt.
  • Intimate Hair Brushing: Mrs. Danvers talks lovingly of brushing Rebecca's hair every night before bed. She even has her hairbrush left exactly as it was when she was alive.
  • It's a Costume Party, I Swear!: The fancy dress ball held in the second Mrs. de Winter's honour. It was in fact a costume party, but Mrs. Danvers suggested M. de W. II dress up as a certain painting in the house, something Rebecca had done in the past, in order to humiliate her.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Deconstructed. Favell is casually rude, blunt, and lecherous. He's perfectly willing to sleep with Rebecca, despite her being married and his behaviour toward the narrator is downright predatory. He even attempts to capitalise on his cousin's murder with Blackmail. Nevertheless his accusations against Maxim are completely correct. Shame he's so obnoxious that when he presents his case to the magistrate, nobody believes him...
  • Karma Houdini: In the novel, Maxim gets away with murder, albeit at the cost of Manderley. Danvers abandons the house and very likely sets it ablaze; she is never called to account for it. And despite being murdered, Rebecca got everything she wanted, including the sudden quick death by Suicide by Cop, over the painful end promised by terminal cancer.
  • Kissing Cousins: Jack Favell and Rebecca, first cousins and lovers alike.
  • Let the Past Burn: Mrs. Danvers goes over the edge and sets Manderley on fire. All that symbolically remains of Rebecca is burned down along with the house. In some adaptations Mrs. Danvers also burns.
  • Like Brother and Sister: The second Mrs. de Winter develops this dynamic with Maxim's attorney and close friend Frank. He's immediately welcoming to her and she quickly grows very comfortable around him, and while he's a reserved fellow, it's clear he returns the affection. She trusts Frank enough to confide in him about her insecurities regarding her marriage and ask him about matters she doesn't want to go to Maxim with. Favell, seeing how close they are, tastelessly accuses them of having an affair, but it's clear to the reader that Mrs. de Winter doesn't feel that way about Frank at all.
  • Little Black Dress: The second Mrs de Winter tries to impress Maxim by dressing up in a black dress she found in a fashion magazine, but he's put off because he can tell it's not her style.
  • The Lost Lenore: Played with. Rebecca seems to be this to her widowed husband Maxim, but it turns out that she was an utterly despicable woman whom he later murdered, and his haunted behavior regarding her death was caused by the strain of having to maintain a facade of devoted mourning and the knowledge that he was unable to be good enough for his innocent young second wife because of this. On the other hand, Rebecca is this trope in lesbian fashion to her one time nanny and later housekeeper Mrs. Danvers.
  • Love Forgives All but Lust: An interesting variation: The female lead spends the first half of the book moping because she thinks her husband is still in love with his (dead) first wife instead of her. Cue wangst. But then it's revealed that he hated his first wife, and he actually murdered her. Murder? No problem! He doesn't love that minx; he loves me! (To be fair, it's presented like his first wife was The Vamp with absolutely no moral code and masterfully provoked him to do it... but still.)
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Rebecca means "a snare" or "captivating".
    • Given their tendencies to be a bit cold, and their stormy, volatile relationship, having Maxim and Rebecca share the surname "de Winter" flirts with being a bit too on the nose.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Manderley.
  • Motif: The big flourished R of Rebecca's name, as written by the woman herself, appears and is described several times and used to bring out her character. In the musical, this is translated to the main poster, which is a flaming R and the shadow of a face.
  • The Mourning After: The female protagonist believes that her husband Maxim is still carrying a torch for the titular Rebecca, his exalted dead first wife whom he lost in a tragic accident at sea. Subverted when she learns that the beloved Rebecca was actually a Manipulative Bitch whom Maxim hated.
  • My Greatest Failure: Mrs. Danvers blames — and will never forgive — herself for not being there to save Rebecca on the night of her death.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: Deconstructed. Due to societal conventions and no one wanting to admit that Rebecca was a horrible person, the second Mrs. de Winter is led to believe that she can never measure up to Rebecca. It turns out that Beatrice knew but kept quiet for her brother's sake, while Maxim doesn't want to admit that he murdered her in a fit of passion and Ben was intimidated into telling no one or Rebecca would commit him. Ironically, Jack Favell is the first person to openly state that Rebecca had affairs, including one with him.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain:
    • Jack probably would have had better luck with his accusations if he hadn't been belligerently drunk and otherwise acting ridiculous while making them. The narrator even points out that his manner completely undermines his claims and probably saves Maxim.
    • Mrs. Danvers also gets a dose of this in the same scene. She doesn't initially realize why Jack is asking her to testify to him and Rebecca being in love—namely, that he's trying to incriminate Maxim—so she disdainfully mocks the very idea, further weakening Jack's case.
  • Nice to the Waiter: The protagonist is very polite to waiters and assorted serving staff, but they are not nice to her. The personnel in the hotel at Monte Carlo were rude and unhelpful and from the Manderley staff only Clarice makes her feel welcome and comfortable.
  • The Nicknamer: Rebecca seemed to have been one. She called Manderley "Manders", Mrs. Danvers "Danny", and Maxim "Max". Maxim does not seem to care much for the nickname, at least after her death when it reminds him of her. The narrator thinks this means she was close with Mrs. Danvers and Maxim, and wishes that she could use Max herself.
  • No Ending: Played with. The novel ends very abruptly with "And the ashes blew towards us with the salt wind from the sea," and gives no description of what happens next or even details of the fire. However, the ending has already been written in the form of the prologue, which takes place some time later.
  • No Name Given: The second Mrs. de Winter. She mentions that her name is unusual, and people rarely spell it correctly, but doesn't tell what it is.
  • Odd Friendship:
    • Aloof, judgmental Danvers and outgoing, sleazy Favell form a strange alliance in the story.
    • The blunt, no-filter Beatrice takes a fancy to the shy, demure heroine.
  • Ominous Fog: Manderley is often shrouded in it, making the place all the more creepy.
  • Only Sane Woman: The second Mrs. de Winter becomes this, as everyone around her slowly starts to lose it.
  • Orange/Blue Contrast: A very blatant example in the form of the musical's poster, which is a massive flaming R with a big flourish on a strong blue background.
  • The Perfect Crime: Subverted at the inquest, when the boat's builder explodes the theory that the boat went down accidentally.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Invoked. Near the end of the book, the narrator berates herself for building up images in her head of how people dislike her and then stewing about it, rather than talking to anybody about her feelings.
    • And it turns out Maxim was doing the same thing, and was deeply afraid that his young wife had lost interest in him.
  • Posthumous Character: Rebecca. When the story opens, she has been dead for a year already — but even in her absence, her presence is inescapable, as her memory casts its shadow over the entire story.
  • Present Absence: Rebecca is dead, yet she influences everything and everyone around her.
  • Pretty in Mink: Mrs. Danvers proudly showing the furs Maxim brought Rebecca.
  • Psycho Lesbian: Mrs. Danvers, though in the film version, this was put only in subtext. In the musical, she dies wearing Rebecca's nightgown, which she has never washed since Rebecca wore it last.
  • Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: Rebecca is described as having had a cloud of dark hair and very white skin. Frank also describes her as the most beautiful creature he had seen.
  • Really Gets Around: Danvers describes Rebecca like this. She doesn't mean it as a criticism — she sees it as another example of Rebecca's unique strength and independence. Rebecca would go to London, sleep with a bunch of men, then come back to Manderley and laugh at all of them.
  • Replacement Goldfish: The main source of tension. The second Mrs. de Winter spends most of the book failing to live up to the memory of Rebecca, her husband's first wife, who had drowned accidentally. She is explicitly told, often, that she doesn't measure up, by Mrs. Danvers, Rebecca's personal maid. The second Mrs. de Winter becomes more and more desperate in her attempts to live up to Rebecca's memory, because Mrs. Danvers has her convinced that that is what Maxim, her husband, wants. Just when the second Mrs. De Winter (she is never given a first name, and the book is a first person narrative) is near a breakdown, and Mrs. Danvers suggests that she throw herself out of a window, it is revealed that Maxim never really loved Rebecca, and in fact, came to hate her, because she was cruel, cold, manipulative, and unfaithful. Not only that, she had taunted him one night until he murdered her, by telling him she was pregnant with another man's child, which she intended that he would support. It doesn't end there, and Maxim is vindicated, so they can go on with their lives together.
  • Revenge Before Reason: In the book at least, the police chief recommended to the de Winter couple that they should head to Switzerland and lay low for a few months, so that gossip will die down about the investigation into Rebecca's death. Maxim and the second Mrs. de Winter had already committed to leaving their life behind, with Maxim having relief at the thought of no longer having to play the "perfect" gentleman. Thus, it makes Mrs. Danvers burning down Manderley a bit excessive considering they were going to give her what she wanted: the mansion, with no new management to boss her around.
  • Rewatch Bonus: A literary example. Rereading the book while knowing ahead of time that Rebecca was a monstrously cruel and manipulative person surfaces plenty of proof from others, and not just Maxim (who killed her), that that was the case. Bea's comments that the second Mrs de Winter is nothing like her seem far more firmly approving, Ben's terror that Rebecca was going to have him institutionalized stands out from the very beginning, Mrs. Danvers proudly recounts Rebecca whipping a horse bloody... Despite the book's reputation in pop culture as romanticizing a wife-murderer on his words alone, it's clear that plenty of other characters had nothing good to say about her either, or approved of her bad behavior, and the heroine's insecurity obscured it to both her and the audience.
  • Rich Bitch:
    • Mrs. Van Hopper is relentlessly unpleasant.
    • Rebecca, as it turns out.
  • Secondary Character Title: The protagonist is the second Mrs. de Winter (whose first name is never given). Rebecca herself is a Posthumous Character.
  • Second Love: The heroine for Maxim, although he grew to hate Rebecca and she never loved him; their marriage was a charade.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: The second Mrs. de Winter attempts this twice. The first time she dresses up to look like a woman on a magazine hoping to impress her husband, at which he's a little alarmed. The second time backfires horribly when she is tricked into dressing up for the costume ball in the same costume Rebecca wore at the last Manderley Masquerade. She fails to realise that Maxim likes her modesty and unpretentiousness - the opposite of his much hated first wife.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Mrs. Danvers left Rebecca's room the way she left it.
  • Shrinking Violet: The second Mrs. de Winter is meek and shy, which allows Mrs. Danvers and Maxim to intimidate her.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: Mrs. Danvers spends the whole novel talking about how "Mrs. de Winter" did things. After her attempting to goad the second wife into a suicide and humiliating her, she gets a smackdown when complaining about how the second wife ordered lunch over the phone: "I am Mrs. de Winter now." Even better, the second wife doesn't even have to raise her tone.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: Maxim admits he ought to have divorced Rebecca a long time ago, rather than give into her Deal with the Devil because he gave into social obligations. In fact, he threatened to divorce her when realizing she had broken their deal. The reason why he didn't is she claimed that no court would believe him, even if he brought Beatrice in as a witness, and she goaded him into shooting her.
  • Sugary Malice: Seems to be Jack Favell's main business after blackmail. The second Mrs. Dr Winter soon dislikes him due to his constant insinuations.
  • Suicide by Cop: Rebecca manipulated Maxim into shooting her after learning she had cancer by pretending to be pregnant with another man's child. Because of the production code, this is amended in the film and musical versions to Rebecca dying in a convenient fall just as Maxim was ready and willing to pull the trigger.
  • Suicide Dare: The Creepy Housekeeper Mrs. Danvers very seriously encourages the second Mrs. de Winter to commit suicide. That was because she was passionately devoted to the first Mrs. de Winter and felt the successor was taking her place. She is not impolite or emotional when she does it, which makes it all the scarier.
  • Sympathetic Murder Backstory: Maxim murdered Rebecca. But she was a horrible person, and she manipulated him into doing it.
  • Taking You with Me: In a final act of vindictiveness and emotional abuse, Rebecca goads Max into killing her, hoping to ruin his life and reputation even in death.
  • Tall, Dark, and Handsome: Described to the first Mrs. de Winter:
    "Tall, slim, dark, very handsome?" said Colonel Julyan quietly.
  • "Ugly American" Stereotype: Mrs. Van Hopper, the protagonist's initial employer, is an American woman on holiday in Monte Carlo. She's obnoxious and latches onto famous and wealthy guests to bolster herself, and has absolutely no shame.
  • Undying Loyalty: Frank to the de Winters.
  • The Unfair Sex: Massive subversion; Rebecca was a sociopathic bitch who cheated on Maxim with a series of lovers, and wasn't even loyal to them either. Our young heroine, who had earlier aspired to be just like her predecessor, is glad that she's dead.
  • Unknown Character:
    • The main character is the second wife of the eponymous Rebecca's husband. She's compared unfavorably to Rebecca without ever being told anything about her by his staff. Nothing is revealed about her as they figure she doesn't need to know, except that she died. In the end the protagonist learns more about Rebecca and gains the respect of the inhabitants by saving them from a fire.
    • In the film adaptation, the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers, refuses to accept her and stays behind to die in the fire.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The second Mrs. de Winter describes herself as plain, a bit foolish, and makes out she's not very emotionally strong. Other characters regularly comment on her prettiness, and she is clearly both intelligent and emotionally strong underneath her shyness.
    • Also Maxim. His version of events regarding Rebecca's death is the only one we hear, and there are plenty of things about it that don't make sense. For instance, why does Rebecca (universally considered beautiful, charming, intelligent and vivacious) settle for a loveless marriage of convenience with Maxim when she could have had her pick of men? What 'things about herself' does she tell him that are so awful he can 'never repeat them to a living soul'? Rebecca's motivations are central to our understanding of her... but we never get to hear her side. That said, see Rewatch Bonus on this page for what others say about her even before The Reveal.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Jack Favell. By informing Mrs. Danvers that Rebecca had deceived them and that Maxim had been cleared of any murder charges, he unknowingly caused Manderley's destruction.
    • Before that, Frank Crawley. When Maxim berates Mrs. Danvers for letting Jack Favell in the house, she assumes that the narrator informed him and decides to get even with her. This is the cause of the cruel trick at the fancy dress ball. It was actually Frank who told Maxim, after he saw Jack's car turn off to Manderley. Mrs. Danvers had no idea that he was even around.
  • Upper-Class Twit: The second Mrs. de Winter finds herself surrounded by these.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Mrs. Danvers has a mild one in all versions, but the musical takes the cake when she puts on Rebecca's nightgown and walks through Manderley in a daze, lighting the place on fire as she goes.
  • Villainous Incest: Rebecca and Jack.
  • Villain Song: "Rebecca" and its two reprises, sung by Mrs. Danvers when showing the second Mrs. de Winter Rebecca's room, when trying to make her commit suicide and when she learns Rebecca had cancer, where this becomes a Sanity Slippage Song. Also "Eine hand wäscht die and're Hand" ("One hand washes the other") for Jack Favell, crossing over to Sidekick Song territory as he explains his extortionist philosophy.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: Rebecca.
  • Wham Line: In the novel.
    Maxim: I hated her!
  • What You Are in the Dark: Maxim has this in every version. He confronts Rebecca in the privacy of her shoreside cottage, about having Favell over against his wishes. She then laughed and said if she had a child, he wouldn't be able to prove it was Favell's, and asked how he would like to raise it as the perfect heir. In the novel proper, he shot her, while in the miniseries, he strangled her with his bare hands. The Hitchcock film he has a different reaction: Maxim approaches her, angry...and smacks her in the face. That's it; obviously bad, but understated compared to the other versions. A smirking Rebecca then tripped and hit her head on some tackle, killing her instantly. While the new wife points out that it was an accident and not murder, Maxim points out that he knows that, even if the court wouldn't believe him so at least his conscience is clear on that front.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: The second Mrs. de Winter keeps imagining herself as the heroine of a conventional romance novel, instead of a gothic romance. Justified Trope since the first act of the novel plays out like a straightforward romance novel, except what should be the happily ever after ending is actually the beginning of the story at Manderley.