Daphne du Maurier has crafted some extremely complex characters, some of whom undergo immense character development by the end of the novel. The most notable characters in the story include the narrator herself, her husband, Maxim de Winter, Rebecca, and Mrs. Danvers, most of whom radically transform through the course of the novel. There is a smattering of smaller characters in the novel Rebecca as well, but they are mostly stock characters that do not show much development.
The protagonist of the story (who is also the narrator) never reveals her first name, nor her maiden name to us. However, there is a lot that we can gather about her from the way she recounts the story of Rebecca. We understand that she is 21 years old when she meets her to-be husband, Maxim de Winter. With both her parents dead and coming from a working-class background herself, she finds it difficult to fend for herself. She ends up becoming a traveling companion to a wealthy American woman who loves gossiping.
When she first meets Maxim, she is acutely aware of the class difference between herself and Mr. de Winter. This discomfort with her class continues even when she becomes Lady Manderley. Social insecurities are enhanced when she hears tell of how talented and charming her predecessor, Rebecca had been. Mrs. de Winter ultimately tries to emulate Rebecca and ends up reviving the costume ball – an event that ultimately ends up making things worse for herself and everyone else around her.
The shy and inhibited nature of the heroine undergoes a radical transformation toward the end of the novel – when she hears the truth behind Rebecca’s death. She becomes more self-assured and confident, especially regarding her place in Maxim’s life. Unfortunately, knowing this little secret also means that her innocence and naivety are forever lost. She begins to harbor dangerous and “dark” thoughts – something which her husband had been trying to protect her from during the entirety of their marriage.
Maxim de Winter
Maxim is a wealthy and cultured man in his early 40s. Throughout his second marriage, he is determined to hide the truth of his past from his wife. Although he claims to not wear any costumes (for the costume ball), he wears a costume in real life – that of a tragic widower who lost his beautiful wife in a drowning accident.
Unfortunately, neither the heroine nor the readers know the truth about this dark past of Maxim’s until very late into the novel. By the time they find out, everyone has already developed a sentimental attachment to Maxim. Thus, despite being a murderer who lashed out against his ex-wife in a fit of rage and killed her, he is still given a lot of sympathy by both the protagonist and the readers. Maxim even ends up escaping from the justice system. However, the author ensures that he is duly punished for his crime, as his beloved Manderley house is razed to the ground.
Several scholars have noted the similarities between Maxim and Shakespeare’s Othello (who killed his wife for believing that she was unfaithful to him) and Christopher Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus (who sells his soul to the devil – the devil here being Rebecca).
Despite being a dead character in the book, Rebecca dominates everything, starting from the insecure thoughts of Mrs. de Winter to the troubled past of Maxim. Even after her death, Rebecca continues to be the object of Mrs. Danvers’s affections. She does not seem to leave anything alone, as she continues to haunt the very shadows of Manderley house where the living try going about their lives despite her chilling presence.
Throughout the novel, Rebecca is painted as an unbelievably charming character – talented, brilliant, beautiful, and adored by the whole community. She seems to be capable of everything – from being a wonderful hostess at costume parties to being an expert in sailing and horse riding as well. As such, Rebecca is the opposite of everything that Maxim’s new wife is.
However, the character of Rebecca remains a mystery to the readers until that fateful day when the truth about her sexual affairs comes to the fore. It is finally revealed by Maxim that Rebecca was a “wicked” woman who had a malevolent streak to her. However, it is later revealed that Rebecca had been terminally ill from cancer and infertile. Once more, this piece of information serves to radically change the readers’ perception of Rebecca. This when the readers begin to question whether Maxim’s account of Rebecca was true or whether it was simply the result of jealousy.
Ultimately, Rebecca continues to remain a mystery even at the end of the novel. However, just like she had been victorious in life, she seems to be victorious in death as well, as she continues to dominate everyone’s lives in the novel.
Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper at Manderley, is painted as a creepy and Gothic character with an extremely sinister atmosphere about her. She intimidates Mrs. de Winter endlessly as she fiercely continues to keep the memory of her beloved mistress, Rebecca alive.
Mrs. Danvers is described as a tall and gaunt woman who dresses in deep black clothes. Her physical appearance is almost that of a dead woman – with a skull-like face, high cheekbones, hollow eyes, and a pale complexion. It almost seems as if she lost her own life when Rebecca lost hers. Now, her only job is to keep the memory of Rebecca alive in Manderley house, which seems to be the reason she is determined to get rid of Mrs. de Winter.
The housekeeper seems to be capable of all kinds of evil and sinister acts, including pushing Mrs. de Winter to kill herself. However, towards the end of the novel, Mrs. Danvers truly gives way to her malevolent nature by setting fire to Maxim’s beloved estate, Manderley.
Frank Crawley is the house overseer at Manderley. He is excessively kind to Mrs. de Winter and offers support and encouragement as she struggles to adjust to her new life. He had apparently been pursued by Rebecca for a sexual affair – something which he had put a stop to by calling Maxim. However, this incident is painted in an entirely different light by Rebecca’s cousin, Jack Favell, who insists that it was Crawley who pursued Rebecca. Much like every other character in the novel, the readers are unable to come to a concrete conclusion regarding Frank Crawley as well.
It is, however, revealed that the house overseer had been in on Maxim’s secret all along. Crawley seems to be sympathetic towards Maxim and tries to protect him in the end by bribing Jack Favell.
Beatrice, Maxim’s sister, is a sociable and outgoing character who is sympathetic to Mrs. de Winter’s struggles at Manderley. Unfortunately, Mrs. de Winter is too insecure to realize that Beatrice was only helping her, and believes that her husband’s sister constantly compares her to the glamorous Rebecca. However, as it turns out, Beatrice was yet another victim of Rebecca’s sexual rampage. According to Maxim, Rebecca had slept with Beatrice’s husband as well.
Ben is a mentally challenged and emotionally unstable young man who had apparently caught Rebecca in a compromising situation. He had been threatened by Rebecca regarding this incident and he ended up forming an intense dislike towards her.
Jack Favell is Rebecca’s first cousin, best friend, and ultimately her lover.
Favell is one of the villainous characters in the book. We see him through Mrs. de Winter’s eyes as a crude alcoholic with a lustful personality. Favell seems to suspect that Maxim killed his wife but does not act on his suspicions until Rebecca’s sailboat is discovered with holes drilled into it. He then accuses Maxim of murder and eagerly demands justice for Rebecca’s death – an act that seems to be the only “right” thing he does in his life.
Colonel Julyan is the local magistrate who investigates Rebecca’s death. He pays a visit to the doctor that Rebecca visited on the day of her death to dig deeper into the reason for her visit. Upon finding out that she was terminally ill, Colonel Julyan rules Rebecca’s death as suicide.
Lady Crowan convinces Mrs. de Winter to revive the costume ball at Manderley.
Dr. Baker is the doctor that Rebecca visited in London the day she died. During Colonel Julyan’s investigation, he reveals that Rebecca had been suffering from cancer and was infertile.
Gran is Maxim’s only living relative in the whole world besides his sister. She is a senile old woman who seems to long for Rebecca – something which serves to increase the heroine’s feelings of inferiority in the household.
James Tabb was responsible for the maintenance and care of Rebecca’s sailboat. It is his testimony (that someone had sunk Rebecca’s boat underwater) that brings Maxim under suspicion.
Horridge is the coroner who rules Rebecca’s death as suicide.
Alice is a housekeeper and Mrs. de Winter’s maid in the beginning.
Frith is an obedient and polite butler at Manderley.
Giles Lacy is Beatrice’s husband who is suspected to have had an affair with Rebecca.
Clarice is Mrs. de Winter’s personal maid after Alice.
Captain Searle is the one who happens to find Rebecca’s sailboat near the cove.
Robert is a footman at Manderley house.
What does Mrs. Danvers represent in ‘Rebecca?’
Mrs. Danvers is the sinister housekeeper at Manderley who is devoted to Rebecca even after her death. Mrs. Danvers constantly feeds negative thoughts and feelings of jealousy into the narrator of the novel. Thus, it can be said that she represents one’s own insecurities which amplify feelings of inadequacy and jealousy in oneself.
Where is Manderley in ‘Rebecca?’
Manderley estate in Daphne du Maurier’s novel, ‘Rebecca,’ is said to be located in Southern England. Some people speculate that Manderley is located in Cornwall, which is where the author spent a large part of her life and where she set several of her famous novels in, including ‘The Loving Spirit‘ and ‘Jamaica Inn.’
Can you visit Menabilly house?
No, it is not possible to visit Menabilly now as it has been closed to the public. Menabilly and Cornwall served as inspiration for Daphne du Maurier’s most famous novel, ‘Rebecca,’ and the haunting descriptions of the iconic Manderley house.
What are the main themes in ‘Rebecca?’
Rebecca is a Gothic mystery novel penned by Daphne du Maurier that follows the story of an unnamed narrator who moves into the house of Manderley after she gets married. The main themes in this novel include love and marriage, death and memory, justice, deceit, sexuality, jealousy, insecurity and so on.