The story begins in Monte Carlo where a rich American woman called Mrs Van Hopper is staying with her paid companion, the young and inexperienced narrator. Mrs Van Hopper discovers that Maxim de Winter is staying at the same hotel and is eager to meet him, as an air of mystery and sadness is said to surround him since the recent death of his wife Rebecca. To Mrs Van Hopper’s delight she gets the opportunity to invite Maxim to join her and chatters away in her crass manner while he remains icily polite and the narrator remains quietly in the background.
Mrs Van Hopper becomes indisposed and while she is confined to her room Maxim and the narrator get to know one another. The narrator thinks Maxim is wonderful but his is twice her age and much more experienced in life than her and despite the fact that they go out together every day and spend a lot of time together she thinks Maxim is just being kind to her. When Mrs Van Hopper suddenly decides to leave Monte Carlo the narrator is distraught at the thought of never seeing Maxim again, but Maxim asks the narrator to marry him and she accepts. Mrs Van Hopper is very disparaging of their relationship and tells the narrator that Maxim is only marrying her because he is lonely and that he has not got over the death of Rebecca.
Once married Maxim takes the narrator home to Manderley his country estate in Cornwall. As they motor down the long drive towards the house the narrator feels anxious at the prospect of what the future holds. Maxim and the narrators arrival is greeted by the entire staff of the house and estate and the narrator feels nervous as she is introduced to Mrs Danvers, the housekeeper. Mrs Danvers is a frightening looking woman with hollow eyes.
On the first day at Manderley Maxims sister Beatrice, her husband Giles along with Maxims estate manager Frank Crawley come to lunch so that they can be introduced to Maxims new wife. Beatrice is a very blunt and plain speaking woman and after lunch she tells the narrator that Mrs Danvers worshiped Rebecca. That afternoon, when the visitors have gone, Maxim takes the narrator and his dog Jasper for a walk through the grounds and down to the bay where there are two beaches. On the further beach is an old boathouse and Jasper runs to it with the narrator following but Maxim gets angry and calls them away, marring what had started as a happy afternoon.
Once Maxim has calmed down he explains briefly that if the narrator had his memories of the boathouse and the beach and the bay she would not want to go there either. The narrator knows that Rebecca was drowned in a boating accident in the bay, and Maxim tells her that he identified her body when it was found about two months later, forty miles up the coast but Maxim is very upset and does not want to talk about it any more. A few days later the narrator approaches the subject of Rebecca with Frank Crawley who tells her that Rebecca was the most beautiful creature he had ever seen.
Living at Manderley proves to be difficult for the narrator partly because there are reminders of Rebecca everywhere but also because she is unfamiliar with such grandeur. She is unable to give instructions to the staff effectively and she finds Maxim distant once he is back at work running the estate with Frank. Mrs Danvers runs the household as she did when Rebecca was mistress and although faultless as a housekeeper she makes her contempt for the narrator obvious at every opportunity. It is clear that Rebecca loved the lifestyle that the narrator is struggling with.
A few days later Maxim goes to London on business leaving the narrator at Manderley. While he is away a man called Jack Favell visits Mrs Danvers. He is introduced to the narrator as Rebecca’s cousin. Jack chats to the narrator in a rather over familiar manner but when he leaves he asks her not to mention the visit to Maxim.
Maxim and the narrator have a suite of rooms in the East Wing of the house overlooking the rose garden but Rebecca and Maxim’s rooms were in the West Wing overlooking the sea. When Jack has gone the narrator ventures into the West Wing of the house to see what it is like. Mrs Danvers suddenly appears and offers to show the narrator Rebecca’s room. The room is just as it would have been when Rebecca was alive. All her clothes are in the wardrobe, her hairbrushes are on the dressing table, even her nightdress is on the bed and everything is exquisitely beautiful. Mrs Danvers talks about Rebecca with loving devotion and describes the night that Rebecca went out sailing and never returned leaving Maxim distraught.
The narrator is distressed by how powerfully Rebecca’s presence is felt in and around Manderley even though she has been dead for over a year. And how everyone seems to want to tell her how wonderful Rebecca was except Maxim who can hardly bear to mention Rebecca’s name.
Traditionally a fancy dress ball is held at Manderley every year and it is agreed that the tradition should continue so that Maxim can show off his bride to the county. The narrator cannot make up her mind what to wear. Surprisingly Mrs Danvers steps in to help and suggests that she copies the costume from a painting of Caroline de Winter, one of Maxim’s ancestors. The narrator keeps her costume a secret and despite much teasing from Maxim, who suggests that she should dress as Alice in Wonderland, she will not be drawn into telling anyone except her maid.
On the evening of the ball the narrator’s maid helps her to dress and transformed into Caroline de Winter she looks absolutely beautiful as she steps out of her bedroom and down the stairs to where Maxim, Beatrice, Giles and Frank are waiting. But as she steps forward a look of horror crosses all their faces and Maxim starts shouting at her. The narrator tries to explain that she has copied the painting, but by now Maxim is shaking with rage and tells her to go and get changed. The narrator turns and runs back to her room, tears filling her eyes and as she runs she sees Mrs Danvers standing in the shadows with a look of triumph on her evil face.
Soon afterwards Beatrice comes to the narrators room. She explains that Maxim thought that the narrator had chosen the costume deliberately because it is identical to the costume Rebecca wore to her last ball. Later, when she has calmed down a little, the narrator changes into an ordinary evening gown and takes her place at Maxim’s side for the rest of the evening, but there is a tension between them and the narrator fears that she has lost Maxim completely.
The next morning all thoughts of the ball have to be put to one side when a ship hits the rocks in the bay. Maxim and Frank go to help and all the crew from the ship are rescued, but a diver is sent down to check the damage to the ships hull and while he is under water he discovers a little sailing boat on the seabed. Plans swing into place to raise the sailing boat and when it surfaces a body is discovered on the floor of the cabin that is later identified as Rebecca.
The narrator has believed for a long time that Maxim’s love for Rebecca is what is causing him to be so distant with her and she is desperately worried at how Maxim will react to the discovery of Rebecca’s body. However she is not prepared for what he is about to tell her. Instead of being saddened by the sharp reminder of Rebecca’s death he is angry that her body has been found and finally he is ready to really talk to his young wife.
He tells the narrator that he had never loved Rebecca and that they had lived a lie from the first, with her playing the part of the mistress of Manderley while she carried on numerous liaisons with other men, both at her flat in London and at Manderley. She had tried to involve Giles and Frank but much of her time had been spent with Jack Favell, who she met at night in the boathouse. Maxim explained that he had gone along with her to maintain the pretence of a successful marriage to preserve the good name of Manderley, the home he loved, but eventually the situation had become unbearable and one night when Rebecca had returned from London and gone straight down to the boathouse, Maxim had taken his gun and followed her expecting to catch her with Jack Favell. Maxim had been surprised to find Rebecca alone, but she had taunted him saying that if she were pregnant he would not be sure who the father of her child was. This was too much for Maxim and he shot Rebecca, then carried her body out to her boat, which he took out to sea and sank by driving three holes into the bottom of the boat. No one had suspected anything and later Maxim had identified the body of a woman, though he knew it could not be Rebecca and his guilt at what he had done had been interpreted as grief by everyone.
Although the situation is grave the narrator feels that she and Maxim can cope with anything now that she knows that Maxim did not love Rebecca. An inquest takes place attended by Colonel Julyan, the local Justice of the Peace. Problems arise when William Tabb, the boat builder, says that Rebecca was an excellent sailor and that the boat would not have sunk but for the holes that had been deliberately driven through the bottom of it. However, there seems to be no motive for foul play and eventually a verdict of suicide is given.
Later that evening Maxim and Frank bury Rebecca at a private funeral in the chapel on the Manderley estate. While they are out Jack Favell arrives a little worse for drink and demands to see Maxim. The narrator feels it is best to invite him in and they wait together for Maxim. When Maxim and Frank return Jack Favell says he has a letter that Rebecca wrote to him on the day she died, asking him to meet her at the boathouse that night. He claims that she could not have intended to commit suicide and says that if he makes it known that he has such a letter, it could make things difficult for Maxim. Jack Favell is not a rich man and this is clearly developing into an attempt at blackmail. Maxim will have none of it and calls Jack’s bluff by telephoning Colonel Julyan and asking him to come over.
When Colonel Julyan arrives Jack shows him the letter and the discussion rapidly develops into a heated argument during which Jack says that Rebecca was his lover and that they were going to be married. He then goes a step further and actually accuses Maxim of murdering Rebecca. Colonel Julyan tries to calm the situation down and points out that there is no real proof that Jack and Rebecca were involved with one another. Jack insists that Mrs Danvers be summoned, but instead of supporting Jacks story she says that Rebecca did not love Maxim or Jack and just played with their affections to amuse herself.
Colonel Julyan asks Mrs Danvers if she can think of a reason why Rebecca would have killed herself, but Mrs Danvers is emphatic that Rebecca would never have done such a thing. He then asks what Rebecca had been doing in London on the day she died. With the help of Rebecca’s appointments diary the group discover that Rebecca had made an appointment with a man called Baker. This person is unknown to everyone, but there is a telephone number in the diary and Colonel Julyan rings the number and finds out that the number relates to a Dr Bakers consulting rooms. It is agreed that Maxim, the narrator, Colonel Julyan and Jack Favell will travel to London the next day and try to speak to Dr Baker in the hope that he can throw some light on what happened that day.
Dr Baker certainly does have some answers for the group when they gather in his home the following day. He tells them that Rebecca had seen him on a previous occasion and he had taken X-rays and that she had returned on the day in question for the results. It was bad news and he had told her that she had an inoperable growth and that there was nothing he could do for her other than offer her painkillers. Maxim thanks Dr Baker and they all leave. Jack Favell looks grey and shaken, he had no idea about Rebecca and now there is a suicide motive he has lost his hold over Maxim.
The small group part company and Maxim and the narrator go for a meal. They are free of Rebecca and can begin their life together at last. Later they set off on the long journey home to Cornwall. They drive through the night and it is about two thirty in the morning as they approach Manderley and see the sky lighting up like the first red streaks of sunrise, little by little spreading across the sky. But this is not the sunrise it is flames and Manderley is burning.
Ben is a mentally retarded man who lives near Manderley and spends his time near the cove where Rebecca kept her boat. When he first shows up, speaking in riddles that she does not understand, he frightens Mrs. de Winter. When Favell is trying to prove that he and Rebecca were lovers, he sends for Ben as a witness that he was a frequent night visitor to the cottage where she often slept. Ben is confused, however, and afraid that the authorities have sent for him to put him in an asylum, and he refuses to say anything about what he knows.
Guilt and Innocence
One of Daphne du Maurier's greatest achievements in this novel is to convince readers of the in-nocence of the murderer and the guilt of the murder victim. There are several reasons why, according to the novel's moral structure, Rebecca deserved to die. For one thing, she was cruel and a liar: as Maxim explains it, "They all believed in her down here, they all admired her, they never knew how she laughed at them behind their backs, jeered at them, mimicked them." Mrs. Danvers repeats Rebecca's falseness when she bursts Favell's delusion that she loved him: "Love-making was a game with her, only a game. She told me so. She did it because it made her laugh." Another reason Rebecca deserved her fate is the fact that she was promiscuous: when the truth comes out about her, the list of men she was with or tried to seduce includes Favell, Crawley, Giles, and, presumably, a lot of others, first in London, and then, increasingly, at her cottage at Manderley, where she would invite men for "picnics." In addition, there are perversities that are not described in the book, things that she told to Maxim that he says, with a shudder, "I shall never repeat to another soul." The ultimate offense, the one that drives him to shooting her, is that she threatens to have another man's child and tell everyone that it is Maxim's so that the child would be raised bearing his name: "And when you died Manderley would be his. You could not prevent it. The property's entailed."
Maxim's innocence in killing Rebecca stems from the fact that it is a selfless act: he is not protecting himself, but the good name of Manderley, which her exploits threaten to destroy. To the narrator, Maxim's pureness of heart, his love for her, and his devotion to Manderley are more important than the fact of the murder he committed. They find out in the end that Maxim was even less guilty than they had assumed him to be because Rebecca had cancer and was going to die anyway. One last factor in mitigating Maxim's responsibility for what he did is his guess that Rebecca goaded him into shooting her, so that she could die a quick and painless death and make him feel guilty about doing what cancer would have done in a few months anyway. Readers are left with the impression that Rebecca is guilty and that Maxim, who actually killed her and buried her at sea, is a victim of circumstances.
Frank is the manager of business affairs at Manderley, an efficient and faithful employee who, though boring, is always extremely tactful about what he says in social situations. Soon after she meets him, Mrs. de Winter feels that she can trust Frank. When she is uncomfortable about how Maxim might feel about his dead wife, Frank assures her that she is just what Maxim needs, making him one of her first friends at Manderley. She even feels comfortable enough with him to ask him directly if Rebecca was beautiful, and he replies: "I suppose she was the most beautiful creature I ever saw in my life." From this she assumes that he, like everyone else, was in love with Rebecca. Later, when Maxim tells her the truth about Rebecca, he explains that Frank had wanted to quit his job because she kept pestering him sexually and would not leave him alone. When Maxim is accused of killing her, it becomes clear that Frank knows he really is guilty and probably knew all along, although he has remained quiet.
Mrs. Danvers came to Manderley as Rebecca's maid soon after Rebecca and Maxim were married. She is very formal and intimidating toward the new Mrs. de Winter, showing her how things are done at the house and practically insisting that the traditions that Rebecca started be continued. She has two encounters with Mrs. de Winter that are particularly odd. In the first, Mrs. de Winter goes for the first time to the rooms that Rebecca occupied after seeing Mrs. Danvers in the window with a strange man, who turns out to be Jack Favell. While she is in the room, Mrs. Danvers comes in and, as if she is a curator in a museum showing off a prized collection, shows her Rebecca's belongings. She touches the bed, the clothes, and the hair brushes adoringly. She says that she allows no one else into Rebecca's rooms, that by keeping them intact it is like Rebecca has never really left, remarking that "It's not only in this room. It's in many rooms in the house. In the morning-room, in the hall, even in the little flower-room. I feel her everywhere. You do too, don't you?"
It is Mrs. Danvers who suggests the costume for the ball that makes Maxim angry with his wife because it is the same one that Rebecca wore. The evening of the ball, she sees Mrs. Danvers in the hall, an evil smile on her face: "The face of an exulting devil."
On the day after her humiliation at the masquerade ball, Mrs. de Winter finds Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca's room. Mrs. Danvers tells her directly that she should never have come to Manderley, and, recognizing her misery, stands beside her at the window, urging Mrs. de Winter to jump and kill herself before they are interrupted.
Later, it becomes clear to Mrs. de Winter that it was Mrs. Danvers, with the help of Favell, who set Manderley afire before disappearing.
Maxim de Winter
When he first appears at Monte Carlo at the beginning of the novel, Maxim is the mysterious, handsome forty-two-year-old stranger who has suffered the tragic loss of his wife eight months earlier. After a brief courtship, he asks the book's narrator to marry him, and he takes her back to his country estate, Manderley, which is famous all over the world. Whenever his late wife, Rebecca, is mentioned, he becomes excessively emotional. He and his new wife move into a wing of the house on the far side of the one he occupied with Rebecca. He encourages her not to do things that Rebecca did. She assumes this to mean that he still mourns the memory of his late wife and is not willing to let Rebecca's place in his heart be taken by another.
Once the boat that Rebecca died in is found, Maxim confesses the truth to his wife: Rebecca was, in spite of the glowing praise of almost everyone who knew her, a spiteful, bitter woman who threatened to make him responsible for her child by another man, and in a fit of rage he killed her. The most incriminating piece of evidence against him is that he identified a body that washed up on the shore far away, months after her disappearance, as Rebecca. Because he is well liked in the community, the officials are willing to accept that his identification was a mistake. There is no evidence of foul play on the corpse that they find on the sunken boat because Maxim's shot passed through her heart without touching any bone.
For several of the book's final chapters, Rebecca's cousin, Jack Favell, questions Maxim's innocence, first trying to blackmail him and then, when Maxim calls his bluff, insisting that the authorities investigate further. Maxim does not lose his composure by denying Favell's accusations or trying to prove them wrong; instead, he risks exposure by agreeing to any steps that might prove him guilty. In the end, when it is found out that Rebecca was not pregnant but that she was, in fact, dying of cancer, he guesses that she actually wanted him to kill her, that she wanted to die without suffering and to leave him with the guilt of her murder.
Tabb is the shipbuilder who performed yearly maintenance on Rebecca's boat. After it is pulled from the harbor, people said that he had not maintained it properly, and Tabb, to save his professional reputation, inspected it. He testifies at the inquest that the boat sank because of holes deliberately put in it from the inside, a fact that nearly causes great trouble for Maxim before the coroner declares it an act of suicide.
Mrs. Van Hopper
At the beginning of the book, the narrator is employed as a companion to Mrs. Van Hopper, a rich and pretentious American woman. She is a social climber, trying to ease into upper-class European society by introducing herself to its finest members. In the case of Maxim de Winter, she uses snapshots that some mutual friends have sent her from their vacation as an excuse to sit at his table and have lunch with him. After de Winter tells her that he is in love with her companion and is taking her away to marry her, Mrs. Van Hopper offers her congratulations, but when he leaves, she raises doubts in the narrator's mind:
"Of course," she said, "you know why he's marrying you, don't you? You haven't flattered yourself he's in love with you? The fact is that empty house got on his nerves to such an extent he merely went off his head. He admitted as much before you came into the room. He just can't go on living there alone "
Mrs. de Winter
The narrator of this book is never called by her given name. Not until she is married to Maxim de Winter is she directly referred to by name. She was a poor orphan, whose parents both died within five weeks of each other. She took a job as companion to the wealthy American, Mrs. Van Hopper, with whom she is staying at Monte Carlo in the south of France when they meet Maxim de Winter.
After Maxim marries her and takes her back to his estate, Manderley, she feels self-conscious about her position as mistress of the house. In her embarrassment, she leaves the details of the house to the servants, thus permitting them to continue with the patterns they had become used to under Maxim's late wife, Rebecca. She allows herself to be bullied by Rebecca's personal maid, Mrs. Danvers, who continually corrects her about how things should be done, remarking that "Mrs. de Winter," meaning Rebecca, arranged things. Mrs. Danvers is always ready to embarrass the new Mrs. de Winter by pointing out her timidity; however, the other servants and laborers at Manderley, as well as people who live nearby and stop there, are kind to her.
When Maxim agrees to throw a grand costume ball at Manderley, his wife, at the suggestion of Mrs. Danvers, orders a costume that reproduces the gown and wig worn by a de Winter ancestor in one of the mansion's oil paintings. As the party approaches, her childish excitement rises to a fevered pitch, but when Maxim sees her costume, he loses his temper and tells her to take it off — it is identical to the one Rebecca wore at the last ball before her death. She hides in her room, but eventually comes out in an ordinary dress from her closet and performs her duties as a hostess although she feels that she has insulted Maxim and has been humiliated by him.
It is the day after the ball that the boat in which Rebecca died is found. A series of events, which include accusations of murder aimed at Maxim and a formal inquest, follows. Throughout the rest of the book, the narrator relates the action and describes her concern, but her involvement is minimal.
When the narrator first encounters Favell, he has been sneaked into Manderley by Mrs. Danvers. He is there on a day when the other servants are off, and his car is hidden behind the house. He is a bold, annoying man, who makes leering, suggestive remarks, offering Mrs. de Winter cigarettes and asking her to go for a ride in his car. He is obviously familiar with the estate: the young dog, Jasper, knows him, and he refers to Mrs. Danvers as "old Danny." She later finds out that he is Rebecca's cousin and that Maxim does not want him in the house. In addition, he and Rebecca were lovers; Favell contends that at the time of her death, Rebecca was planning to run away with him and marry him.
Favell is the driving force for the action in the book's later chapters. Upset that an inquest has determined that Rebecca died by suicide, he shows up at Manderley with a note that she sent him on the afternoon of the day she died, asking him to meet her that night as she had something important to tell him. Using this as proof that she did not intend to kill herself, he attempts to blackmail Maxim, and when that does not work, he insists that the authorities be called to investigate, leading them to call Ben as a witness, to go through Rebecca's diary, and, finally, to drive to London to interview her doctor. At last, Favell gives up. Outside of the doctor's house, he is feeling sick. Maxim and his wife find out later that Favell actually returned to Manderley to take Mrs. Danvers away, starting the house on fire before they left.
Frith has been a servant at Manderley since Maxim was a child. He is faithful, performing his duties without ever letting any opinions or suspicions be known.
The Colonel is the magistrate of Kerrith, the leading law official in the county. He is a guest at the masquerade ball, and, two days later, he dines at Manderley after Rebecca's sunken boat has been raised and her skeleton found. In spite of the tension in the room, the Colonel makes small talk with Mrs. de Winter until the servants have left the room, and it is only then that he is open about the sunken boat.
When Favell makes accusations against Maxim, Colonel Julyan is brought in to investigate. At first, he is obviously disgusted by Favell's drunken state, but he weighs the evidence carefully. His eventual determination is that there is plenty of evidence for believing that Rebecca committed suicide and little reason to think that she did not. Maxim de Winter, however, believes in the end that the Colonel can tell he is guilty but content to let the matter be forgotten.
Maxim's sister, Beatrice, is the opposite of his wife. She is tall, athletic, and outspoken. At first, she seems intimidating, and the narrator does not think that they will get along. Still, Beatrice (or "Bee," as her friends call her) is fond of the narrator. Her wedding present to the couple, a set of books about the history of art, is chosen because one of the few things she knows about her new sister-in-law is her interest in drawing. She takes Maxim's wife along with her when she goes to see their grandmother, to introduce her to the only other member of Maxim's family.
When Mrs. de Winter mistakenly upsets Maxim by wearing the same costume to the Manderley ball that Rebecca once wore, Beatrice helps her get over her humiliation, picking out an ordinary dress from her closet and telling her that it will look fine on her. Although her assertiveness in social affairs is useful in that case, it becomes dangerous later. After a coroner's inquest finds that Rebecca committed suicide, Beatrice, not knowing that Maxim killed her, tells her sister-in-law to insist that they open the case again because she thinks that a suicide verdict is a humiliation to her brother. At the time, her son is home from school with the measles, and no one is allowed to leave the house, so she is not able to raise a fuss that could have exposed her brother's guilt in the crime of Rebecca's murder.
Major Giles Lacy
Beatrice's husband is something of a stereotype: a big, dull, jovial man, who recedes into the social background behind his brash, domineering wife. When Maxim discloses the truth about Rebecca, he mentions that it was obvious from Giles' loud, boisterous manner when he and Rebecca came back from an afternoon of boating that they had had a fling.
Robert is the assistant butler at Manderley. He performs the duties, such as going to the post office, that Frith is incapable of doing.
The driving force behind the actions of this book's characters is loyalty. This is seen most clearly in the characters of Frank Crawley, the business manager of Manderley, and Frith, the head butler. Crawley expresses his loyalty by being congenial, never shying away from a topic of conversation and yet never expressing exactly what he thinks either. Mrs. de Winter can sense that Crawley is on her side, but she also knows that he will not be completely honest about what he thinks of Rebecca because his sense of loyalty to Maxim would forbid it. Frith is just as deeply loyal, but it is easier for him to keep up his attitude of detachment because, as a servant, he is not involved in family matters nor expected to know about the de Winters' affairs anyway.
Like Frith, Mrs. Danvers is a family servant, but her sense of loyalty makes her negligent in her duty. She is loyal to Rebecca, the dead member of the family, and, in her attempt to preserve Rebecca's memory, she is disrespectful to the current Mrs. de Winter. At first, her loyalty appears as just an annoying, but almost respectable, personality tic, as when she tells the narrator that certain practices are followed because "that is the way Mrs. de Winter wants it done," ignoring the fact that the person she is talking to is now Mrs. de Winter. After the costume ball, her hostility becomes open, and she tries to capitalize on the narrator's grief at her inability to fit in by urging her toward suicide, because "You tried to take Mrs. de Winter's place." In the end, her loyalty to Rebecca's memory makes it impossible for Mrs. Danvers to accept that the new Mrs. de Winter and Maxim can be happy together, so she burns Manderley down.
The narrator's greatest concern, however, is her suspicion that, despite having married her, Maxim is loyal to the memory of Rebecca. She reads his moodiness to mean that he is still grieving over his lost wife. His refusal to use the bedroom that he used with Rebecca, his refusal to go near the cottage Rebecca used, and his anger at seeing her wear the same costume Rebecca wore all seem like signs that he is not willing to give up the memory of her. In the end, when he admits to having actually hated Rebecca and killed her, the narrator does not even think of leaving him because he is a murderer; she stays loyal to him throughout the investigation because she loves him.
Flesh Versus Spirit
Part of the narrator's sense of inferiority results from the fact that she is competing with the memory of a dead woman. Her sense of what Rebecca was like builds up slowly from isolated clues: the inscription in a book, her formal agenda left in her desk, Mrs. Danvers' description, and the descriptions of all of the people who knew her. The most uncomfortable comparison comes from Maxim's grandmother who, at eighty-three, is senile and unpredictable: in the middle of their conversation, she loses touch with reality and calls out, "I want Rebecca, what have you done with Rebecca?" There are several practical reasons that the narrator feels she cannot compete with Rebecca, as she finds out about her beauty and social grace. She also is unable to compete because Rebecca is just a memory and therefore is incapable of doing wrong, while she, being human, is quite fallible. Rebecca's continuing presence in Manderley is manifest in the way she decorated it, in her schedules and customs (such as the daily approval of the menu), and in the words of praise visitors have for her. She haunts the narrator as much as if she actually occupied the house like a ghost. "Sometimes I wonder," Mrs. Danvers tells her, as they are looking at Rebecca's belongings. "Sometimes I wonder if she comes back here to Manderley and watches you and Mr. de Winter together."
The ironic thing is that the ghost of Rebecca that haunts Manderley is more a result of terror than of grief. Maxim de Winter remembers her as a mean-spirited woman who put on a sickly sweet image before the public. If he is haunted by her, it is because of his own internal struggle with the guilt he feels for killing her, not because he misses her at all. Frank Crawley's elusiveness about Rebecca, which the narrator thinks is because of his suppressed love for her, is actually discomfort, because she put him in an awkward position by making sexual advances toward him. Beatrice and Giles cannot speak of her memory clearly because they both know that she seduced Giles, and so, unsure of how to speak of her, they end up talking about her with polite praise. In the formal British setting of this novel, people find it better to speak well of the dead than of the living.