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At first, Mrs. de Winter feels a strange sort of shock, a lack of feeling. Basically, she's totally numb.
She assumes that once Maxim explains himself, the events leading up to Rebecca's death "will tumble into place like pieces of a jig-saw puzzle" (20.2). Well, let's certainly hope so.
Maxim is holding his wife in his arms, and he starts laying it on thick: he kisses her passionately, and tells her he loves her very much.
And then, suddenly, he pushes her body away from his and says she doesn't love him. How could she love him after what he's just told her?
Mrs. de Winter objects: she loves him, too. She didn't kiss him back properly only because she's too stunned.
To prove it, she asks him to kiss her again. He says no. She begs him. He says no. You get the point.
He argues that there isn't enough time left now: soon they will identify Rebecca's body and realize that the body in her grave isn't hers.
His wife asks him what he plans to do, but he seriously has no clue.
Mrs. de Winter finally starts settling down after the initial shock; her body and mind are coming back to life. It's all starting to make sense: Maxim's strange moods, his angry reaction to seeing her in Caroline de Winter's dress. Maxim shot Rebecca. Wow.
She asks him if anybody else knows the truth. Frank, maybe?
Nope, no one. He drops down into a chair and puts his head in his hands. His wife moves his hands and looks deeply into his eyes: she loves him. Still.
Maxim admits that he was going crazy pretending everything was normal, waiting for the truth to come out. He actually almost spilled the beans that day she discovered the boathouse, but he lost his nerve when Frith and Robert came in with the tea.
When she asks why he never told her, he says that she was always so "aloof," so standoffish (20.26). He didn't think she was happy here. In fact, he thought she had more in common with Frank than with her own husband.
Mrs. de Winter defends herself: she was like this because she thought Rebecca was always on his mind. She thought he was constantly comparing her with the previous Mrs. de Winter.
He understands. (Looks like a little communication among husband and wife can go a long way.)
He asks her, "You thought I loved Rebecca? […] You thought I killed her, loving her? I hated her, I tell you" (20.30). He begins to tell her the story of Rebecca:
Their marriage was a big joke, right from the start. Rebecca was a horrible person with pretty much no redeeming qualities. She was super skilled in the world of phony, though. She knew how to make people like her. Actually, Mrs. de Winter would have been fooled, too, just like everybody else.
When they got married, even his grandmother believed that Rebecca would be the perfect wife—beautiful, smart, and so well bred. But, there was something about Rebecca the Maxim never quite trusted.
Only five days after their wedding, he learned the truth about her.
Back in the present, Maxim asks Mrs. de Winter if she remembers when they drove up into the hills in Monte Carlo. (See Chapter 4.)
Well, it turns out that's the same spot where Rebecca told him the truth about herself. But all the disgusting, horrible things she did are too awful for Maxim to ever say out loud.
He lights a cigarette and paces the room.
Then he admits that he almost killed Rebecca that day, almost pushed her over the cliff. Remembering that day is what made him seem insane to Mrs. de Winter the day they were in Monte Carlo together.
After these comments, Maxim continues with his story about Rebecca.
Instead of killing Rebecca that day, he and Rebecca made a deal. Rebecca would be the perfect wife – on the surface. She'd be the ideal Manderley wife, convincing everyone that the two of them were totally happy. But in private, she'd do what she wants.
Maxim agreed to this sneaky arrangement because he didn't want anyone to know that his marriage had failed after only five days, and he sure didn't want anybody to know what Rebecca really was.
Rebecca knew he'd never divorce her, never subject himself to the huge scandal it would cause.
And that's the end of the story… for now. Returning to the present, Maxim says that Mrs. de Winter must hate him now.
But Mrs. de Winter doesn't really care about any of that. She only cares that Maxim loves her, not Rebecca. (We'd probably be a little more cautious if our husband were a murderer, but hey, what can you do?)
Maxim says he had his priorities wrong. He was too obsessed with making Manderley a success.
Mrs. de Winter tells him again that she loves him…again. Positive reinforcement is her strategy, apparently.
Actually, she's psyched: he never loved Rebecca! How awesome is that?
While Mrs. de Winter is secretly celebrating, Maxim admits that didn't want to tell his new wife about the "shame and degradation" (20.48) of his life with Rebecca.
Even the servants thought the couple was happy together. They didn't realize that Rebecca talked bad about them behind their backs, that she made fun of them. What a bully.
Rebecca made Manderley what it is today. The gardens, the azaleas in the Happy Valley, all the fancy furnishings – none of those things were at Manderley before Rebecca.
Maxim didn't let the things that Rebecca did in London bother him. But, soon she started bringing her friends to Manderley, having parties and picnics down in her cottage.
Maxim told her to stop, but she insisted that it was none of his business.
Then, she tried to seduce Frank. After some serious stalkerish behavior, Frank couldn't take it anymore, and he told Maxim. When Maxim confronted Rebecca about it, she called her husband horrible names and then stayed in London for a month. Not the best thing for a marriage.
When she came back from London, Rebecca seemed calmer.
One weekend, Giles and Beatrice came to Manderley to stay, and Maxim could tell that his sister wasn't a fan of Rebecca. During their visit, Giles and Rebecca went out sailing. When they came back, it was clear that Rebecca had been seducing him.
Yep, she was flirting with her husband's sister's husband. Her brother-in-law. Ew.
Back in the present, Mrs. de Winter realizes that she's misunderstood everything. If she'd been braver, Maxim would have told her all this so long ago.
Don't worry: we know our narrator thinks a lot, but there's more story. Here you go:
Maxim was so afraid of what happened at Manderley when he was away. He was afraid Rebecca would seduce a worker from the nearby town and the whole truth about her awfulness would come out.
One more interruption from the present:
Maxim starts telling his new wife about Jack Favell. She admits that she met him, and Maxim wants to know why he had to hear it from Frank that Favell had visited? Why didn't his wife tell him? She says she thought it would make him think of Rebecca.
Rebecca brought Favell to Manderley and spent the nights with him in the boathouse.
Once again, Maxim told her to stop, but this time, she didn't even get mad at him. She looked worn out and tired, and for a while, there were no incidents.
Then one day, Rebecca went to London. She usually stayed overnight when she went, so Maxim was surprised to find that she had returned. He went down to the boathouse to talk to her, but she looked like she was sick.
He told her (once again) that she couldn't have Jack Favell around anymore. She could do whatever she wanted in London, but not at Manderley. He'd kept his end of the deal, but she hadn't been keeping hers.
Maxim suggested that he'd divorce her if she kept it up. But she told him that it will be impossible to beat her in divorce court: everybody thought she was wonderful, the perfect wife. Nobody would be able to confirm anything Maxim had to say against her. Plus, Mrs. Danvers would swear to anything Rebecca asked her to swear to. (All good points.)
Basically, they had pretended to be the perfect husband and wife so well, it would be very hard for him to prove that this wasn't the case. He'd probably just look like an idiot.
Rebecca told him that if she had a son, nobody would be able to prove that it wasn't Maxim's (this was before daytime TV and paternity tests, apparently). He's have to treat the baby like his own child, and the boy would inherit Manderley when Maxim died.
She half-told him that she was pregnant at that moment, and then she said she'd be just as great a mother as she'd been a wife. That can't be good.
At that moment, she smiled at Maxim.
His response? He shot her, cleaned up the blood, and took her to her boat. He put her body down the cabin.
It was a stormy night, and he took the boat out and opened the seacocks to let the water come into the cabin. Then he made holes in the cabin floor. This ship's going down. Literally.
Maxim hopped into the dinghy and watched until he couldn't see the boat anymore. Then he came back to shore, back to the house, and pretended like nothing had happened.
It turns out the boat sank close to the cove. He'd wanted it to go out into the bay, because then it would never have been found.
Back in the present, Maxim says he always knew that Rebecca's death would come to light. She always won before, and now she's won again.
Mrs. de Winter replies that Rebecca can't hurt him anymore.
Not! Maxim knows that they'll recognize her body in her boat and then… it will all be over. He'll be in big trouble (and that's putting it lightly).
Time for a plan: Mrs. de Winter says that if they do identify the body as Rebecca's, he should say that he made a mistake about the other body. He should say his grief over Rebecca's death confused him before. Brilliant!
She tells him there's no proof of what he did, no witnesses. The police will still think it's an accident.