The Role of the Companion
Rebecca is categorized by many important social trends, one of the most prominent being discovered in the relationships the main character establishes with her counterparts. In the beginning of the novel, the woman keeps company with the somewhat bold and rude Mrs. Van Hopper. Questioning why such a gentle, meek woman would associate herself with the loutish woman, Mr. de Winter seeks an explanation from the main character. She
comments that she is not a friend, rather “‘…she’s an employer. She’s training me to be a thing called a companion, and she pays me ninety pounds a year’” (du Maurier 23). In this instance, readers are able to further understand the relationship between the two women. One seeks service, respect, and attentiveness while the other merely hopes for a means to secure a better future.
But what exactly is a companion per say? The book never describes the job in detail, yet in a study of the setting and times, a companion was found to be a woman of a lower- rank position who served as a paid acquaintance to a lady of a higher status. It was the responsibility of the companion to spend time with her employer in order to provide her with a sense of friendliness while enabling her to prepare for social events (Lady's Companion). The idea of being a “companion” is one which shapes the young woman throughout the entire narrative. Her employer regards her merely as an accessory. “…I was a youthful thing and unimportant” (du Maurier 14). When others addressed her, they would find that “… I could safely be ignored, and women would give me a brief nod which served as a greeting and dismissal in one, while men, with large relief, would realize they could sink back into a comfortable chair without offending courtesy” (du Maurier 14). She takes second after Mrs. Van Hopper, and later in her marriage to Mr. de Winter, she is forced again to be a subsidiary to the illustrious, Rebecca.
Upon entering the life of Mistress of Manderly, the new wife of Max de Winter finds it nearly impossible to escape the looming shadow of her predecessor. Instead of leaving the world of companionship to attain a more powerful status as lady of the house, the woman finds herself again being firmly tied to the needs and whims of others. Time again she attempts to seek her husband’s love and affection. She tends to his every emotion and even offers apologies for his anger. “‘I’ve made you unhappy. It’s the same as making you angry. You’re all wounded and hurt and torn inside. I can’t bear to see you like this. I love you so much’” (du Maurier 119). This devotion shows through all she does, but instead of being recognized for the lovable, mature, and beautiful wife, the main character is forever reminded of her naivety, simplicity, and lack of class. Her husband even carries this notion further as he reprimands her, just as Mrs. Van Hopper did before him.
In always acknowledging her youthfulness and immaturity, Mr. de Winter sees her more as a companion and less as a wife. In her review of Rebecca ,titled, “Dangerous Borders: Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca: shaking the foundations of the romance of privilege, party and place” Gina Wisker carries this notion further with the claim, “Max wishes to prevent the second wife from growing up and acquiring knowledge” (Wisker). Such wisdom would give her the means to escape her sedated sense of love, and this occurrence only arrives in the end of the work when Max unveils his secrets about Rebecca. In coming to his aid without question, and upholding his honor, the new Mrs. de Winter proves every loyalty of the forever faithful companion.