The narrator notes that she’s felt the “fever of first love” not once but twice. She remembers the days after meeting Maxim de Winter. Mrs. Van Hopper, still bedridden but not really sick, demands to know where the narrator has been lately. The narrator lies and says that she’s been playing tennis. In reality, the narrator has been spending her days driving with Maxim. The days fly by for the narrator—she’s in awe of Maxim for his kindness and politeness, while also recognizing a secret sadness in him.
The closer that the narrator gets to Maxim, the more it sinks in that she doesn’t understand him at all—yet this only makes him more intriguing to her. Keeping their courtship a secret from the nosy Mrs. Van Hopper also adds to the romance of the new relationship.
One day, during her drive with Maxim, the narrator asks him, point-blank, why he’s spending so much time with her. Maxim replies that he’s “chosen her” because she’s not a wealthy, pompous woman, and because she’s young. The narrator points out that Maxim knows nothing about her, and Maxim replies that the narrator knows nothing about him. The narrator explains what she does know about Maxim: he’s from Manderley, and he’s lost his wife. Maxim falls silent, and the narrator is afraid she’s ruined their friendship for good. Maxim explains, very gravely, that he’s been trying to forget about the past altogether. Angrily, he tells the narrator that he enjoys her company, and if she insists on asking him questions, she can leave him.
Maxim’s explanation is both flattering and condescending. He speaks of “choosing” the narrator, as if it doesn’t matter whether or not she’s attracted to him in return. Maxim’s statements about the past are equally contradictory: based on everything we’ve seen, it would seem that he’s trying to recapture the past (he revisits the hill, keeps Rebecca’s old book of poetry, etc.), but he also wants to keep secrets from the narrator and claims that he’s trying to forget the past. There’s also an unpleasantly sexist undercurrent to Maxim’s outburst, as he calls the narrator impertinent for daring to ask him personal questions. He is touchy about maintaining his power, and as is the norm in this novel, power means information—control over what is withheld and what is revealed.
The narrator, upset by Maxim’s aggressive tone, says that she wants to go home. Maxim nods, and drives the narrator back to the Hotel. In the car, the narrator thinks about going back to her old life, dining with Mrs. Van Hopper and trying to forget about Maxim. Suddenly, Maxim puts his arm around the narrator. He apologizes for losing his temper, and tells the narrator to call him “Maxim,” his Christian name, instead of “Mr. de Winter,” from now on. As suddenly as the narrator had been feeling upset, she now begins to feel happy.
Maxim’s behavior seems erratic, but there’s actually a method to his madness. He’s been courting the narrator and trying to build a relationship with her, while also making it clear that he has some deep secrets to keep from her. In order to balance out his evasiveness, Maxim tries to establish trust with the narrator in other ways—here, for example, he tells her to call him by his first name. This is also an early example of the narrator’s seemingly complete dependence on Maxim and his views of her—her happiness depends on how much he likes her, not vice versa.
The narrator returns to the Hotel, and before Maxim parts ways with her for the day, he kisses her, which the narrator finds satisfying and comforting. For the rest of the day, the narrator plays cards with Mrs. Van Hopper. At one point, Van Hopper asks the narrator if Mr. de Winter is still in the hotel, and the narrator replies that she thinks he is.
As a result of her affair with Maxim, the narrator finds herself lying and keeping secrets of her own: it’s as if Maxim’s secrets and deceptions are contagious.
The narrator finds that she can’t stop thinking about Rebecca, Maxim’s former wife. No doubt, Rebecca called Maxim “Max.” Perhaps Rebecca read poetry over his shoulder, after giving him the volume of verse for his birthday. The narrator feels a strange sting of irritation that to Rebecca, Mr. de Winter was “Max,” while to the narrator herself, he’s only “Maxim.”
This is an important moment in the novel because it establishes a rivalry between the narrator, Maxim’s current love interest, and Rebecca, Maxim’s dead wife. While it seems absurd to be jealous of a dead person, the narrator thinks that Maxim is still very much in love with Rebecca—and in a way, the fact that she’s dead makes her more powerful of a rival. In death, Rebecca is (seemingly) immune from making any mistakes or being criticized at all. She can be like an idealized “angel” for Maxim, while the narrator must remain all too human.