When the narrator returns to her room, she finds Clarice, teary-eyed. With Clarice’s help, the narrator gets out of her dress, still extremely confused. She tells Clarice that she’d like to be alone for a moment. Reluctantly, Clarice leaves.
Judging from Clarice’s tears, she didn’t know about Mrs. Danvers’ sabotage any more than the narrator knew about it. Based on what we know about Clarice—she’s the only member of the Manderley staff too young to remember Rebecca—it’s easy to deduce that Danvers’ scheme has something to do with Rebecca.
Suddenly, Beatrice walks into the narrator’s bedroom, wearing an “Eastern” gown. Beatrice explains the truth to the narrator: the white dress she wore was the same white dress that Rebecca wore to the last costume party. While Beatrice understands that the narrator couldn’t have known this, she points out that Maxim might think that the narrator was trying to shock him. Beatrice has “covered” for the narrator, enlisting Frank and Giles to make up a story about the dress not fitting. Quietly, the narrator explains that she’s not coming back to the ball. Even if the other guests won’t think it odd that she’s not wearing a costume, the narrator will feel uncomfortable. “I was badly bred,” she thinks. Reluctantly, Beatrice leaves the narrator.
Although the narrator has been humiliated by Mrs. Danvers’ manipulations, it’s refreshing to see the other organizers of the party jump to help the narrator through her night. Thus, Beatrice and Giles go out of their way to cover the narrator’s tracks. Regrettably, it seems that the narrator’s humiliation has caused her to only draw back into a further state of immaturity and insecurity—like a hurt child, she refuses to come out of her room. She condemns herself for her poor manners and bad training—which seems to have been Mrs. Danvers’ goal all along.
The narrator imagines the conversations about her going on downstairs. The guests are undoubtedly talking about how the narrator isn’t at all like Rebecca—how, instead, she’s a “little chit.” Perhaps the guests are talking about how Maxim’s new marriage is a failure, since the narrator can’t be comfortable in her new environment.
Over the past few chapters, we’ve seen the narrator daydreaming about how events are playing out, or might be playing out. Here her anxious imaginings seem even more unlikely, thus suggesting that her others might be fictions as well. In all likelihood, the guests aren’t talking about the narrator at all, but the narrator’s self-consciousness and guilt leads her to imagine otherwise.
Slowly, the narrator takes out a blue dress from her wardrobe. She irons the dress, puts it on, and walks out of her room. As she walks downstairs, she passes the portrait of Caroline de Winter. Downstairs, she finds guests dressed in gaudy, grotesque costumes—Lady Crowan is dressed in an erotic purple outfit, for instance. The narrator sees a household servant, Robert, drop a tray of ice cubes. Though she says nothing, she wants to tell him, “I’ve done worse than you tonight.”
After a crisis there comes a moment of catharsis, following by healing. Mrs. Danvers has humiliated the narrator, and yet in the aftermath of this, the narrator seems eerily calm—much calmer than she’d been even before she put on her white dress. She has an easier time seeing through the phoniness of her guests, and commands her staff with great poise and humility.
The narrator joins Maxim. Together, they smile graciously at guests. The narrator senses that they’re performing like actors in a play. Yet Maxim never touches the narrator, a clear sign of his discontent. Guests ask the narrator about her white dress, which, thanks to Giles and Frank, everyone thinks was too small for her to wear. The narrator makes jokes about the dress, but secretly she feels terrible.
The narrator’s behavior in this chapter reiterates an important point: life at Manderley is dominated by play and performance. The narrator isn’t really enjoying herself (she’s only pretending to), but there’s no evidence that the other guests are any more sincere than she is—and all this acting is also grotesquely highlighted by the fact that everyone is wearing costumes. One gets the sense that “poise” and “maturity” are just roles that people play with varying degrees of confidence.
As the night goes on, the narrator dances joylessly with Maxim. Slowly, the guests begin to leave. The narrator says goodbye to them with the same meaningless words, “I’m so glad you could come.” Beatrice, one of the last guests remaining at the end of the night, tells the narrator that she looked lovely in her blue dress. She kisses the narrator kindly, and bids her goodnight.
Although Beatrice has been coarse and inconsiderate with the narrator before, the narrator always sensed that Beatrice was trying to be kind, and is a good person overall. Beatrice’s words of encouragement, whether sincere or not, provide some much-needed uplift at the end of this long, complicated chapter.
The narrator goes to her bed, and waits for Maxim to enter the room and climb into the bed next to hers. Although she waits hours before finally going to sleep, Maxim never comes.
Although the narrator has grown more confident in this chapter, it remains to be seen how Maxim is taking the incident (or why the white dress offended him at all). Once again he seems to be reacting to things in an immature way, and simply avoiding the narrator instead of explaining why he’s angry or upset.