My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier
Published in 1951
Genres: classics, fiction, mystery, historical, gothic, romance
Philip Ashley’s older cousin Ambrose, who raised the orphaned Philip as his own son, has died in Rome. Philip, the heir to Ambrose’s beautiful English estate, is crushed that the man he loved died far from home. He is also suspicious. While in Italy, Ambrose fell in love with Rachel, a beautiful English and Italian woman. But the final, brief letters Ambrose wrote hint that his love had turned to paranoia and fear.
Now Rachel has arrived at Philip’s newly inherited estate. Could this exquisite woman, who seems to genuinely share Philip’s grief at Ambrose’s death, really be as cruel as Philip imagined? Or is she the kind, passionate woman with whom Ambrose fell in love? Philip struggles to answer this question, knowing Ambrose’s estate, and his own future, will be destroyed if his answer is wrong.
My Cousin Rachel is an intricately woven story, a twisted tale of lies, deception and half-truths that will ultimately leave readers vexed in yearning.
Set in Cornwall in the 18th century, My Cousin Rachel has a gothic atmosphere and an ambience of formality. I have a deep appreciation for this setting and it lent a timeless quality to the story.
Although this novel is a mystery, I found it to be primarily character driven, the elaborate characters being the focal point of the story. The protagonist, Phillip, is an adoring young man, however, as charming as he is, he is equally as oblivious and naive. Phillip isn’t your typical mid-twenties man, due to his unconventional upbringing. Despite being 24, he resembles the likeness of a teenage boy, with his irrational tendencies and desires. Phillip acts upon impulse, much as he claims Rachel does. He experiences a wide spectrum of emotions toward Rachel, from fondness, to complete infatuation and utter anguish. His change of demeanour toward Rachel changed almost instantaneously, he failed to analyse certain situations, acting solely on his emotions. He became infatuated with Rachel, love and desire clouded his vision. Phillip meant no harm, he was a fine man with good intentions, however he required some guidance. He meant well, but unfortunately, he made some rash decisions that resulted in undesirable consequences, and further muddied the already murky waters. Although Phillip was completely infuriating at times, I also found it difficult not to sympathise with him, as his drawbacks were unknown to him. Phillip was increasingly interesting protagonist and I quite enjoyed his character, complete with his innocence and intense passion.
Rachel on the other hand, is a master of manipulation and deceit. She is undeniably an intriguing character with her astounding complexities, as soon as I thought I had a grip on Rachel, I would soon discover another truth about her. Rachel was a conflicting character, at times she would come across as heartfelt and compassionate, while at other times she was withdrawn and detached. These inconsistencies in Rachel’s persona caused me to raise my suspicion about her, she was an everlasting enigma. She was a twisted lady, and enjoyed playing games, constantly causing men to run circles around themselves. This in turn drove Phillip to insanity, all the while causing him to be emotionally distraught and unstable.
Daphne Du Maurier is an incredible writer, she so meticulously drafted this story with all its complexities. Each word and character’s movements were marked with precision and attention. The writing, accompanied with the abrupt, open-ending, leaves the readers to form their own conclusions. However, as readers, it’s difficult to judge the situation at hand, as we experience the events through the eyes of a young inexperienced narrator. Therefore, our conclusions are skewed in favour of Phillips views and beliefs.
Overall, My Cousin Rachel is a deceptive story, with an air of suspicion and an underlying sinister feel. You will find yourself thoroughly analysing the story well after finishing the last page. I am eagerly awaiting the film adaptation, I cannot wait to see how this story plays out on the big screen!
Have you read My Cousin Rachel or any of Daphne Du Maurier’s other novels? Will you be seeing My Cousin Rachel in cinema?