My Cousin Rachel
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First US edition
|Author||Daphne du Maurier|
|Publisher||Victor Gollancz (UK)
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
The basis of the novel is the tension set up in its young protagonist when Philip falls in love with his cousin, while uncovering, and trying to deny, evidence that she is pretending to care for him while she has only her own interests at heart.
Ambrose Ashley is the owner of a large country estate on the Cornish coast and guardian to his orphaned cousin, seven-year-old Philip. On Sundays, Philip's godfather, Nick Kendall, and his daughter Louise come to lunch as do the Reverend Pascoe and his family. Life is good apart from a few health problems that determine that Ambrose must spend the winter in warmer climates. As the damp weather approaches, he sets off for his third winter abroad and chooses Italy.
Now in his twenties, Philip misses Ambrose but receives letters from him, saying that he has reached Florence and met up with a cousin of theirs called Rachel. In the spring, he sends a letter announcing that he and Rachel are married and have no immediate plans to return to Cornwall. Gradually the tone of Ambrose's letters changes, and he complains of the sun, the stuffy atmosphere of the villa Sangalletti, and terrible headaches. When a letter arrives in July, Ambrose says that a friend and advisor of Rachel's called Rainaldi has recommended that Ambrose see a different doctor. Ambrose says he can trust no one and that Rachel watches him constantly.
Philip discusses the contents of the letter with his godfather, who thinks Ambrose may be suffering from a brain tumour. When Philip travels to the villa Sangalletti, he learns that Ambrose is dead and that Rachel has left the villa. Ambrose had appointed Philip's godfather to be his guardian until his coming of age at 25. Nick tells Philip that he has received a communication from Rainaldi, containing two pieces of information; the death certificate confirms that Ambrose's cause of death was a brain tumour and Ambrose had never changed his will in Rachel's favour, so Philip is still heir to the estate.
Two weeks later, Nick receives word from Rachel saying that she has arrived by boat at Plymouth. Philip invites her to stay with him, and a harmony develops between them. One day, a tenant from East Lodge gives Philip a letter from Ambrose that he found. Ambrose wrote the letter three months before he died and in it, he tells Philip about his illness. He talks of Rachel's recklessness with money and her habit of turning to Rainaldi, rather than himself. Finally, he wonders if they are trying to poison him, and he asks Philip to go to him. Rachel later shows Philip the unsigned will that Ambrose wrote where he leaves his property to Rachel. Philip then begins to trust Rachel again.
On the day before Philip's birthday, he prepares to transfer the estate to Rachel. He also gives her the family jewels, and they make love. The next day, Philip announces that he and Rachel are getting married, but she denies this in front of friends. Not long afterward, Philip falls ill for many weeks, during which Rachel nurses him. When he is well enough to go outside, he finds that the terraced gardens are complete and that work has begun on a sunken garden. The foreman tells Philip that the bridge over the garden is a framework and will not bear any weight.
Philip suspects that Rachel tried to poison him, and with Louise's help, he searches her room. They find nothing to incriminate Rachel and wonder if they are misjudging her. Meanwhile, Rachel has walked to the terraced garden and stepped onto the bridge over the sunken garden. Philip finds her broken body lying amongst the timber and stone. He takes her in his arms, and she looks at him, calling him Ambrose before she dies.
The book's title reflects Philip's consistent references to Rachel as "my cousin Rachel" right up to the moment he realises he is in love with her.
A film My Cousin Rachel, starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland was made in 1952, and a BBC four-part television adaptation starring Christopher Guard and Geraldine Chaplin was broadcast in 1983.