My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier

About the Author

Daphne Du Maurier was born in London. Educated at home with her sisters and later in Paris, she began writing short stories and articles in 1928. In 1931, her first novel, The Loving Spirit, was published. A biography of her father and three other novels followed, but it was the novel Rebecca that launched her into the literary stratosphere and made her one of the most popular authors of her day. Besides novels, du Maurier published short stories, plays and biographies. Many of her best selling novels became award winning films and in 1969 du Maurier herself was awarded a DBE. She lived most of her life in Cornwall, the setting for many of her books.


Twenty five year old Philip Ashley narrates the novel, prompted to reflect on the events of the past year by his guilt over the death of his cousin Rachel Ashley. An orphan, Philip grew up in a large estate on Cornwall raised by his beloved oldercousin, Ambrose. After Philip graduated from University, Ambrose begins to spend the winters abroad as treatment for his rheumatism. On one such winter, Philip receives a letter from Ambrose saying that he has met and married a family relative named Rachel. Within a few months, his letters are few and worrisome. Alarmed, Philip leaves for Italy immediately to only find out that Ambrose has recently died, allegedly of a brain tumor and that Rachel is nowhere to be found. Philip returns to Cornwall with a resolve that Rachel was responsible for Ambrose’s death and determined to question her about it, invites her to stay with him. Over the next few months, Philip and Rachel bond and he begins to enjoy her presence despite being determined to hate her. On the eve of his birthday, he confesses his love for her and in the early hours of the morning, they have sex. Philip gets a rude shock when Rachel maintain that she gave no promise to marry though Philip is of the opinion that the sex in itself was a confirmation. He is enraged and it is a downward spiral from there for Philip as doubt and uncertainty start to prey on his mind.

Rachel is a brilliant character that Du Maurier has developed, taking a lot of Rebecca’s qualities. They are both confident about their sexuality, brilliantly manipulative and sinister in their duplicity. As you read the book, you go through multiple feelings about Rachel – right when you think she is innocent, Du Maurier will end the chapter with a revelation that makes everything seem murky all over again. Everything is seen through the eyes of Philip, the young narrator and though he comes across as immature, inexperienced and sheltered, he is still a boy and completely out of his depth when it comes to Rachel. The whole book seems to be driven by suspicion, arrogance and a sense of entitlement.  Du Maurier writes cinematically as if she is watching the movie form in her mind itself. Her sleight of hand, her unreliable narrators and the inability of a man to manage a woman with free thought and independent spirit seem to be traits that Du Maurier is so good at showcasing. I loved this book better than Jamaica Inn but not as much as I loved Rebecca.

“There are some women, good women very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster. Whatever they touch somehow turns to tragedy.”