Friday, March 1, 2013

My Cousin Rachel

Daphne du Maurier's spellbinding novels, Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel,  assured her a place in 20th century notable English literature.  Along with Rebecca, her 1951 book, My Cousin Rachel, must be counted among du Maurier’s best works.  My Cousin Rachel is memorable for its moody narrator, Philip Ashley, who drives the reader’s feelings first one way, then another, forcing us to weigh what’s real against what is fantasized.  Philip Ashley tells the story of his cousin Ambrose Ashley, the man who had raised him and who had somewhat mysteriously acquired a wife, Rachel, shortly before he died. Philip is convinced that Rachel has killed Ambrose. But when she appears at his home he becomes less certain. He is both attracted and repelled by Rachel. By the time she dies, readers do not know whether Rachel killed Ambrose, tried to kill Philip, or was even guilty of any criminal intent. The book is ambiguous to the end, leaving the reader to judge Rachel."Daphne du Maurier." Contemporary Popular Writers. Ed. Dave Mote. Detroit: St. James Press, 1997. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Feb. 2013.

My Cousin Rachel is far more than a suspense novel, although many people will simply be happy to  puzzle over the novel’s ending and the motivation of the title character. The author stated that she was "not so much interested in people as in types--types who represent great forces of good or evil. I don't care very much whether John Smith likes Mary Robinson, goes to bed with Jane Brown and then refuses to pay the hotel bill. But I am passionately interested in human cruelty, human lust and human avarice--and, of course, their counterparts in the scale of virtue." "Daphne du Maurier." Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Literature Resource Center. Web. 28 Feb. 2013. The story of My Cousin Rachel is rooted in suspicion, desire, and misunderstanding.  It details a feverish infatuation with what is unattainable, exotic and self-possessed, all  in the guise of cousin Rachel.  Philip, naively provincial, foolish and jealous, finds himself to be no match for her.