My Cousin Rachel is a suspenseful novel that tells the story of a young and very entitled Englishman, Philip Ashley, who inherits his cousin Ambrose’s estate and falls under the spell of his cousin Rachel, Ambrose’s widow. The novel is set in the 19th century in Cornwall, England, and is a Gothic tale full of thrill and suspense.
In the beginning, before Philip meets Rachel, he dislikes her very much and thinks of her as a villainous witch. But later on, when he actually meets Rachel, Philip becomes more and more infatuated with her. But when Rachel rejects him, after seemingly leading him on for months, Philip begins to suspect that she may have had a hand in Ambrose’s death and becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth about Rachel and her intentions towards him, leading him down a dangerous path of suspicion and mistrust, and taking him back to his original impression of her.
In other words, he hates her and thinks of her as a villain when he thinks she took his father figure away from him, he then loves her and thinks of her as a beautiful damsel in distress when he becomes obsessed with her beauty and charm, he then hates her again and is sure of her villainous ways after she rejects him as a lover. This zig-zag of emotion only highlights the privilege and entitlement in Philip, as well as his young and inexperienced age, he is not yet a man, but an impressionable boy who can’t take any form of rejection.
The novel is a masterpiece of psychological suspense, as Daphne du Maurier explores the complexities of human nature and the destructive power of obsession. Her nuanced portrayal of the title character “Rachel” is fascinating, she’s a complex and enigmatic figure, and the reader is never quite sure whether she is a victim of circumstance or a manipulative villain.
The book is also a gripping exploration of the power dynamics between men and women. And in that way, it can be seen as a feminist novel. However, Rachel is often portrayed as a seductive and manipulative figure who uses her sexuality to control and manipulate men, another “femme fatale” trope, but we only have our entitled boy of a narrator (Phillip) to go by for our image of Rachel.
Overall, “My Cousin Rachel” is a compelling and suspenseful novel that will keep you engaged until the final page. It is a must-read for fans of Gothic and psychological thrillers.