As a teenager, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was one of my first introductions to the gothic novel. The spectre of the first Mrs. de Winter, the remote Manderley, the overbearing housekeeper, and the shy, uncertain new bride made for a deliciously dark, romantic, mystery. Rebecca and, having read it at about the same time, Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre whetted my appetite for dark and mysterious suitors with secrets in their pasts.
It seems strange to me that I had never read anything else by du Maurier. My Cousin Rachel caught my attention this year because it was made into a movie and I saw the trailer. It looked like an interesting gothic story. I finally got around to reading the book this past week, and it did not disappoint. It is, though, a very different story from Rebecca.
24 year old Phillip Ashley has been raised by his bachelor cousin, Ambrose, in a household comprised only of men. When Ambrose travels to Florence and meets Rachel, falls in love, and marries her, Phillip cannot be more surprised. Very quickly Ambrose falls ill, and within a short period of time, he dies. Meanwhile, Phillip has received some somewhat cryptic messages from Ambrose and believes that Rachel may have played a part in his death. When the new widow decides to visit Phillip and the family home, Phillip resolves to have his revenge on her. His plans are thwarted however, when he discovers that Rachel is not the evil crone he has pictured, but rather a small, pretty, charming woman only a few years older than himself. In spite of himself, Phillip is drawn to her and quickly turns from being set on revenging himself on her, to falling in love with her.
Rachel's thoughts, feelings, and motives are a little harder to figure out. Is she the grieving widow of Ambrose, come to his home to return his personal effects to Phillip? Or is she conniving, and, having been left out of Ambrose's will, coming to charm Phillip into giving her an allowance, or better yet, his entire estate? Did Ambrose die of a brain tumor, and the insanity that seems to run in the family? Or did Rachel help him along by using her knowledge of herbs to poison his tea?
For much of the story, I was convinced that Rachel was simply manipulating the gullible and naive Phillip. I wanted him to wake up and see past her charms, to the calculating, murderous woman within. However, du Maurier is a skilled storyteller, and just when Phillip realizes that Rachel is not the woman he thinks she is and sets out on an irrevocable course of action, du Maurier casts doubt on Rachel's guilt. The book ends cryptically with both Phillip and the reader left confused about who Rachel really is. For myself, I think that she was manipulating Phillip for both his money and property, but I am not sure she is a murderess. I am sure that the uncertainty is what Daphne du Maurier intended. Now, I have to watch the movie to see how it compares to the book.
My Cousin Rachel is available as an e-book on our Overdrive app. FCL also has the movie available for check out.