Rachel is shocked to learn that Philip was at the villa on August 15, the day after she left Florence. She insists that Philip tell her the whole story, so he explains that his worry began when he received the two disturbing letters from Ambrose. He offers to show them to Rachel, but she says she will look at them later. Philip finishes his account of his visit to Florence, and Rachel then asks to see the letters. After reading them she says, “How you must have hated me.” Philip feels “as though [he] sat naked in [his] chair,” and Philip admits that she is right.
Rachel’s gaze makes Philip feel naked, metaphorically and literally. Not only does this highlight Rachel’s perceptiveness—and what power this quality gives her—but it also reveals an underlying sexual tension between Rachel and Philip that will be unearthed over the course of the novel. Philip admits his jealousy to Rachel’s face, something he could not even articulate to his lifelong friend Louise—a fact that further emphasizes how compelling a personality Rachel has.
Rachel then asks why Philip invited her to his home, and he admits that it was “to watch [her] suffer […] then […] to let her go.” Rachel replies: “That was generous. More generous than I should deserve. Still, you have been successful. You have got what you wanted. Go on watching me, until you’ve had your fill.” Unable to do so, Philip opens the door of the library and bids Rachel leave, saying that he has “never seen a woman cry.” Rachel does not leave, so Philip instead returns to the hearth and throws both of Ambrose’s letters in the fire.
This passage relies heavily on the symbol of eyes, and once again emphasizes Rachel’s intense eye contact as an exertion of power. Philip’s concern that Rachel will begin crying shows his immaturity, and further suggests that Rachel is the one in control of any social interactions between these two characters. Finally, the fact that Philip burns Ambrose’s two letters represents an important turning point, since Philip previously claimed passionate belief in the truth of these letters, and in the idea that Ambrose’s death was not of natural causes.
Rachel says she wishes Philip would go on condemning her, as “it would make it easier in the long run for both of us.” Philip says he neither condemns nor hates her, because he “can’t go on hating a woman who doesn’t exist.” “But I do exist,” Rachel replies. “You are not the woman I hated,” Philip says. “There’s no more to it than that.”
This exchange between Philip and Rachel emphasizes how powerful the imagination is when it comes to trying to understand another person. More significantly, it also underscores that Philip knows very little about Rachel. He might know she is not the woman he hated, but he does not know the woman she actually is. This exchange also highlights Rachel’s radical assertion of her own autonomy and value in the face of a male-dominated, patriarchal society.
Rachel and Philip go on talking, and Philip explains how jealous he was of Rachel when he first heard Ambrose had married her. Rachel claims that Philip and Ambrose suffer from the same problem: the only person they have loved is each other. Rachel says that, at forty-three, marriage came too late for Ambrose; he “became obsessed with her,” in much the same way “some men wake to religion.” The trouble is, Rachel says, that women are not like religious icons made of plaster: “We are human,” she says, “that is our failing.”
Rachel points out that society does not allow women to be fully human. By expecting women to be virtuous, practically holy examples of purity and of motherhood, society strips women of their humanity. Not only does this have disastrous consequences for men such as Ambrose, but—as Rachel reveals—it makes women believe that by being full human beings, who experience anger, sexual urges, and all the “unfeminine” things a man experiences, they have somehow “failed.”
Philip is confused. He asks whether Rachel means that Ambrose “put [her] on a sort of pedestal.” “No,” Rachel says. “I would have welcomed a pedestal after my rough life. A halo can be a lovely thing, providing you can take it off, now and again, and become human.” Philip continues to ask questions, until Rachel explains that meeting her caused Ambrose to fundamentally change. “Something in me brought out those qualities,” she says. “Finding me was ecstasy to him for one brief moment, and then catastrophe.” Philip finally realizes that Rachel blames herself not only for the changes to Ambrose’s personality when he became ill, but also for his death. “If he had not come to Italy,” she says, “he would not have died.”
This is a rare moment in which Rachel appears insecure. If this emotion is interpreted at face value, it would seem that Rachel recognizes that a woman as self-assured as she does not fully belong in society. Of course, this moment can also be read cynically; Rachel might only be pretending to blame herself for Ambrose’s death in order to secure Philip’s sympathy. As always, du Maurier places the reader in a tricky position. Unable to view Rachel through any set of eyes other than Philip’s, the reader is limited to his perception and is often swept up in the strength of his feeling as well.
Philip assures Rachel that Ambrose could have just as easily fallen ill at home in Cornwall. The two then bond over Rachel’s admission that she was as jealous of Philip in the early days of her marriage to Ambrose, as Philip was of her. Finally, Rachel decides that she has “talked enough” for the night, and assures Philip they can talk more tomorrow; on Monday, she plans to go to Nick Kendall’s home at Pelyn. Philip insists that this is absurd, and she should stay at the Ashley home to take care of Ambrose’s things and help Tamlyn with the new plants. Rachel says nothing, but looks at Philip “with such a strange expression in her eyes, almost as though she saw right through [him] into someone else.”
Clearly, Philip has already fallen under Rachel’s spell, as he does not want her to leave the Ashley estate. This shows how impressionable Philip is as a character. Another noteworthy element of this passage is the look Rachel gives Philip, which suggests one of two things. The first is that Rachel sees Philip’s resemblance to Ambrose. Certainly she is aware of their physical similarities, but perhaps she, like Philip, has the sense that Ambrose’s spirit has somehow possessed Philip’s body. The second possibility is that Rachel is aware of Philip’s painfully transparent motives, and that she has seen “through him” into the true version of himself. That is, Philip is not aware he has begun to fall for Rachel, but it seems likely that Rachel is. This would further highlight Rachel’s existing perceptiveness as a character.
Rachel and Philip say goodnight on the stairwell, after assuring one another that their feelings of jealousy and hatred are gone. Before she retreats to her room, Rachel kisses Philip’s cheek and says: “The first you have ever had […] and if you don’t like it you can pretend I did not give it to you, but that it came from the other woman.”
This passage shows Rachel’s playful, flirty side. It could also be interpreted as evidence that Rachel is aware Philip is attracted to her, and that she is selfishly manipulating that attraction. Regardless, this interaction also displays Rachel’s wit and her resourcefulness. In referring to the “other” version of herself that Philip imagined before meeting her, Rachel seems to show that she is aware of—and in precise control of—the multiple different “Rachels” she contains.