My Cousin Rachel


Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

It is Sunday morning, and Philip and Rachel are going to church. Rachel is wearing a veiled hat that covers her face, and when Philip insists that “the people will want to see [her] face,” she replies, “Then they must want.” On the carriage ride to town, Philip and Rachel tease each other and reminisce about Philip’s childhood. Suddenly, Philip remembers that he forgot to call upon Louise the day before, as he had promised. Rachel scolds Philip for treating a woman so poorly, and he responds, “Louise isn’t’ a woman […] She’s younger than myself and I have know her since she ran around in petticoats.” Rachel replies, “That’s no answer. She has feelings just the same.”
Rachel and Philip’s conversation in the carriage once again suggests sexual tension between the two characters. It would seem that Philip wants as badly as the townspeople to see Rachel’s face under her veil, and Rachel seems to enjoy suspending Philip in a state of anticipation. There is a sexual undertone to this sense of anticipation that makes this a very charged interaction. Another important aspect of this passage is Rachel’s treatment of Louise. Not only does she try to encourage Philip to focus his attention on Louise—who is a much more appropriate match for him—but she also stands up for Louise as a woman. Rachel will continue to express a sense of female solidarity that makes her sympathetic, despite her flaws.
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Philip and Rachel arrive at church. Contrary to his expectations, Philip finds himself feeling “confident and proud, and oddly pleased” rather than out of character. Sitting beside Rachel in the Ashley pew, Philip finds himself wondering about his parents, and wishing in particular that he could remember his mother, who died when he was very young, five months after the death of Philip’s father. Soon, the sermon ends, and Philip realizes that he did not hear a word of it: “I had sat there dreaming, and watching my cousin Rachel.”
The fact that Rachel makes Philip think of his own mother underscores the element of “forbidden romance” inherent in Philip’s attraction to his cousin. Not only is Philip related to Rachel by blood and by (Ambrose’s) marriage, she also seems to satisfy his desire for the mother he has never known—making his sexual attraction to her even more taboo. Additionally, the fact that Philip spends the service “dreaming” and watching Rachel suggests that she serves as a kind of screen on which Philip is projecting all kinds of identities and desires.
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Outside the church, Rachel coyly suggests that she ride with Nick Kendall, while Philip rides with Louise. (It was always Ambrose’s custom to dine after church with the Kendalls, and the family of Mr. Pascoe, the vicar.) Philip apologizes to Louise for not visiting her, but quickly becomes irritated by all of Louise’s questions about Rachel. When Louise opines that Rachel is “very beautiful,” Philip replies that she “must be mad.” “Perhaps,” he says, “[Rachel] has fine eyes, but otherwise she is quite ordinary. The most ordinary person I have ever met.” Louise then comments that Rachel must be “quite thirty-five” and Philip snaps, “I am not interested in people’s ages. She could be ninety-nine for all I know.” “Women don’t have eyes like that at ninety-nine,” says Louise.
The fact that Philip admits Rachel has “fine eyes” even as he insists on how ordinary he finds her suggests that Philip is attracted to Rachel’s confidence. Louise’s comment further suggests that it is Rachel’s sexual confidence that makes her appealing—by saying that women “at ninety-nine” don’t have such eyes, Louise is implicitly pointing out that Rachel is still young enough to be considered sexually attractive. Finally, it is important to note Louise’s use of the word “beautiful,” as Philip will only begin using the word for Rachel after he consciously realizes he is in love with her.
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Back at the Ashley estate, Philip tours Mr. Pascoe and his daughters around the garden, while Mrs. Pascoe visits the blue room upstairs with Rachel. Philip enjoys professing that he finds Rachel “small and entirely unremarkable,” an opinion that is met by “little squeals of protestation” from the Pascoe girls. At dinner, where Rachel sits opposite Philip at the head of the table, “only Louise seem[s] silent, and withdrawn”; otherwise, Philip finds himself enjoying “the most fantastic Sunday dinner” of his life.” Not even Mrs. Pascoe, whom he loathes, can annoy him. When he meets Rachel’s eyes, he feels a “queer, strange” feeling that goes “right through [him].”
Philip’s attraction to Rachel makes him more charitable to the other women in his life. He is not as harsh in his judgment of Mrs. Pascoe, and he even has the decency to notice that Louise seems downcast and to try to draw her out. However, this does not mean that Rachel has miraculously cured Philip of his misogynistic views. In fact, Philip seems to enjoy Rachel precisely because she is not “like other women,” suggesting that his fundamental prejudice against women is still very much intact. Meanwhile, the “strange” feeling Philip experiences when Rachel looks at him seems to be a euphemism for sexual desire and arousal.
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As dinner draws to a close, Nick Kendall asks whether Philip reminds Rachel of Ambrose, and she replies, “So much so […] that I have wondered […] if there is any difference.” Even after Rachel and the other women leave for the drawing room, Philip finds that “the feeling [is] with [him] still.”
Yet again, it is difficult to take the measure of Rachel’s words. It might be that she is implicitly challenging Philip to be different—that is, better—than Ambrose was to her. On the other hand, perhaps Rachel is acknowledging that sense of inevitability that Philip seems to feel, as if she is doomed to repeat with Philip the life she had with Ambrose. This chapter closes on Philip being utterly captivated by Rachel, even if he does not yet fully know it.
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