My Cousin Rachel

by

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Philip and Rachel finish sorting through the books by late morning; Rachel declines Philip’s request for help arranging them downstairs in the library. Philip eats lunch alone, ruminating on the letter he found. By the even, easily legible handwriting, Philip concludes that Ambrose must have written the letter before he became ill. Later, in the library, Philip is looking up “kleptomania” in the dictionary when Rachel enters the room. The two have an awkward exchange before Philip goes upstairs to dress for dinner.
It is significant that the first time Philip hears about Rachel’s monetary habits is in a letter, rather than directly from Ambrose or another character. Philip has to resort to piecing together clues about when the letter was writing, and consulting a dictionary to make sure he understands the accusations being leveled at Rachel. If Philip were having a conversation with someone face-to-face, he would be able more easily to ask questions. By using the plot device of the letter, du Maurier is highlighting how difficult it is to actually glean reliable information about another person.
Themes
Guilt Theme Icon
Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Unknowability Theme Icon
During dinner, Seecombe asks whether Rachel has shown Philip the blue coverings she ordered for her bedroom. Philip looks at the coverings after dinner; he finds them beautiful but is mortified by how much they must have cost. Rachel asks Philip to accept the coverings as a gift, and Philip reluctantly accepts. Having read Ambrose’s letter, Philip now feels “haunted by some doubt that what [Rachel] wanted to do for [him] might turn in some way to her disadvantage; and that in giving way to her [he] was giving way to something that [he] did not fully understand.”
Philip’s uneasiness about the curtains demonstrates his uncertainty about Rachel’s motives—not only in making and gifting him such a purchase, but also for being in England in the first place. Additionally, Philip’s concern that he is “giving way to something” he does not understand suggests that, while he is sexually aroused by some of the power Rachel holds over him, he does not want her to dominate him in any practical terms.
Themes
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Women, Sexuality, and Society Theme Icon
Distractedly, Philip asks Rachel whether she has lived her whole life in Italy, and Rachel gives an account of her history. Her mother was Italian and her father was English. Rachel’s father died when she was sixteen, leaving Rachel and her mother penniless and moving from town to town for five years. At twenty-one, Rachel met and married Sangalletti, who “took nearly a year before he made up his mind” about marrying Rachel or her mother. Philip wonders whether Rachel is “beset with memories” of her past, but as he listens to her talk, he realizes he wants “to shut the door on [the past]. And lock it too.”
Rachel’s difficult past highlights yet again how society institutionally places women at the mercy of men—be it their father or their husband. It’s also critical to note Philip’s unwillingness to fully learn about and accept Rachel’s past. This suggests that Philip is not truly interesting in getting to know Rachel for who she is; he would rather get to know her as he wants her to be. Again, du Maurier is carefully pointing out the difficulties of knowing another person, and showing that sometimes this difficulty is self-imposed. 
Themes
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Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Unknowability Theme Icon
Again, Rachel asks what was in the letter that Philip found, and he admits that Ambrose expressed in it his anxiety “about expenditure.” Rachel seems relieved, and explains that her “extravagance” was “a constant source of worry to [Ambrose].” She tells Philip that Ambrose was extremely generous in paying off all of her first husband’s debts, but that when Ambrose fell ill, he became suspicious and stopped giving Rachel money. Rachel admits that she had to secretly ask Signor Rainaldi for money in order to pay her servants’ wages.
This passage doubles down on the way society forces women to rely on men. Even Rachel’s closest friend and helper, Rainaldi, is male, and this is the only reason he has means to financially assist her after Ambrose has cut off her allowance. Additionally, Rachel’s account of Ambrose’s and her financial situation raises the question of how much Philip—and the reader—should trust Rachel, versus Ambrose. Philip will struggle with this question throughout the novel, as heavier accusations about Rachel’s past actions emerge.
Themes
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Women, Sexuality, and Society Theme Icon
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Rachel abruptly stops talking, and says that she wants Philip “to remember [Ambrose] as [he] knew him.” “The last months were mine,” she says, “and I want no one to share them with me. You least of all.” She adds that it was wrong of her and Philip to go through Ambrose’s old things. “We have let something loose she says, “that was not with us before. Some sort of bitter feeling.”
Like Philip, Rachel seems to want to leave her past behind her—though it is difficult to know if this is because she finds Ambrose’s death too painful, or because she feels some level of guilt about it. Regardless, Rachel does seem genuinely to want to spare Philip from having his revered image of Ambrose altered. This is evidenced by the fact that Rachel waits almost until the end of the novel to reveal to Philip that Ambrose was violent toward her.
Themes
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Philip assures Rachel that there is no need to speak of the past, and that she is home now at the Ashley house. He feels suddenly “very old, and very wise, and full of a new strength [he does] not understand.” He holds Rachel’s hands and says, “You belong here now, just as he did, just as I do. We are all three of us part of the place together.”
Philip’s sense of confidence here seems to spring from a sense of ownership—just as it did when he returned home from Florence and was thrilled by the reality of inheriting the Ashley estate. In this moment, however, it seems that Philip prides himself on including Rachel as one of his possessions—she belongs to the estate now and thus, Philip hopes, to him.
Themes
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Home and Belonging Theme Icon
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Related Quotes
Philip wishes that Rachel would rest her head on his chest, as she did that morning when she was crying. She does not, and soon bids Philip goodnight, saying, “One day you may come to know some of the happiness that I knew once.” Left alone, Philip realizes: “The old sin of jealousy I thought buried and forgotten was with me once again. But this time I was jealous, not of Rachel, but of Ambrose.”
This represents a key turning point in the novel, as Philip formally aligns himself with Rachel, over Ambrose. The fact that Philip envies Ambrose also reinforces the idea that Philip wants to “possess” Rachel in the same way that Ambrose did. This means sexually, but also, arguably, legally, since marriage made women the property of their husbands.
Themes
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