My Cousin Rachel

by

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel: Chapter 16 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
November and December pass, and for the first time, Philip finds that “autumn [passes] without monotony.” Philip and Rachel fall into a comfortable pattern. In the mornings, she works in the garden while he tends to estate business. The pair then have lunch together, and in the afternoon, Rachel makes calls in the carriage while Philip holds meetings and deals with estate matters. The two reunite for dinner. Philip’s favorite moment of the day is waiting for Rachel to meet him in the library before dinner; the sound of her dress in the hall always gives him “a shock of anticipation.” He begins to wonder “how [he] could ever have thought [Rachel] unremarkable.”
This passage highlights the increased mental space Rachel is beginning to occupy in Philip’s thoughts. Philip’s language is important—the sound of Rachel’s approach each night gives him a “shock,” which suggests that the pleasure he feels is laced with sexual desire. It is also worth noting that Philip’s favorite part of each day is not when he actually sees Rachel in the evenings, but when he hears her approaching. This suggests a deeper thematic significance, as Philip is falling in love not with the real Rachel, but with the version of her he has formed in his mind.
Themes
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Rachel and Philip spend the evenings either in the library, with Philip as host, or in the blue room, with Rachel as hostess. They “lose formality” with one another, and Philip feels lonely when Rachel leaves him each night and goes to bed. He also begins to suffer from insomnia, staying awake until the early morning, “brooding in [his] chair, thinking of nothing, wasting the silent hours.”
Philip is clearly developing serious feelings for Rachel, but it is important to note the agitated, almost violent undertone to these feelings. Philip’s brooding suggests that he somehow feels he has been wronged, or denied something that is owed to him. All of this foreshadows the violent turn Philip will ultimately take in his behavior toward Rachel.
Themes
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In December, Philip’s lonely nights take on a magical quality. He sits in front of an open window and listens to the “eerie, unmistakable” sounds of a vixen outside. He begins to feel as if he inhabits a world of “enchantment” and he realizes he “[does] not want it for [him]self alone.” Philip begins to vacillate between moods of “exultation and excitement” to “dullness and depression,” because he knows Rachel might decide to leave the estate at any moment.
In this passage, du Maurier highlights the volatility Philip’s character. She also reveals that Philip has entered a kind of fantasy world; the word “enchantment” suggests that Philip’s hopes and expectations about Rachel are not fully based in reality. Another noteworthy aspect of this passage is the mention of the vixen, which will reappear on Philip’s birthday eve.
Themes
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Philip decides to revive Ambrose’s tradition of giving a Christmas Eve dinner for the tenants on the estate. Philip arranges the decoration of a large Christmas tree, and Rachel plans the dinner menu; each keep their task secret from the other, giving the house an air of “excitement, and mystery too.” Philip feels anxious about what he might give Rachel as a present, until he remembers there might be something amongst the Ashley family jewels he could give her. He decides to go to the bank to look at the jewels.
By deciding to throw the Christmas dinner, Philip is casting himself in Ambrose’s role, which reinforces the fact that he desires to usurp Ambrose’s role vis-à-vis Rachel. Additionally, the fact that Philip enjoys the childhood tradition of keeping secrets from Rachel not only emphasizes his immaturity, but also hints yet again at the taboo nature of Philip and Rachel’s romance by blurring the line between a lover-lover relationship and a mother-child relationship.
Themes
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At the bank, Philip looks at the jewels but quickly remembers that Rachel will not wear colored stones because she is still in mourning for Ambrose. All seems solved when Philip sees a pearl collar he remembers from his childhood. The banker explains that Philip’s mother was the last person to wear the necklace, and that many other Ashley women have worn it on their wedding days. The banker is reluctant to allow Philip to withdraw the necklace from the bank, saying he would prefer if Philip’s legal guardian, Nick Kendall, were present. Philip insists on taking the necklace, and leaves the bank feeling “much elated.”
Withdrawing the pearl collar is the first of many reckless decisions Philip will make in this second half of the novel. It is important to note that Philip is technically stealing the necklace, since he does not yet legally own any of the Ashley property. This emphasizes the wrongness of Philip’s obsession with Rachel, since he is willing to break the law to prove his love to her. Additionally, the fact that Philip acts in defiance of his godfather, Nick Kendall, shows that Philip is trying to assert his manhood, which is of course powerfully linked to his desire to make himself seem sexually attractive to Rachel.
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Preparations for the dinner continue. The guests will all be tenants of the estate, with the addition of the Kendalls and the Pascoes. On the night of the dinner, Philip leaves the pearl collar in Rachel’s room with a note asking her to “wear it tonight, and always.” When he is dressed, Philip waits downstairs for Rachel, feeling nervous because he has never before given a woman a present.
In part, the pearl collar symbolizes a kind of ownership, and the fact that Philip specifies he wants Rachel to wear the necklace “always” is evidence of Philip’s desperate desire to permanently mark Rachel as his. Du Maurier is underscoring the jealous aspect of Philip’s love—that is, the protectiveness he has begun to feel over something, or in this case, someone, he believes to be his.
Themes
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Rachel comes downstairs dressed for the dinner, wearing the pearl collar. Philip is struck by the realization that he finds her beautiful. Rachel puts her arms around Philip, and kisses him; Philip returns the kiss. Without exchanging any words, Philip and Rachel walk together to the room where the dinner will take place, holding hands as they approach “the laughing surge of voices and the bright expectant faces.”
This scene is important for several reasons. First, it acts as a reminder of how little the reader knows about Rachel’s motives. It is clear Philip kisses Rachel because he is in love with her, but it is impossible to know why Rachel herself initiates the kiss. Secondly, the very fact that Rachel kisses Philip is important because it shows that she is fully in charge of any and all romantic interactions, inverting the societal norm. Finally, the fact that Rachel and Philip enter the Christmas dinner together is important because it suggests that Philip has symbolically taken over Ambrose’s formal role as head of the estate.
Themes
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Identity and Destiny Theme Icon
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