My Cousin Rachel

by

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel: Chapter 17 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Philip and Rachel take their seats, and the dinner begins. Philip is charmed to find that Rachel has placed personalized presents at the table for each of the dinner guests, including for him. His present is a gold keychain engraved with his and Rachel’s initials. Before handing out presents from under the tree, Philip announces that the guests may take a five-minute break outside.
This scene highlights Rachel’s infallible social graces, and affirms her popularity with the tenants of the estate. Rachel’s ability to genuinely connect with others is an important character trait, because her charisma can be interpreted either as sinister and manipulative, or as evidence of her goodness.
Themes
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While the tenants are outside, Philip greets the Pascoes and the Kendalls. Philip finds Nick Kendall’s manner “abrupt”; he soon notices that his godfather’s eyes are glued to the pearl collar Rachel is wearing. Philip bristles at the implied criticism from his godfather, but says nothing. Philip and Rachel distribute the larger presents from under the tree, and the guests then proceed to the drawing room for dessert.
Philip is clearly struggling to assert his manhood and independence, despite the fact that he will not be legally independent for several more months. Philip is so determined to win Rachel’s attention that he is willing to sacrifice the lifelong relationship he has had with Nick Kendall. This passage thus emphasizes how much Philip is wiling to risk in order to “win” Rachel.
Themes
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In the drawing room, Mrs. Pascoe compliments Rachel on the pearl collar. In response, Nick Kendall makes a cold comment about how much the necklace is worth. Rachel gives Philip a confused look, and he immediately announces that “the carriages have come.” As the guests begin to leave, Kendall takes the opportunity to privately inform Philip that he has received a “decidedly disturbing message from the bank.”
It is noteworthy that Nick Kendall has gotten his information firsthand from the bank. This is atypical in a novel that focuses so heavily on information being transmitted secondhand via written letters. At last, there is concrete proof that Rachel has done something wrong. The fact that Philip will find a way to dismiss this proof shows just how far he is willing to go to believe in Rachel’s goodness.
Themes
Guilt Theme Icon
Nick Kendall explains that Rachel has already overdrawn her account by several hundred pounds, and that he is worried she is sending the money out of the country. Kendall dismisses Philip’s suggestion that Rachel has used the extra money to purchase the tenants’ presents. Unfazed, Philip insists that Kendall increase Rachel’s quarterly allowance and cover the overdraft on the account.
This exchange shows Philip clearly defying the advice of his godfather and legal guardian. However, it is important to notice that Nick Kendall blames Rachel not only for overdrafting her account, but also for (possibly) sending the money out of England. Du Maurier seems to be subtly pointing out how men inexorably try to control women; even though the money in Rachel’s account is legally hers, she is not allowed to do with it what she wishes without scrutiny from male characters like Kendall.
Themes
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Nick Kendall goes on to say that Philip was not within his rights in removing the pearl collar from the bank. He adds that he has learned more about Rachel’s past on a recent trip he made. He says that Rachel and her first husband, Sangalletti, were both “notorious” for their “unbridled extravagance” and “loose living.” Kendall even suggests that the only reason Rachel did not “run through [Ambrose’s] entire fortune” was because Ambrose died so soon after the pair were married.
This passage is important on a plot level because it adds another accusation against Rachel: that of sexual impropriety, or “loose living.” Philip does not seem to credit the idea now, but as the novel progresses he will become obsessed with the fear that Rachel is having an affair with Signor Rainaldi. Du Maurier thus emphasizes that society prohibits women from doing as they please with their own money and with their very own bodies.
Themes
Guilt Theme Icon
Women, Sexuality, and Society Theme Icon
Nick Kendall insists that Philip retrieve the pearl collar from Rachel and return it to the bank. When Philip refuses, Kendall says he will ask Rachel directly for the necklace. Philip is furious; he wishes his godfather were dead. Kendall and Philip continue to argue. Kendall is particularly worried that Rachel’s appearance in the necklace at dinner will cause gossip, as Ashley “family superstition” holds that the necklace is worn by a bride as her “sole adornment” on her wedding day.
Kendall’s concern about gossip is significant because it brings to the reader’s attention the fact that Philip and Rachel’s joint living arrangement is not necessarily considered proper by society at large. This adds another layer to the forbidden nature of Philip’s feelings for Rachel, and, given how immature and impetuous he is, makes him even more likely to rebel against expectations of him.
Themes
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Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Unknowability Theme Icon
Suddenly, Philip notices Rachel and Louise in the doorway. Rachel calmly gives the pearl collar to Nick Kendall, saying that she “perfectly understand[s]” the situation. The Kendalls depart; Philip is still so furious with his godfather that he is on the verge of tears. He asks Rachel, “Don’t you know why I wanted you to wear [the pearls]?” Rachel kisses Philip and replies, “You wanted me to wear them because you knew that had I been married here, and not in Florence, Ambrose would have given them to me on our wedding day.” She then goes upstairs to bed, leaving Philip thinking, “She had told me, some weeks back, that I lacked perception. To-night, I might have said the same of her.”
This passage represents another moment of dramatic irony. Clearly the ever-perceptive Rachel knows that Philip gifted her the pearls because he is in love with her—and because the necklace carries with it the connotation of marriage. The fact that Philip thinks Rachel has genuinely misunderstood his motives shows that he does not realize how discerning Rachel really is—nor does he consider the fact that she might be deliberately trying to sidestep his romantic feelings for her. As the novel continues to unfold, Philip’s frustration with Rachel’s “lack of perception”—as well as her preference for the real Ambrose, rather than his successor—will boil over into outright violence.
Themes
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