My Cousin Rachel

by

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel: Chapter 21 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
March passes quickly, and Philip becomes increasingly excited about his birthday. He even reminds Rachel, “You have to remember what you said to me the other day. The celebrator of a birthday must be granted every wish.” “Only up to the age of ten years old,” Rachel replies flippantly.
Philip and Rachel’s conversation, while playful and flirtatious, occupies a strange grey area, since Philip is ostensibly asking Rachel to treat him like a child on his birthday. The age difference between Rachel and Philip, and the fact that her marriage to Ambrose makes her effectively Philip’s stepmother, seems only to heighten the erotic tension between them.
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On March 31, Philip visits the bank to withdraw all of the family jewels. The banker is reluctant to comply, but Philip insists and soon leaves with the entire collection packed into a basket. Outside the bank, Philip encounters Mrs. Pascoe and her daughters, and amuses himself by telling her that his home improvements have “ruined [him]” and he has been reduced to selling cabbages in town.
Philip takes pleasure in fibbing to Mrs. Pascoe, suggesting not only that he is slightly mean-spirited, but also that his fixation on Rachel has caused him to throw caution to the wind. Earlier in the novel, Philip fretted about Rachel giving Italian lessons because he feared it would reflect poorly on the prestigious Ashley name. Now, he relishes pretending to be a cabbage seller, flouting propriety just as recklessly as he did the law in withdrawing the jewels from the bank before they are legally his.
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Philip stashes the jewels at home, and then rides to Pelyn to see Nick Kendall, carrying the document he has received from his attorney and the will drafted by Ambrose. Philip announces to Kendall that he wants him to witness his signature on the new document. Kendall tries to dissuade him, cautioning him that the new document lacks adequate safeguards and might cause the Ashley fortune to be “dispersed” by Rachel. Philip remains steadfast, though he takes offense when Kendall asks, “You are completely infatuated with your cousin, are you not?”
Philip is offended by Nick Kendall’s use of the word “infatuated,” calling it “a futile and most ugly word.” Perhaps what Philip means to say is that this word suggests a childish level of emotion—and affection that is one-sided. Part of the reason Philip has grown to resent his godfather so much seems to be that Kendall consistently points out Philip’s immaturity, while Rachel humors it, even as a mother might.
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Kendall watches as Philip signs the document, though not before offering him this warning: “There are some women […] good women very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster. Whatever they touch, somehow turns to tragedy.” Unfazed, Philip leaves. He is thrilled by the sight of home: “All this was old to me, long-known and loved, possessed from babyhood; yet now it held new magic.”
Kendall’s comment, like some of Rainaldi’s earlier statements, suggests a sense of fate that seems ultimately detrimental, as it excuses Philip (and Rachel) of making better decisions than they do. Another important aspect of this passage is that Philip now takes pleasure not in his home belonging to him, as he did before, but in the fact that it will soon belong to Rachel. This detail powerfully highlights how much Philip’s love of Rachel has changed him and his values.
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At home, Philip receives a case of pipes from the servants as a birthday gift. Philip and Rachel dine, and then Philip goes out to walk the grounds and swim in the ocean. Returning to the house, he smells a “rank vixen smell,” but does not see the fox. It is now almost midnight, and Philip stands below Rachel’s window and calls up to her, asking her to wait there for a little while.
As before, when Philip heard but only briefly saw the fox, Philip is aware of the animal due to her smell, rather than the sight of her. The fox’s presence is sensual and powerful, yet the animal herself is elusive, much like Rachel herself.
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Philip goes inside and fetches the basket full of jewels. He returns outside, under Rachel’s window, and throws up a rope to her, which he has knotted to the basket. After Rachel pulls up the basket, Philip climbs up to her window using a vine. Rachel tells Philip she thinks he has gone mad, but he replies: “It’s only that, at this minute, I have become twenty-five.” He places the document he signed in front of Kendall on a table and tells Rachel she can read it later. He then opens the jewels on Rachel’s bed.
Instead of simply entering the house and presenting Rachel with the jewels, Philip compels Rachel to hoist them up to her room through the window. This makes the entrance of the jewels and subsequently of Philip into Rachel’s intimate bedroom space more laborious and thus more significant. Additionally, the fact that Philip opens the jewels on Rachel’s bed represents an unusually confident move on his part, as he is laying claim to Rachel’s personal space.
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Rachel is overwhelmed by the jewels, and she and Philip embrace. “It was as though,” Philip thinks, “she caught my madness, shared my folly, and all the wild delight of lunacy belonged to us both.” Rachel tells Philip to name anything he wants, and she will give it to him. Philip suddenly “remembers what the [pearl] collar”—which Rachel now wears around her neck—“mean[s].” He says there is one thing, but “it isn’t any use my asking it.”
Du Maurier highlights how out of control Philip and Rachel both are in this scene—though of course, it is possible Rachel is more in control than ever. It is also important to note that Philip remains unable to vocalize his desire to marry Rachel, which means he is relying on Rachel to interpret his intentions. This also shows how difficult it is for people to understand one another, even in the most intimate of situations.
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Rachel presses Philip for an answer, and he recalls the conversation they once had about how he did not want to marry because he had all the comfort he needed within the four walls of his home. Unsure how to ask Rachel to marry him, Philip instead asks if she remembers this conversation. She says she does, and Philip says that he “know[s] now what [he] lack[s].” Rachel laughs, and snuffs the candle.
This is the climactic scene of the novel. Though du Maurier does not actually depict the action in real time, it seems that Rachel and Philip have sex, at Rachel’s initiation. What is not clear is whether Rachel actually knows that Philip wants to marry her, or if she interprets his reference to their earlier conversation as an indication that he now desires the “comfort” of a woman in addition to the comfort of his home. Regardless, Rachel initiates the sexual encounter, which shows more clearly than ever how much power she holds of the inexperienced, naïve Philip.
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Philip wakes the next morning before the servants. He goes outside and stands on the grass, wondering “if any man before [him] had been accepted in marriage in quite so straight a fashion.” Philip’s narrative voice cuts into the action, and explains that Rachel was his “first, and last” lover.
Philip clearly interprets Rachel’s decision to have sex with him as her acceptance of the marriage proposal he never actually made. Du Maurier shows here that even when two people engage in the act of sexual intimacy, they can never truly know the other person’s heart and deepest desires.
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