My Cousin Rachel

by

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel: Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Philip calmly returns the envelope and seeds to the drawer. He then goes downstairs to the kitchen, and finds the cups out of which he and Rachel drank their tisana. He tastes and examines the dregs of both cups; he thinks his might be thicker, but he is not sure. Philip returns to his room, and lies in bed, filled with a deep compassion for Rachel. He wishes “to save her from herself, and [knows] not how.” He finds himself wondering whether Rachel poisoned her first husband, Sangalletti, as well as Ambrose. With Ambrose’s letter now destroyed, Philip is “the only one to know he spoke the truth.” Philip realizes he is come full circle, back to the “bridge beside the Arno,” where he swore to seek revenge on Rachel.
Philip’s feeling of “compassion” for Rachel seems to resemble something more like pity. Though Philip now believes that Rachel is a murderer, he also seems to believe that she is not really responsible for her actions—that she needs to be saved from herself. This is strangely infantilizing, and suggests that Philip does not fully think Rachel capable of the crimes he believes she has committed, perhaps because she is a woman.
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Morning dawns; it is Sunday, and Philip and Rachel take the carriage to church. Philip wishes that he could hate Rachel, “as [he] hated her for many months, unseen.” Instead, he still feels only a “strange, terrible compassion.” After the service, Rachel suggests that the Kendalls and Pascoes be invited to dinner, as of old. Philip agrees because he thinks their presence will keep Rachel from “look[ing] at him, and wonder[ing].”
Though Philip does not actually formulate a plan to take action against Rachel, the tone of this passage suggests that he might intend to do so anyway. This is supported by the fact that he wants to avoid Rachel noticing that he is acting any differently toward her. It is also interesting that Philip seems to want to return to the phase of his life where he was able to imagine many different versions of Rachel. Instead—at long last—there is only one, and she is a murderer.
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As Rachel, the Kendalls, and the Pascoes are making plans for the evening, Philip notices one of his construction workers standing nearby. The man approaches Philip and cautions him, “if [he] should go on the terrace walk, not to stand on the bridgeway we are building across the sunken garden” because it is unfinished and won’t bear weight. Anyone crossing it, the worker says, “could fall and break their neck.” Philip thanks him for the warning, and turns back to the others.
The fact that Philip does not warn any of his friends about the unstable bridge suggests either that he is too distracted by thoughts of Rachel’s guilt to remember, or that he plans to somehow use the unstable bridge to exact revenge on Rachel.
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Philip rides home in a carriage with Louise. He asks if she is aware that laburnum seeds are poisonous; she replies that she is. Philip asks to speak privately with Louise later in the day. At the Ashley estate, Rachel is in high spirits. She pours wine for everyone except for Philip, who has resolved to “take nothing from her hands again.” Rachel chats to her guests about Florence, and as Philip listens he reflects on how he used to think Rachel was “magic.” “Now,” however, “[he] know[s] all the tricks.”
In this passage, it is clear that Philip has become completely disillusioned. Because he now believes Rachel guilty of murder, Philip has started to see all her finely honed social skills in a cynical light. Rather than viewing Rachel’s charisma as magical and alluring, Philip now sees it as dark and manipulative. He seems unable to account for a more complex version of Rachel that encompasses both.
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After the meal, the Pascoes and Nick Kendall depart. Rachel invites Louise and Philip to her bedroom to drink tisana. Philip refuses to drink his cup, telling Rachel she should drink it herself. “Mine is already poured,” she says. “I like it to stand longer. This must be wasted. What a pity.”
Du Maurier seems to include this detail as a teaser; it is hard not to interpret Rachel’s refusal to drink Philip’s tisana as proof that she has poisoned it. Still, du Maurier never lets the reader feel entirely certain.
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After a while, Rachel suggests a walk in the garden. Philip claims he has something to show Louise, so Rachel says she will walk alone. Philip tells Louise to stay where she is, and goes downstairs, where he finds Rachel just setting out for her walk. She intends to walk up to the terrace, “to see if a little statue would look well in the sunken garden.” “Have a care,” Philip says. When Rachel asks why, Philip replies: “Have a care […] of walking beneath the sun.” Rachel laughs, and leaves.
This passage is important because it has to do with Philip’s guilt and innocence rather than Rachel’s. Philip’s choice to not warn Rachel about the unstable bridge suggests that he is guilty of murdering his cousin. It is also important that Philip relies on a physical part of the estate to harm Rachel, as it is as if du Maurier is further emphasizing how inhospitable the Ashley house, steeped in misogyny as it is, has been to Rachel from the very first moment she entered it.
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Back upstairs, Philip tells Louise he thinks Rachel has been poisoning him. He says the proof lies in Rainaldi’s letter, which he needs Louise’s help in translating from Italian. As he begins searching Rachel’s desk for the letter, Philip notices the envelope full of laburnum seeds is now missing. Philip finds a list of names, which Louise identifies as plants. Laburnum is listed, but nothing of poison is mentioned. Philip also finds a note from the bank stating that Rachel has returned the Ashley jewels, and listed Philip as her heir. Philip feels “sudden anguish,” thinking: “Whatever Rainaldi’s influence, some impulse of her own directed this action.”
Again, Philip exhibits a strangely patronizing attitude toward Rachel. He seems to think that Rainaldi must have compelled Rachel to commit murder, but that she alone is responsible for ensuring Philip’s well-being by making him her heir. It is difficult to say whether Philip does this because he truly believes Rachel to be a good person, or because he does not think a woman is capable of murder. Likely, both of these factors are at play.
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Philip cannot find Rainaldi’s letter. Louise suggests he check the blotter; the letter is there. It is written in English, and says only that Rainaldi will wait for Rachel in Florence and that if Rachel “cannot bring [her]self to leave that boy behind,” then she should bring Philip with her to the villa. Philip is perplexed; something must be missing, he thinks. He continues searching and finds a drawing of Ambrose, done, he thinks, by “some Italian friend, or artist.” Ambrose has written a dedication to Rachel under the drawing.
Rainaldi’s letter is far more innocuous than Philip ever could have believed. In fact, Rainaldi’s invitation for Rachel to bring Philip to Italy seems to undermine Philip’s entire perception of the man. Though the text does not dwell on Rainaldi’s letter, it nevertheless serves of an example of how misguided Philip can be in his perception of other people.
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Louise translates the Italian dedication, “non ramentare che le ore felici,” as “remember only the happy hours.” Louise wonders whether she and Philip have “misjudged” Rachel, as they cannot find proof she is trying to poison Philip. “There will never be any proof,” says Philip. Louise suggests they leave Rachel’s room, saying, “I wish now we had not meddled with her things.”
Louise points out the fundamentally frustrating part of Rachel’s character: there is no way for the other characters to know whether or not she is guilty. Has the reader, as Louise suggests, misjudged Rachel as well?
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Philip crosses to the window, and looks out on the terrace walk. Louise asks him what the matter is, and he responds by telling her to pull the bell-rope on the staircase landing that summons the servants. When Louise asks why, Philip says: “Everyone is out, or sleeping, or scattered somewhere; and I may need help.” Louise is perplexed, and Philip explains, “There may have been an accident, to Rachel.” Louise stares at Philip and finally says, “What have you done?”
Louise’s reaction to Philip suggests that Philip may as well have killed Rachel with his own hands. Because du Maurier carefully constrains the scope of the novel, the reader never learns if Louise speaks of this conversation or Philip’s role in Rachel’s “accident” to anyone else. Du Maurier does make clear, however, that Philip himself struggles with the question of his guilt as much as he struggles with that of Rachel’s.
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Philip runs outside to the terrace walk, but sees no sign of Rachel. He notices two of the family dogs standing near a pile of mortar, and sees Rachel’s footsteps and her sunshade. Then he notices part of the collapsed bridge hanging, “grotesque and horrible, like a swinging ladder.” Finally, Philip finds Rachel lying amongst the stones. She opens her eyes when he takes her hands, and calls him Ambrose. Philip holds Rachel’s hands as she dies. The novel ends with the same line with which it opened: “They used to hang men at Four Turnings in the old days. Not any more, though.”
Rachel’s death is moving; the fact that she calls Philip “Ambrose” serves as a reminder not only of the fact that Philip could never have been beloved by Rachel, but also as a reminder of all that Rachel has lost. Perhaps she calls Philip “Ambrose” because she killed Ambrose and feels guilty. Or perhaps it is because she loved Ambrose, and misses him, and wishes he were the one to comfort her as she dies. The power of Rachel’s death scene, as of the novel as a whole, lies in its ambiguity.
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