My Cousin Rachel

by

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Rachel calls Philip into her room, where she has been joined by his old retriever, Don, and several of the other family dogs. Philip’s first impression of Rachel is “one of shock, almost of stupefaction, that she should be so small.” “The only things large about her [are] her eyes,” and Philip thinks Rachel looks as shocked to see him as he is to see her. Though she seems nervous at first, Rachel quickly begins chatting to Philip about how “strange” it is to be in the Ashley home; she says she and Ambrose often discussed “the journey home.” Philip soon finds himself thinking: “If anyone was at fault it was myself, for I felt oddly large and clumsy in so small a room.”
Over the course of the novel, Philip will consistently associate Rachel’s small stature with helplessness. However, Philip and Rachel’s first meeting shows quite clearly that it is Rachel who holds the cards. Even though the house belongs to Philip, he immediately feels out of place; the room is small, just like Rachel, as if she has somehow adapted her surroundings to fit her, just as Philip feared she would. This scene also formally introduces the symbol of Rachel’s eyes. Du Maurier clearly marks the power of Rachel’s eyes by pointing out that they are physically the only things large about her.
Themes
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Rachel insists that Ambrose “always intended [Philip] to have his room,” and that he would be very glad of the current arrangements. When Philip offers that he hopes Rachel will be comfortable in Aunt Phoebe’s old room, Rachel recounts the story of Aunt Phoebe, which Philip has never heard before. Rachel says Phoebe took a twenty-year chill after being struck by unrequited love for a curate. At the age of fifty-four, Rachel says, Phoebe married another curate and “died on her wedding night—of shock.” As Rachel finishes the story, her eyes remain “solemn,” but Philip notices “her mouth twitching.” Unable to help himself, “[he] smile[s] at cousin Rachel, and something happen[s] to her eyes and [she] smile[s] back at [him].”
This conversation shows how adept Rachel is at manipulating social interactions. By reassuring Philip he was right to take Ambrose’s room for herself, Rachel is able to make him feel powerful and in charge, and to establish a connection between the two of them by mentioning Ambrose. However, Rachel’s story about Aunt Phoebe suggests that Ambrose has shared more with Rachel than he has with Philip, which subtly returns the power to Rachel’s corner. Additionally, the story clearly demonstrates how open Rachel is about her sexuality—the story’s punchline being that Aunt Phoebe died because she was so surprised to find out what sex was. By telling the story, Rachel also seems to be implicitly flirting with Philip, which is another way for her to take charge of their first interaction. Philip’s inability to withhold a smile suggests that he is susceptible to Rachel’s charm.
Themes
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Rachel and Philip continuing talking, but Philip decides: “I had smiled at her once, I was damned if I would smile at her again.” The pair discuss the Ashley grounds, and Rachel expresses a wish to learn to ride. Though Philip tries to repress it, he feels “a rising tide of something near hysteria” when speaking to Rachel. Seecombe brings in a tea tray for Rachel, and takes the dogs out with him. Rachel invites Philip to smoke his pipe, surprising him. He says, “I thought women minded about such things,” and Rachel replies, “They do, when they have nothing else to worry them.”
Rachel’s ability to produce “something near hysteria” in Philip upon their first meeting seems a sign that their relationship will be a turbulent one. Furthermore, it suggests that, despite his professed hatred of her, Philip was somehow predisposed to like Rachel, perhaps because he subconsciously wants to be like Ambrose. Meanwhile, Rachel’s comment that women worry about such things as gentlemen smoking in their bedroom only “when they have nothing else” to fret over hints that Rachel has much bigger problems on her mind, which makes her intriguing both to Philip and to the reader.
Themes
Women, Sexuality, and Society Theme Icon
Sitting by the fire with Rachel, Philip finds himself unable to muster hatred for her. In fact, he is half asleep. He thinks: “I must remember […] not to drink brandy another time after a ten-mile walk in the rain […] I had come to fight this woman and I had not even started.” Rachel orders Philip to bed, reminding him that she would like to ride tomorrow. Philip says he can take her, but Rachel reminds him that tomorrow is Saturday, and he will be paying his tenants’ wages. Philip is surprised and wonders aloud how Rachel knows this. Tears spring to Rachel’s eyes, and she says coldly, “If you don’t know […] you have less understanding than I thought.”
Rachel’s thorough knowledge of the workings of the Ashley estate not only catches Philip off guard, but also evinces how at home she has positioned herself to be even before arriving in England. Rachel’s comment about Philip having “less understanding than [she] thought” is difficult to parse but seems to suggest that Rachel and Ambrose had always intended to return together to the Ashley estate. This would appear to serve as evidence that Ambrose’s death truly was sudden and unexpected, and thoroughly disrupted the plans Rachel had to return with her husband to his native land.
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Home and Belonging Theme Icon
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Before Philip leaves, Rachel gives him Ambrose’s old walking stick. She then pushes him from her room. Befuddled, Philip stands outside her door holding the stick. The look in her eyes when she gave it to him reminds him of the “age-old look of suffering” that he noticed in the beggar woman he encountered on the banks of the river Arno.
Philip’s mental comparison of Rachel to the beggar woman is one he will continue to make, and which suggests that he has a rather monolithic understanding of women. Though he was charmed by his first meeting with her, Philip is still operating under the assumption that Rachel bears some guilt in Ambrose’s death, which makes it impossible for him to believe that the look of suffering he saw in her is related to the death of her husband. Because of this, he instead links Rachel’s emotion to a sort of “age-old” suffering that he somehow seems to associate with women in general. This strange association suggests just how inept Philip is when it comes to trying to understand Rachel.
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Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Unknowability Theme Icon
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