My Cousin Rachel


Daphne du Maurier

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Rachel’s Hands Symbol Analysis

Rachel’s Hands Symbol Icon

While other character’s hands—including Philip’s and Rainaldi’s—are described in the novel, none are more painstakingly evoked than Rachel’s, which symbolize her extraordinary power. Rachel’s hands are incredibly small, and they remind Philip of “the hands of someone in a portrait painted by an old master and left unfinished.” Philip often finds himself watching Rachel’s hands, as he is less tongue-tied doing so than when he tries to meet Rachel’s eyes. Philip’s obsession with the smallness of Rachel’s hands suggests that her size is a quality he finds attractive. Philip likes that Rachel is small, because it makes him feel more powerful. Philip’s comparison of Rachel’s hands to a portrait “painted by an old master” suggests that Rachel’s hands are part of what make her seem so old and wise, an association that is supported by the fact that Rachel uses her hands to prepare her renowned herbal remedies. Indeed, this is the contradiction symbolized by Rachel’s hands: they may be small, but Philip is wrong in thinking this makes them a symbol of powerlessness. In fact, Rachel’s hands—and by extension, the rest of her body—are where her power resides. After all, it is these hands that may have poisoned both of Rachel’s husbands, Sangalletti and Ambrose, as well as Philip himself. Du Maurier thus uses Philip’s fixation on Rachel’s hands to show how badly Philip misunderstands his cousin. He wants to believe Rachel small and powerless, but du Maurier uses the symbol of Rachel’s hands to show how underestimated Rachel’s size and gender cause her to be.

Rachel’s Hands Quotes in My Cousin Rachel

The My Cousin Rachel quotes below all refer to the symbol of Rachel’s Hands. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Guilt Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Sourcebooks edition of My Cousin Rachel published in 2009.
Chapter 8 Quotes

Somewhere there was a bitter creature, crabbed and old, hemmed about with lawyers; somewhere a larger Mrs. Pascoe, loud-voiced, arrogant; somewhere a petulant spoilt doll, with corkscrew curls; somewhere a viper, sinuous and silent. But none of them was with me in this room. Anger seemed futile now, and hatred too, and as for fear—how could I fear anyone who did not measure up to my shoulder, and had nothing remarkable about her save a sense of humour and small hands?

Related Characters: Philip Ashley (speaker), Rachel Ashley, Mrs. Pascoe
Related Symbols: Rachel’s Hands
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26 Quotes

I had held it many times, in love, before. Felt the small size of it, turned the rings upon the fingers, seen the blue veins upon the back, touched the small close-filed nails. Now, as it rested in my hand, I saw it, for the first time, put to another purpose. I saw it take the laburnum pods, in deft fashion, and empty out the seeds […] I remembered once I had told her that her hands were beautiful, and she had answered, with a laugh, that I was the first to tell her so. “They have their uses,” she said. “Ambrose used to say, when I was gardening, that they were workmen’s hands.”

Related Characters: Philip Ashley (speaker), Rachel Ashley (speaker), Ambrose Ashley
Related Symbols: Rachel’s Hands
Page Number: 371
Explanation and Analysis:
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Rachel’s Hands Symbol Timeline in My Cousin Rachel

The timeline below shows where the symbol Rachel’s Hands appears in My Cousin Rachel. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 15
Women, Sexuality, and Society Theme Icon
Home and Belonging Theme Icon
Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Unknowability Theme Icon
...very wise, and full of a new strength [he does] not understand.” He holds Rachel’s hands and says, “You belong here now, just as he did, just as I do. We... (full context)
Chapter 18
Women, Sexuality, and Society Theme Icon the “new gentleness” he has observed in Rachel since the pearl collar incident. “Those hands,” he thinks, “resting for a moment on my shoulder, or touching my head in a... (full context)
Chapter 23
Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Unknowability Theme Icon
...himself on the banks of the Arno. “Rachel the beggar girl” approaches him “with empty hands,” naked except for the pearl collar around her neck. She points to the river, and... (full context)
Chapter 26
Women, Sexuality, and Society Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Identity and Destiny Theme Icon
...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... (full context)