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
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?
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.”