My Cousin Rachel


Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel Themes

Themes and Colors
Guilt Theme Icon
Women, Sexuality, and Society Theme Icon
Home and Belonging Theme Icon
Identity and Destiny Theme Icon
Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Unknowability Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in My Cousin Rachel, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.


At the core of My Cousin Rachel lies a pair of questions: Did Rachel kill her husband, Ambrose? And, did Philip kill Rachel? The murky concept of guilt drives the novel forward, as Philip struggles to reconcile his loyalty to his beloved cousin Ambrose with his growing infatuation with Rachel, Ambrose’s widow. However, the question of guilt is more than just a plot mechanism propelling the story. Over the course of the novel, du…

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Women, Sexuality, and Society

My Cousin Rachel builds to a sexual crescendo: the climax of the novel occurs when Philip and Rachel have sex in the early morning hours of Philip’s twenty-fifth birthday. On a plot level, this moment is critical. By this point, Philip is in love with Rachel, the widow of his cousin Ambrose (which means that Rachel is Philip’s cousin-in-law). In this scene, he hints strongly that he wants to marry her, and the narration of…

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Home and Belonging

Philip Ashley, the novel’s twenty-four-year-old narrator and protagonist, is a self-proclaimed homebody: “I never had any desire,” he confesses, “to be anywhere but at home.” The physical structure of home plays a critical role in My Cousin Rachel. Growing up in his older cousin Ambrose’s home, Philip had extremely limited interactions with women. Ambrose—a less-than-subtle misogynist—refused to employ female servants and tried his best to never have women visitors, with the exception…

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Identity and Destiny

Both Philip and Rachel have fractured and refracted identities. Before he meets her, Philip imagines Rachel as “a dozen personalities or more and each one more hateful than the last.” Even after Rachel arrives in England and Philip begins to fall for her, he notes that she is a much different woman by day than by night: “a new softness came to her by candlelight,” he says, “that was not with her in the day.”…

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Jealousy, Possessiveness, and Unknowability

At the heart of Philip and Ambrose’s infatuation with Rachel is a desire to fully possess her. Both of the Ashley men are deeply jealous of Signor Rainaldi, Rachel’s Italian friend and advisor, and suspect Rachel of having an affair with him. Eventually, Philip even begins to feel jealous of his late cousin Ambrose, the person he loves above all others, because Ambrose was married to Rachel prior to his death. Du Maurier…

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