When you think of Daphne Du Marier, two novels probably come to mind. Rebecca is perhaps Du Maurier’s most famous novel, a sweeping romance come ghost story set in a quintessentially English estate. Then there is Jamaica Inn which was last year adapted by the BBC, a dark tale that looks at the history of Cornwell. This time it is one of Du Mauriers less widely known novels, My Cousin Rachel which has been adaptation for the big screen anddirected by Roger Michell, starring Rachel Weisz. The film has brought a new wave of interest to Daphne Du Maurier and her gothic novels.
My Cousin Rachel tells the story of a young man, Philip Ashely, who is orphaned at a young age and raised by his cousin, Ambrose. Both are eccentric country gentlemen who live together in a grand country house and avoid almost all female company. However, when Ambrose develops a problem with his joints he is advised to go away for the winter, somewhere warm. Philip stays at home to look after the country estate which will one day be his. Ambrose returns for the summer and the pair are incredibly close, Philip says that they are possibly closer even than father and son. However, when Ambrose goes away once again, this time he does not return. He has met a woman, distantly related to Philip and so referred to always as his cousin Rachel. Ambrose marries Rachel and still they do not return to England.
Worried by Ambrose’s absence and some strange letters he has received, Philip goes in search of his cousin. However, he soon learns of his death. He returns to England to mourn his uncle and take care of the estate he has inherited, waiting for a chance to take his revenge on the woman who stole Ambrose away. Then, the widow Rachel appears and she is nothing like Philip expected.
My Cousin Rachel is another beautiful yet dark novel by Daphne Du Maurier. Although there is something less striking about the plot of My Cousin Rachel in comparison to Rebecca (I must admit that it would be difficult to top one of my favourite novels of all time), however the characters are intriguing and it is also interest to notice how Du Mauriier contrasts the English country house with the mysterious Other of mainland Europe. It is also interesting to see a woman living in the twentieth century, writing My Cousin Rachel in 1951 set in an earlier, unspecified era, approach the male perspective on women. Throughout she makes reference to the different way that men and women think, she also talks about the way that the English viewed Italians at that time. I wondered when reading the novel is this was how Du Maurier thought at the time of writing or if this was her imagining herself as a gentleman of the nineteenth century.
There is a sense of mystery throughout the novel, not just about who Rachel is and her motives, but also where Ambrose has gone. Philip becomes ever more ostracised on his estate in England and places such as Italy and France seem distant and faraway concepts. The world becomes small for Philip and this adds another layer of claustrophobia and fear.
The descriptions of the English countryside are beautiful and although the cast of characters within the novel is limited they are all well developed and believable. At the end of the novel I was curious to know what happened to them all, those that survived anyway.
I would highly recommend this novel, whether you have read any of Du Maurier’s other novels or not. It is a unique novel that you unravels with increasing tension. A must read for English literature lovers.