My Cousin Rachel | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel | Chapter 15 | Summary

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Summary

Philip looks up kleptomania, but he knows Ambrose meant something to do with spending. Rachel shows off the coverings she ordered from London. If Philip likes them, she will give them as a gift. "It will cost you far too much," he tells Rachel, uncomfortable with her extravagance since seeing the letter fragment. She has "a wounded look about her eyes" in response. Philip feels by accepting her gift he is "giving way to something I did not fully understand."

When Philip asks Rachel about her past, her parents, and Sangalletti, she alludes to a difficult life with little money and large debts, saying of her father, "I was glad he did not live to see many things she did, or I too, for that matter." Philip innocently speculates Rachel and her mother were forced to give Italian lessons, but Rachel continues. Sangalletti "took nearly a year before he made up his mind between my mother and myself. Then she lost her looks, poor dear, and lost him too." Before she can reveal more, Philip realizes how sheltered his life has been and decides he does not want to know more, thinking "I wanted to shut the door on it. And lock it too." To make her stop talking he pretends he knows the whole story.

When she asks about the paper, Philips says he burned it so she would not be upset. She recalls Ambrose was generous at first, then less so, then gave her no money and she had to get it from Rainaldi to pay the servants. Then, Ambrose hated him. Now, she feels uneasy about unpacking the boxes and is unnerved by the similarity between Ambrose and Philip: "Sometimes you are so like him that I become afraid." Philip tells her to let go of the bitterness and remember Ambrose when he was healthy; this is her home now. Philip's thought is "You can never go back upon this moment." He wants to hold her again, and for the first time he is jealous of Ambrose.

Analysis

Ambrose did not know the right word, perhaps because illness was affecting his mind or because there is no single word meaning "the inherited trait or disease of compulsive overspending." (Shopaholic, for example, did not exist before 1977.) He offers only kleptomania, but Philip gets the gist, just in time to give his opinion on the new coverings for the blue room. They are far too expensive, too extravagant, and hardly necessary, even in the eyes of Seecombe, who is dazzled by them. Philip thinks Rachel might be generous and wish to give back some of the allowance by spending it on the house. Would it hurt her pride if he refused the gift? It is still a mystery what she was spending on when Ambrose perceived her "disease," and finally Rachel gets a chance to give her side of the story.

Readers can see Ambrose through Rachel's eyes. First, she reveals Ambrose did more than merely help her sort out the paperwork and accounting from her years with Sangalletti—"Those frightful debts, he paid them all"—he dug her out of a financial hole. "He was so generous ... those first months ... at last someone I could trust, and ... someone I could love as well." Then, his generosity waned as he got sicker, hating Rainaldi as Rachel was forced to ask him for help paying the servants: "I had to go out furtively, when Ambrose was resting, and meet Rainaldi in order to get money for the house." Was her alleged overspending in truth simply paying the servants? Does she want to live extravagantly and never consider the cost of anything? Or, are expensive purchases like the blue room coverings a smokescreen for some deeper spending habits? The financial problems come back to the theme of guilt versus innocence. Sneaking out of the house surely contributes to the interpretation of Rachel's guilt, yet her confession and justification of her action point to her innocence; there is a logical explanation for Ambrose's suspicions. Nevertheless, she could be guilty of overspending and thus straining her marriage yet be innocent of murdering her husband.

Equally significant is Rachel's anticipation of what Philip knows or thinks. If Rachel does not know what Ambrose said in the torn bit of letter, she guesses well. That it was placed inside a book may imply Ambrose hid it from Rachel; that it was torn may imply the two had an argument and the letter was grabbed. The continual shift of Ambrose's statements and Rachel's explanations keeps Philip—and readers—guessing as to what is the real story. Because Ambrose cannot tell it any further than he already has, can Philip accept as accurate what Rachel says? Her mysteriousness keeps all alert.

Rachel in her gentle, unfortunate persona evokes Philip's compassion; he does not think analytically and sees only what he wants to. In addition, she takes on a sense of the spiritual when she claims "We were wrong to touch his things ... We have let something loose that was not with us before. Some sort of bitter feeling." She sets up the scene for Philip to comfort her as she explains away Ambrose's fears and irrational behavior and thus encourages Philip's rising emotions.

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