My Cousin Rachel | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel | Chapter 16 | Summary



Months go by. Philip enjoys their routine, joyful when it is time to see Rachel for lunch, enduring the hours before dinner together, and then looking at books until 10 o'clock. After they part for the night, he broods alone for hours. Will she plan to leave soon? Will he think of an excuse to keep her there? He learns Rachel has surreptitiously been planning meals with the cook, but Philip doesn't mind and enjoys the better food. Nor does he mind her being called "mistress" of the house. In fact "it pleased me and gave me, too, a sort of pride."

Philip plans a Christmas dinner for the tenants, recalling the spirit of childhood. He is unsure what to give Rachel for a gift and resolves to see if there is anything among the jewels at the bank. The pieces all have colored stones, which Rachel cannot wear in mourning, except the last piece, a pearl collar. Philip recalls hearing the story of his mother wearing it on her wedding day, though she could not keep it because her husband was not in the direct line of inheritance. When Philip inherits the estate, he is meant to give the pearls to his wife.

On Christmas Eve day, Seecombe and the lads help Philip decorate the tree. Dinner is at five o'clock. Philip sends the pearls to Rachel with a note saying he wants her to wear them always. Her dress is fancier, her hair higher, and the pearls make her look radiant. Philip finally realizes Rachel is beautiful. She embraces him, and they kiss. He thinks to himself, "It was not yearning for home, nor sickness of the blood, nor fever of the brain—but for this—that Ambrose died," and they walk toward the party.


This chapter is something of a watershed: months of blissful routine have gone by, and Philip is in love, brooding over to how to keep Rachel there and continue the status quo. What is Rachel feeling and thinking all this time? Because the story is told from Philip's perspective, and he is far from an expert on women, readers only guess at Rachel's experience on the basis of her words and actions when in Philip's presence. She has kissed him at times, but in a motherly way, patting him like "a good boy." Now, they kiss in a romantic way. It is still unknown whether she is guilty or innocent, in love or manipulating him for his money, but what does become clear is her active participation in the affair.

Another indication they have entered the romantic phase of the relationship comes from the symbol of the pearl collar, meant for the wife of the master. The only exception is women marrying into the family may wear the collar on their wedding day. Because Philip is the only living member of the family line, the pearls are meant to go to his wife. Thus, the gift of the pearls suggests betrothal. In the note he leaves with the pearls, he writes, "My mother wore this last. And now it belongs to you." Does Rachel know this makes "a bond" when she accepts them and puts them on for dinner? Does she interpret it as a kind of betrothal? Either way, she kisses him as her response. Does she love him, does she love the pearls, does she love the expectation of more, or all three?

That Philip sees Rachel by candlelight and finally notices her beauty is still another indication of a new phase. "A new softness came to her by candlelight that was not with her in the day." Days were given to work; at nights "she shone with a radiance that had lain concealed about her person until now." Candlelight is theatrical and used in the story as theatrical lighting. Candlelight, or the play of light and shadow, can soften and also create a sense of mystery.

Rachel's beauty, charm, and quiet demeanor obviously attract Philip. But beyond the obvious is Rachel's comprehension of Philip's emotional needs. Deprived of a mother, he responds to her maternal behavior. She treats him like child; for example, dismissing him as a mother would tell a child it's bedtime: "Sometimes she patted me upon the shoulder, as she might have done a puppy." Later, alone in his room looking at the garden, "I would feel oddly lonely, as a child does when holiday is done." Philip seems to long for a woman who can be his mother and his wife.

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