My Cousin Rachel | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel | Chapter 18 | Summary

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Summary

On Christmas Day, Philip and Rachel visit the lodges to distribute Ambrose's clothes. Philip is angry with Nick for "cheeseparing" and "sticking to the quibble in the will" for three more months; he wants his way, and he wants control of his money. He schedules work on the house so no visitors will be allowed through the end of winter, but with an edge of spite: "If my godfather pulled a face and drew sums upon his blotter he could go hang himself."

In early spring, a sick lodger, Sam Bate, asks to see Philip, who visits and finds Sam with Ambrose's coat on his bed. They speak of the idea that what kills the father kills the son. Sam has the cough his father had, and Ambrose had the brain sickness his father had. Philip disregards notion as an old wives' tale. Sam has found a letter from Ambrose to Philip in the coat lining. Philip takes it to Ambrose's granite stone and reads it.

In the letter Ambrose complains of fever and headaches. He mentions Rachel's "fault," which he referred to in a previous letter, as being hereditary. Ambrose goes on to say Rachel lost a baby and cannot have children. After the loss, she turned away from him and more toward Rainaldi, who gives her money. "Money, God forgive me for saying so, is at the present time the one way to her heart." He suspects Rainaldi is in love with Rachel. Rainaldi had asked in private about Ambrose's will, which has no provision for Rachel. Ambrose drew up a new will giving her the estate until it passes to Philip at her death but did not sign it because of his concerns about her spending habits. He then became ill again with symptoms beyond what his father had. He says not to tell anyone or even write back, but just to come. Ambrose states his concern: "Are they trying to poison me?"

Philip buries the letter beneath the granite stone. When Philip returns home, he discovers Don the dog is dying in Rachel's lap as she weeps. Forgetting the letter and the dog, Philip is mostly gratified to be the object of Rachel's sorrow instead of Ambrose.

Analysis

Ambrose wonders about the nature of Rachel's fault, and whether it might be hereditary, at the very time he might be dying of the same kind of brain tumor as his father, perhaps a hereditary condition. Sam Bate believes he inherited his father's cough, which Philip dismisses as an "old tale," but may have some credibility in environmental factors of an inherited trade, such as generations of miners having black lung. Nonetheless, Sam purports his cough is like Ambrose's tumor. The "old tale" foreshadows Philip's own illness and brush with death beginning in Chapter 23, with the father in this case being his father figure Ambrose. Will Philip's illness reflect Ambrose's alleged brain tumor or poisoning?

Another detail involving heredity and fathers and sons is Rachel's loss of a baby. An heir would have changed everything for Philip, and Ambrose might have been compelled to sign a completely different will, as Philip might no longer be heir to the estate. As it is, by the time Philip learns of it, Rachel's fertility or lack thereof would be his own concern.

Ambrose concludes in his letter Rainaldi loves Rachel, she wants only money from either of them, and maybe they are poisoning him. This voice from beyond the grave should shake Philip from his marriage trajectory, but he buries the letter where Ambrose is symbolically buried (his fake headstone), in essence burying the warning in his subconscious. Philip is not ready to wake from the dream and instead returns home to savor Rachel's pity over the dying dog, a symbol of his dying childhood and innocence. And once again, Rachel becomes the mother figure, this time adding guilt to her sympathy, "Why did you stay away so long? If you had been here, it would not have happened." She wants her little boy close by so she can keep an eye on him.

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