My Cousin Rachel | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel | Chapter 2 | Summary



For three years, Ambrose has spent winters abroad for health reasons. When Ambrose first began this practice, Philip had been away at school. Philip has never lived anywhere except at school and his cousin's estate, where he has been living since his cousin Ambrose took him in as an 18-month-old orphan. After dismissing Philip's nurse when the child was three, Ambrose has employed no women because "they made mischief in a household."

For his third winter abroad, Ambrose goes to Italy to see the gardens. He jokes about Philip's coming with him and makes him promise to cut away some plants blocking the view of the sea. His goodbyes seem wistful in retrospect: "Take care of things, don't fail me" and "Anyway, everything I have is yours, you know that." Philip misses him as always, but in mid-November a letter arrives in which Ambrose says the voyage was fine. Then another letter arrives from Florence in which Ambrose mentions meeting cousin Rachel who promises to show him the gardens. Ambrose describes Rachel as intelligent, "just as English as you or I ... none of that endless yattering so common in women," and married young to Sangalletti who died in a duel.

Two additional letters arrive indicating Ambrose is helping Rachel with her affairs, and then a long gap follows. Winter passes, and after Easter a letter arrives announcing Ambrose's marriage to Rachel; they have made no plans besides living in the moment. Instead of feeling happy for the couple, Philip walks out to the rocks by the bay, lonely and miserable, to contemplate his unwelcome future.


Philip interrupts his narration of Ambrose's wintering in warmer climates to provide some background on his childhood. In addition to the compassionate act of adopting the orphaned Philip, Ambrose raises the child in an unorthodox fashion, apart from polite society and the company of women. Ambrose's avoidance of women is suspect, for upper-class English children had nurses, nannies, and governesses. The company of men only thus seems a radical departure from traditional ways. However, the unusual situation sets the stage for both Philip and Ambrose to have a level of inexperience with women that make interactions with Rachel plausible. There is no moderating influence of other women in the house either. As a youth, Philip attends boarding school and university. These years represent his only time living anywhere other than the estate, placing a limitation on his experience that emphasizes again how unworldly he is. When Ambrose begins spending winters abroad, Philip is alone in the house (except for the servants—all male) and finds the solitary life suits him fine. The expectation is these two men will continue indefinitely in their closeness and their exclusion of others, especially women, with Philip running and eventually inheriting the estate.

With the third winter, the calamity of Rachel begins to unfold. In a case of situational irony, the "crusty, cynical woman hater" Ambrose falls in love and marries. Ignoring the red flags of her lax half-Italian upbringing, and her indigent Coryn lineage, Ambrose focuses on Rachel's Englishness, love of gardens, and connection to Cornwall. However, her tendency to "impel disaster" is further foreshadowed by her first husband's untimely death in a duel, the late Count Sangalletti having left her with a mountain of debt.

At this point in the story, readers know only that Rachel is a pleasant, intelligent, and quiet woman, and her troubles are not Ambrose's problem. By the next letter, however, Sangalletti has become one of those "treacherous blackguards" who caused Rachel untold suffering, and Ambrose is proud to advise on her financial mess. As Ambrose falls in love with Rachel, he frames her as a victim of her husband's failings and a helpless woman with no head for business. Philip consults Nick Kendall who recalls the Coryns as "a feckless lot" who gambled away their fortune. Perhaps Ambrose is able to overlook the feckless gamblers she comes from and the treacherous blackguards she associated with because she is intelligent, acts English, and is not prone to "yattering." However, he fails to see the warning signs saying she is a black hole for money and is perhaps flirting to make him fall for her. Philip's reaction is understandable and once again foreshadows either a complete reversal into acceptance or confirmation of ill tidings.

Philip is a responsible estate manager whom Ambrose trusts implicitly in his absence. Trimming the bushes that block the view of the sea may be a reference to Menabilly, which, blocked by a wooded area, was invisible from the sea. Regardless, it shows that Philip follows up on Ambrose's promises.

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