My Cousin Rachel | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel | Chapter 3 | Summary



As others convey congratulations, Philip pretends to be happy for Ambrose. Everyone speculates about what changes await the male household. Seecombe predicts such upheaval it makes Philip laugh. Louise recites a list of improvements Rachel will want to make to the house; Philip cuts her off, and Louise realizes his jealousy. Nick asks if he has considered where he will live now Ambrose is married and may have children. Philip does not understand. Nick says Ambrose will probably buy him a property. Philip cannot grasp the notion of living anywhere else, not being welcome in his home. He longs for his old nursery and dreads the thought of mewling "monkeys" filling the place. His imagination conjures dozens of versions of Rachel, all of them preparing him to pity Ambrose. Philip is relieved when a letter arrives in mid-May to say they must stay in Italy to resolve Rachel's business.

In winter, Ambrose's letters take on a tone of loneliness. He complains of headaches and the closeness of the air. No letter comes at Easter or the week after. Philip worries about Ambrose's health. An uncharacteristically sprawling and incoherent letter arrives in July in which Ambrose writes "She watches me all the time," and he trusts no one including the doctors. Philip takes the letter to Nick who fears Ambrose has a tumor on the brain, as Ambrose's father had. They agree Philip must go to Italy. As the carriage leaves, the groom passes with the post and another letter from Ambrose. It says to come quickly or it will be too late, "She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment."


Ambrose's mistrust of women because they are fussy and talk too much boomerangs from true love to a new height of mistrust. He feels Rachel is watching him and can write only when she is out of the house. He cannot trust anyone to mail his letters, he does not trust the doctors, and he definitely does not trust Rainaldi. These feelings introduce the theme of trust: Ambrose expands his trust beyond Philip and Nick, most surprisingly, to a woman, and he pays dearly for it. Whether Rachel is an attentive wife, a concerned nurse, or a calculating murderer, Ambrose is tormented, whether by paranoia or reality.

Philip's relief at the happy couple delaying their return changes to worry when he hears nothing at all. The tension escalates. When the first strange letter arrives, Philip is even more anxious. Tension rises further. Level-headed Nick shares his concern and both agree on the emergency trip to Italy. Nick is not impetuous and Philip never travels, so readers know the stakes are high. Even knowing the eventual outcome from Chapter 1 will not prevent readers from hoping Philip will save Ambrose from Rachel's misdeeds or find out what the trouble is—whether he is being poisoned or has a brain tumor that is affecting his judgments. The carriage careening away from home just in time to catch the post gives this scene a breathless quality, enhanced by arrival of the note, with its even more urgent message: "If you delay, it may be too late." The chapter ends on a cliffhanger that will keep readers on edge through several chapters until Rachel is introduced.

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