My Cousin Rachel | Study Guide

Daphne du Maurier

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My Cousin Rachel | Chapter 7 | Summary

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Summary

Nick hands Philip a letter from Rachel informing him of Ambrose's death, saying she is in Plymouth with all his possessions and will await instruction on how to get them to Philip. Nick feels sympathy for Rachel, a widow arriving in a foreign country with no connections, and offers to host her in his home. Philip says to write back he already knows about Ambrose's death; he has gone to and returned from Florence, and his home is ready to receive her.

Louise disagrees his home is ready, describing it as "untidy, dusty, smelling like a kennel," not comfortable. Philip hopes Rachel is uncomfortable enough to leave quickly, but he is also somewhat offended. They laugh about Philip's plans to interrogate Rachel, but he reconsiders his decision when he returns home and looks around.

Seecombe is not surprised by the news of Rachel's visit and conveys it is known the widow has no provision. Philip wonders how people would be treating him now if Rachel had inherited the estate and he was merely a poor relation. When Seecombe suggests Rachel stay in Ambrose's room, Philip decides to take over the room himself. The next option is the blue room and the dressing room. Philip is uneasy and sick of the whole business.

Rachel accepts the invitation, and Philip arranges a carriage for her on Friday, hoping for storms. Rachel will stay in the blue room, which has been cleaned along with a dressing room and a boudoir, all under an arch. Philip pauses to compare the portrait of young Ambrose with his own reflection in the mirror—they could be twins, and he feels Ambrose's presence. When Philip goes down to meet Louise, who is arriving with flowers and offering to arrange them, Seecombe is offended. Philip takes her aside, and she says the flowers were an excuse to stay and help him host. Now Philip is offended because everyone thinks him inept. He says he wants to be alone and will be out all day.

Philip savors his last moments alone before the "intruder" arrives, then heads into the woods. He intends to be late for dinner, Rachel hungry and pitifully waiting in her fancy dress with no one to greet her. When Philip gets home cold and wet, Seecombe tells him Rachel was tired and asked to be excused from dinner. Philip bathes and eats alone in silence, not encouraging Seecombe to comment. Young John enters to relay the message Rachel will receive Philip if he wishes, and Philip goes up to meet her.

Analysis

With maturity and experience, Nick takes a measured approach to dealing with Rachel, demonstrating sympathy for her loss and for the position in which it places her. It is the natural response because he believes both that she is a grieving widow and that Ambrose died of natural causes. On the other hand, Philip, suspicious of Rachel's motives and role in Ambrose's death, shows his immaturity by inviting her to stay so he can make her miserable, even laughing with Louise about his intentions. However, to his surprise, he is foiled in his childish attempt to make her wait for dinner and in his attempt to take the best room for himself. For even moments after her arrival Rachel has taken control, with Philip completely unaware.

The tension in this chapter builds as Philip imagines Rachel's tumultuous arrival and imperious demands. He has invented someone obviously unpleasant and commanding, envisioning Ambrose as something of a captive against his will. When his plans are foiled, as he dines alone and in silence at the end of the chapter, readers may be as taken aback as Philip, but unlike him they may notice Rachel has manipulated the situation to her advantage, catching him on his intended rudeness and engineering their meeting on her own terms.

Philip's return to the house parallels later events in his relationship with Rachel and foreshadows Philip's illness later in the story and in a similar situation. Here he comes back cold and wet from the rain, he bathes, changes, has dinner, and goes to meet Rachel. However, later in the story, with tensions having escalated between him and Rachel, he becomes very ill after staying out in the cold and rain. Rachel then stays with him, now the "interloper," for at that point the house belongs to her.

In addition Philip's self-absorption comes into play when he considers what it would be like to be a poor relation in this house: "Would the deference be there? The respect? The loyalty?" Clearly he has his own selfish interest in mind and lacks empathy for Rachel who in fact will have that experience.

As events unfold, they bring Philip and Louise closer at first, as they laugh together in private conversations. Louise launches into a tirade about the mess and smelliness of the house, as if she has been mentally cleaning and decorating for some time, planning what she will do when she marries Philip. Then, she shows up ostensibly to arrange flowers perhaps get a look at Rachel, but also to help as hostess as she would if they were a couple.

The theme of merging identities appears as Philip compares the portrait of Ambrose to his own reflection in the mirror, thinking they could almost be twins. Not only do they look physically similar; the resemblance takes a more mystical and Gothic direction when Philip feels Ambrose's presence: "It was as if the young Ambrose was smiling at me, saying, 'I am with you.' And the older Ambrose, too, felt very close." The merging identities foreshadows the change of heart Philip will undergo upon meeting Rachel, just as his cousin gave up his longstanding bachelor existence after meeting Rachel.

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