My Cousin Philip: Examining Perspectives In Daphne Du Maurier’s Novel My Cousin Rachel

I should never have stayed here. Nay, I should never have left Italy.

If my cousin Philip had not been so like Ambros perhaps I could have left. To see his face — that beloved, tormenting face — staring into my eyes once more was more than I could leave. More than I could resist when he asked me to stay. Or I should say ordered me. They were orders, though I turned a blind eye to it then because I wanted him. Or perhaps not him, but Ambros back in my life. I know not.

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My Cousin Rachel (2017)

I’m in such fear. It was a foolish thing on both our parts, the midnight of his birthday. He knows too little of the world to realize what I gave him was nothing more than a thank you. A birthday gift that would mean more than that stupid little pearl cravat pin. And yes, I wanted it too. A younger, more devoted Ambros to worship me once again if only for a moment.

And how could I have known that he meant marriage by his comment about lacking warmth and comfort? Or that he thought I’d agreed to be his when he took me into those primroses? Or that he would get so drunk he’d announce our engagement to his godfather and poor Louise at dinner?

I still feel the pressure of his hands at my throat. Those big, powerful hands of a man who works on his farm every day and stands a head taller than me. Stronger than the ones Ambros once put around my neck. My cousin Philip could have snapped my neck, though he wouldn’t have had to. The slightest squeeze more and I’d not have been able to draw the thinnest breath.

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My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Should I feel guilty for bringing Mary Pascoe into this house? Surely his fury won’t touch her, too. The worst he’d do is throw her out of the house. While me … I know not what he’d do were we alone now. Would he wrap his hands around my throat again and expect me to make myself his? Would he force me and afterward tell me I liked it and must marry him?

His fantasy is as complete as the paranoia that claimed Ambrose. I half-believe in his mind we’re already married. That he thinks I’m so sure to agree it’s as if I’ve done so already. That his ridiculous present of his entire fortune will surely convince me to stay.

I must get away. I have the means to do so now, though God knows it’s not why I came here. I simply wanted to see the home Ambros talked about. The symbol of what could have been before he turned on me. The idea of our marriage rather than the reality of it. The allowance my cousin Philip gave me was more than enough. More than I expected or even hoped. To have him honor the will Ambros never signed …

Did he think he’d bought me?

Will he let me leave?


This is quite a bit different than my usual review for books I’m reading on my Classics Club Book list. But I think Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel (1951) is the sort of novel that invites you to look at it from different perspectives. The fact that you’re trapped inside Philip Ashley’s mind for the entire novel leaves you guessing at what the other characters are really thinking. He’s an unreliable narrator and he’s hopelessly naive, especially when it come to women, so the motives he assigns to Rachel are likely untrue. But if he’s wrong about her, then what is right? Everything we know of her is filtered through Philip. We don’t know her true motive or any of her thoughts. We can only guess, as I’m doing in my little retelling from Rachel’s point of view (which overlaps Chapter 23 of the original novel).

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My Cousin Rachel (2017)

I watched the 2017 film adaptation of My Cousin Rachel before reading the book. I suspected I would still enjoy the book after seeing the movie, but knew if I read the book first there was a good chance I’d spend the film grumpy about how they’d adapted it. It turned out to be a very faithful adaptation, though.

*Spoiler Warning* The only major changes were made at the end. The film provides less evidence of Rachel’s alleged guilt, pointing viewers towards the idea that she was not poisoning Philip. And it also has Philip sending her to ride along a dangerous path rather than choosing not to warn her about a dangerous bridge in the garden. The film pushes you toward believing he intended her to die where the book leaves it a little more ambiguous. But then again, Philip’s the one telling the story. Of course he’d make himself look as good as possible.

Philip wants us second-guessing his cousin Rachel. But I suspect Du Maurier wants us to look at Philip just as closely. Because even though we’re getting his perspective on things and he’s certainly not putting any blame on himself, there are things about being in his mind that make me as scared of him as I think Rachel is.

My Cousin Philip: Examining Perspectives In Daphne Du Maurier's Novel My Cousin Rachel | marissabaker.wordpress.com
My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Repeatedly, Philip says he wants to isolate Rachel from everyone but him. And that’s before he starts becoming overtly controlling. And when he puts his hands around her throat, it’s not in the heat of anger. He presents it as a calculated decision to add fear to the list of reasons she should marry him. Later, he barely contains his fury and indignation when (after he’s given her all his property and she still hasn’t married him) she states that she can and will invite whoever she likes to stay with them because the house belongs to her and she doesn’t feel safe alone with him.

So instead of just asking, “Did Rachel poison Ambros and/or Philip?” I think we need to ask whether such an act could be considered self-defense. Abuse does not justify murder, but even if Rachel killed someone she may not be the evil and/or misguided character that Philip (who describes himself as feeling a strange compassion for her once he makes up his mind about her guilt) makes her out to be. It might have been more of an act of desperation and fear than calculating malice.

But that’s assuming she’s guilty at all. And there’s no clear evidence that she is. Laburnum (the plant Philip settles on as the murder weapon) isn’t even all that poisonous. The most common symptoms are nausea and vomiting, and that’s after eating several seeds. “Higher doses can produce intense sleepiness, convulsive possibly tetanic movements, coma, slight frothing at the mouth and unequally dilated pupils. … [However] the MAFF publication ‘Poisonous Plants in Britain and their Effects on Animals and Man’, says that all stories about laburnum causing serious poisoning and death are untraceable” (The Poison Garden).

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“Laburnum” by Neil Turner

Perhaps Du Maurier believed her chosen poison really was deadly based on the rumors that have made it one of the most feared garden plants. But perhaps she did her research and knew that Philip was jumping to unjustifiable conclusions. Maybe she would have known, as Rachel surly did with her expertise in herb lore and gardening, that most gardens are home to far more reliably deadly plants (like foxglove and oleander). Perhaps Du Maurier meant for her readers to realize that a brain tumor (for Ambros) and a relapse of meningitis (for Philip) are the most logical explanations for symptoms both men attribute to “Rachel, my torment.”

There’s an argument to be made that Philip isn’t really concerned about whether or not Rachel poisoned Ambros at all. He decides her guilt based on whether or not she “conforms to his desires and whims” (from “My Cousin Rachel (2017) and Male Entitlement“). After all, he already possesses everything else that belonged to Ambros. Why not Rachel as well?

The question of whether or not Rachel poisoned Ambros consumes Philip only until their first meeting. After that he’s quite certain she’s innocent until she makes it clear she won’t marry him. All his worry about whether or not she’s guilty of murder covers the fact that his inability to deal with rejection brings out a desire to posses and control her. He and Ambros call Rachel “my torment” because she brings out the ugliest side of their natures and they blame her for their darkness rather than looking to the true culprits. Themselves.My Cousin Philip: Examining Perspectives In Daphne Du Maurier's Novel My Cousin Rachel | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Click here to get a reading copy of My Cousin Rachel, and here for the movie. Please note that these are affiliate links. This means that, at no additional cost to you, I will receive a commission if you click on the link and make a purchase.

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Giving Yourself Permission to Take Up Space

I’m 5 feet 6 inches tall (about 168 cm for my readers on the metric system). When I was a teenager I decided that was about 3 inches too tall for some reason ostensibly connected with Joe Hardy (yes, the fictional character. I know — I needed more real friends). That’s not the only reason I do things to make myself look smaller, but it’s one of the stranger ones. In general, though, being taller than other people simply makes me feel awkward. And even though I’ve explored that feeling before in a creative non-fiction class in college, I really wasn’t sure why.

Recently, I’ve been asked why I use body language that makes me look small. That question made me  take another look at why I’m doing what I do. I hunch my shoulders. I sit in corners of sofas. I cross my arms and legs or ankles. Or I have my hands together nervously fiddling with my fingers. Part of this is unconscious but I’m often aware of it as well. I know I make myself smaller and sometimes I do it on purpose, especially if I feel nervous or threatened. I suppose I’m saying with my body language, “Don’t notice me. Don’t hurt me.” And this sort of thing has become instinctive for me.

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Photo credit: “Shy” by Karel Macalik, CC BY via Flickr

One of my more vivid childhood memories is of being enrolled in a summer school program and hiding under the playground equipment from the other kids. My experiences there played a large role in why my parents chose to homeschool. In some ways, that scared little girl is still part of me and hiding is still my default move. But, as someone recently reminded me, fear isn’t a good way to live your life. I feel like it’s time for a change. Read more

Not Ashamed of Modesty

Feminism constantly tells women we have no reason to be ashamed of our bodies, our desires, our gender, our career goals – of anything really. We can do and be whatever we want and nothing should hold us back. It sounds good in theory, but like many things humans do it can be taken to extremes.

Take the Women’s March from a few weeks ago as an example. If you want to march around with what one blogger I follow delicately called a pink taco on your head I won’t stop you. But those of us who don’t do things like that aren’t any less “women” than you are, nor are we less interested in being treated with dignity, respect, and equality. In fact, that’s a big reason we express our notions of feminism (and femininity) in different ways.

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Photo credit: “Day 68” by Quinn Dombrowski, CC BY-SA via Flickr

Today, I’m going to take society’s claim that there’s no need to feel shame about the kind of woman you are to heart and say I’m not ashamed of modesty. Depending on your background this word may have provoked a strong reaction. Perhaps you think modesty is a repressive, old-fashioned list of rules telling women how not to dress and act. Or maybe you think modesty sounds safe – a way to hide from attention you don’t want any more. But modestly is about so much more than a set of rules for covering yourself up. It’s more powerful and – dare I say it? – sexy than we often think.

Let’s start with a working definition of modesty: Modesty is concealing what you do not want everyone to know or see so that you can reveal yourself only to someone you trust. It’s typically associated with the idea of sex and how much skin you show, but it has to do with other things as well. For example, you might also exercise modesty by not calling undue attention to yourself or by reserving certain parts of your personality for people you know well. Read more

Balancing Views On Singleness and Marriage

Most modern Christian churches develop a culture that prioritizes marriage. We know marriage is a good thing and that it’s part of God’s plan for humanity. Marriage pictures the union between Christ and His church. Beyond the spiritual aspects, it’s also held-out to young people as a sort of “prize” for listening to what the Bible says about purity pre-marriage.

Since we think of marriage as such a good thing, we think of the opposite as something negative. Western culture is, on the whole, very binary. If something is good, the opposite is bad. Our minds don’t naturally consider that both could be good in the proper context. With this mindset, singleness is treated as less-desirable and if a single person doesn’t want to marry we think there’s “something wrong” with them. But is this really how God views things?

Seeking Balance

It’s a safe bet all my Christian readers know of the verses discussing marriage in a positive light. The marriage relationship was established at creation and in the New Testament Paul connects it to Christ and the church (Gen. 2:18-24; Eph. 5:22-32). Proverbs 18:22 maintains that “he who finds a wife finds a good thing.” Marriage is certainly seen as a good thing in the Bible. I’m not disputing that and I still hope someday to get married. But I think we make a mistake if we assume marriage’s goodness makes being single a bad thing. Read more

Let’s Talk About Men and Leadership

When people in the Christian churches talk about gender roles, it often ends up being a discussion about women and submission. If you’ve been keeping up with these discussions even a little, you’ve surely learned that good Christian women should view their role as a blessing. You’ve been told that submission isn’t a dirty word, but rather part of God’s ordained order for the church and the family. When we submit, we’re following the example of Jesus Christ and putting ourselves under His authority.

Even though I still hear ministers joke about how discussing submission will get them in trouble, I actually talk with very few women in the churches today who haven’t embraced, or at least acknowledge, the value of being a virtuous woman with a meek and gentle spirit. We might disagree on exactly what it looks like and we all still have much to learn about being a godly woman (though it really should be simple — a godly woman is a woman who’s following God), but we have a pretty good idea what our gender role is.

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photo credit: “Father and son” by Lisa Williams, CC BY via Flickr

We talk about men’s roles in the church far less often. Women hear “submission is a good thing. It’s not always easy but it’s part of God’s plan and sometimes you just have to do it.” But how often do men hear, “leadership is a good thing. It’s not always easy but it’s part of God’s plan and sometimes you just have to do it”?

I wonder if one reason we over look this is because we don’t understand why they might not want to take on their role as head, lover, provider, and protector. Why wouldn’t men want to be the ones in charge? Isn’t it much easier to “love your wife” than “submit to your husband”? They should be thankful they get to be leaders in the family, that they’re the ones who hold public ministry positions. After all, that’s the role everyone wants. That’s why we have to talk about submission for woman so much, because otherwise she’d be trying to steal man’s role, right?

But don’t men try to steal woman’s role as well? Or, to phrase it differently, aren’t both gender’s tempted to shirk the responsibilities God has given us and avoid living up to His expectations? Read more

The Church Isn’t Ruining Your Love Life

This past week, Boundless.org shared two posts related to Joshua Harris and courtship culture on their Facebook page. One was an NPR interview with Harris and the other was a link to Harris’ call for feedback on the ways I Kissed Dating Goodbye has affected you. It’s a popular topic, since so many people in the churches blame courtship culture for problems in their relationships and hurt in their lives. They say the church’s attitude towards dating and courtship made them feel ashamed of their bodies and their sexual desire, that it set up intimidating expectations for relationships, and it is why they’re still single (or, for some, unhappily married).

The complaints aren’t all directed at courtship culture, either. Another article I saw this week was published by Relevant Magazine and didn’t mention courtship at all. How Christians Ruin Dating is specifically addressing ways that singles in the church feel their fellow Christians are ruining their dating lives. There’s too much obsession with romance, too much gossiping about couples, too much emphasis on marriage. We just need to chill, they argue.

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photo credit: Idyll by Hernán Piñera, CC BY-SA via Flickr

For those of us who are single young adults in the church, there’s no denying that the culture we grew up in influences how we view dating and relationships. But we’re also grown-ups and it’s time to stop blaming the church for all our relationship problems and take responsibility for the choices we’re making. We can’t keep using the argument “Christians ruin dating” as an excuse for not finding relationships. Courtship culture, church gossips, the pressure to get married … those don’t keep us from finding a spouse. We do that when we use the problems surrounding Christian dating as an excuse to not ask someone out, or to turn someone down when they ask us out, or to sabotage potential relationships. Read more