Originally published: 1951 (This edition 2011)
Author: Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago
Length: 335 pages
Reading dates: 6-12 December 2021
Orphaned at an early age, Philip Ashley is raised by his benevolent older cousin, Ambrose. Resolutely single, Ambrose delights in Philip as his heir, a man who will love his grand home as much as he does himself. But the cosy world the two construct is shattered when Ambrose sets off on a trip to Florence. There he falls in love and marries – and there he dies suddenly. In almost no time at all, the new widow—Philip’s cousin Rachel—turns up in England. Despite himself, Philip is drawn to this beautiful, sophisticated, mysterious woman like a moth to the flame. And yet…might she have had a hand in Ambrose’s death?
I’ve recently decided to collect some of the Virago Modern Classics series and I purchased this on a visit to Jamaica Inn in Cornwall. I first read Rebecca by Du Maurier a few years ago and despite loving it, haven’t yet picked up any of her other works. A buddy read on Instagram with I Loved Reading This and Bibliobeth was just the incentive I needed to pick it up and prove to my partner that I do sometimes read the books I purchase!
24 year old Philip Ashby has been raised by his older cousin Ambrose since being orphaned as a young child in a very male dominated environment. Ambrose who suffers with his health in the wet and cold British winters is spending the winter in Florence where he meets Philip’s older cousin Rachel (whom Philip himself has never met) and they fall in love and marry. Having spent his lifetime with very few women in his life, Philip is put out by this new woman in Ambrose’s life and when he starts receiving strange and disturbing letters from him, decides to travel to Florence to see if he is OK but is shocked to find Ambrose has died suddenly and Rachel is gone.
On returning to England, Philip hears of Rachels’s arrival in England and he reluctantly invites her to the house. Ambrose made no provisions for Rachel in his will – the house and his estate was left entirely to Philip on his 25th birthday. Although Philip is determined to dislike and think the worst of Rachel, he feels he should invite her to stay for a while. Despite his suspicions, he soon comes to like Rachel – she is younger than he expected and is beautiful and charming.
I thoroughly enjoyed this slow burn mystery. Du Maurier is an expert at weaving a story that made me change my opinions of the characters constantly. I liked the ambiguity of the story and how the woman in the story ended up being the most powerful in a very male dominated world. I did feel a little sorry for Philip – I think his inexperience with life, having lived a very sheltered life put him at a disadvantage. My Cousin Rachel is a very suspenseful and atmospheric novel, I’m hoping to watch the movie very soon!
About the author:
If Daphne du Maurier had written only Rebecca, she would still be one of the great shapers of popular culture and the modern imagination. Few writers have created more magical and mysterious places than Jamaica Inn and Manderley, buildings invested with a rich character that gives them a memorable life of their own.
In many ways the life of Daphne du Maurier resembles a fairy tale. Born into a family with a rich artistic and historical background, the daughter of a famous actor-manager, she was indulged as a child and grew up enjoying enormous freedom from financial and parental restraint. She spent her youth sailing boats, travelling on the Continent with friends, and writing stories. A prestigious publishing house accepted her first novel when she was in her early twenties, and its publication brought her not only fame but the attentions of a handsome soldier, Major (later Lieutenant-General Sir) Frederick Browning, whom she married.
Her subsequent novels became bestsellers, earning her enormous wealth and fame. While Alfred Hitchcock’s film based upon her novel proceeded to make her one of the best-known authors in the world, she enjoyed the life of a fairy princess in a mansion in Cornwall called Menabilly, which served as the model for Manderley in Rebecca.
Daphne du Maurier was obsessed with the past. She intensively researched the lives of Francis and Anthony Bacon, the history of Cornwall, the Regency period, and nineteenth-century France and England. Above all, however, she was obsessed with her own family history, which she chronicled in Gerald: A Portrait, a biography of her father; The du Mauriers, a study of her family which focused on her grandfather, George du Maurier, the novelist and illustrator for Punch; The Glassblowers, a novel based upon the lives of her du Maurier ancestors; and Growing Pains, an autobiography that ignores nearly 50 years of her life in favour of the joyful and more romantic period of her youth. Daphne du Maurier can best be understood in terms of her remarkable and paradoxical family, the ghosts which haunted her life and fiction.