My contribution to Daphne du Maurier Reading Week
“How soft and gentle her name sounds when I whisper it. It lingers on the tongue, insidious and slow, almost like poison, which is apt indeed. It passes from the tongue to the parched lips, and from the lips back to the heart. And the heart controls the body, and the mind also. Shall I be free of it one day?”
When Ali Hope, the blog mistress at Heavenali, announced she would be hosting her first-ever Daphne du Maurier Reading Week from the 13th to 19th May, I knew instantly that the time had come to pluck the 1951 novel, My Cousin Rachel, from the uppermost reaches of my library shelves.
I received my copy of book number 491 in the Virago Modern Classics’ collection as a gift, when it was republished to tie-in with the 2017 film starring Rachel Weisz (which I haven’t seen) – though, along with many a literary masterpiece, it had hitherto lain slumped on my TBR list for donkey’s years.
The story focuses on the sexually inexperienced Philip Ashley – orphaned at an early age and raised by his wealthy and resolutely single cousin, Ambrose. Treated as a son by his guardian, he is heir to his big house and beautiful Cornish estate, where he feels at ease in their emphatically male bastion. His tranquillity is destroyed, however, when the older man travels to Florence for the sake of his health and there falls in love, marries and just as suddenly dies of what Philip believes to be poisoning.
Following his death, Ambrose’s widow (Philip’s cousin Rachel) sails to England. He expects to despise her but, like Ambrose, he is drawn by her charismatic, if unfathomable personality and serene beauty. He soon yearns to possess her – but could she be a murderess?
Du Maurier wrote this book when she was at the height of her creative brilliance. It is frequently described as a thriller, equally often as a romance, occasionally as a tragedy, but her bewitching work is so much more than mere genre: it is a complex, serpentiform, devilishly clever story of female sexuality, in which the tables are briefly turned in favour of the woman. The male perception of Rachel is at the centre of everything.
So, was this novel worth the wait? Absolutely. My only regret is that I deferred for so long.
“She has done for me at last, Rachel my torment.”
This is my tenth choice for The Classics Club.