About the Author
Daphne du Maurier was born in London in 1907, the second daughter of a famous stage actor and actress. Her first novel was published in 1931, but it was her 1938 novel Rebecca which made her one of the most successful writers of her time. Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of the book won the Best Picture Oscar in 1940, and he used her material again for his classic The Birds. In 1969, Du Maurier was created a dame of the British Empire.
At the age of 81, Du Maurier died at home in her beloved Cornwall, the region that had been the setting for many of her books.
Reading Group Guide
1. Part of the mystery that surrounds Rachel is created by the irregular and limited communication between Philip and Ambrose. Philip is unable to directly question Ambrose about the meaning of his letters, in which Ambrose often sounds suspicious and paranoid but is not explicit about why. What do you think it would have been like to live in an era when communication was so difficult?
2. Do you think Phillip treats Louise cruelly? Is there a kinder way to treat someone who you are not romantically interested in, but who has feelings for you?
3. Rachel is often described as “impulsive.” Do you think this is accurate? Or would “cunning” be a better word? How else could Rachel be described?
4. Phillip is one of the youngest characters in the novel. Do you think his age ever reveals itself as immaturity? How?
5. In My Cousin Rachel, we are only able to see the action from the narrator’s perspective. The narrator, Philip, is constantly changing his mind about what people’s true motivations are and is sometimes not even sure if people have actually done the things he believes they have done. Do you think that the events described in My Cousin Rachel would be clearer if a different character was the narrator? Or is every character as confused as Philip?
6. Do you think Philip’s decision to honor Ambrose’s unsigned will is rash or honorable? Do you think he would have felt the same sense of duty had he not been so charmed by Rachel?
7. The earth and the plants that grow from it are a recurring motif in the novel. What do you think Philip’s and Rachel’s relationships to their plants, gardens, and fields reveals about each of their characters?
8. Philip’s godfather tells him, “There are some women, Philip, good women very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster.” Later on in the novel, Rachel tells Philip, “I have done you no good, and you think me merciless and hard. Sometimes a woman sees more clearly than a man.” What do you think about these blanket statements about the nature of “some women,” especially as the first is a male character’s words in a novel written by a woman? Are there larger points about the relationship between the sexes that Du Maurier is trying to make with this novel?
9. There is a huge misunderstanding between Philip and Rachel about their “engagement.” Do you think one of them is more to blame for, consciously or unconsciously, misinterpreting the words and signals of the other?
10. What do you think Rachel’s true feelings for Rainaldi are? Do you think Rainaldi “controls” Rachel?
11. Do you think that Rachel poisoned Ambrose, and that she was trying to do the same to Philip? Or is Philip in the grip of the delusional brain fever that Ambrose may have suffered from? If Rachel was trying to kill Philip, why would she have made him her heir without his knowledge?
12. If Rachel indeed was trying to kill Philip, would he be justified in letting her unknowingly walk to her death? Is your response affected by the fact that Philip, unlike Ambrose, was living in his own country and might have escaped more easily a plot to poison him?