Daphne Du Maurier's 1951 My Cousin Rachel prompts the age-old question: what if you were a young dumb dumb with an estate in Cornwall who is convinced your charming, thoughtful, and recently-widowed cousin Rachel wants to abandon her native Italy forever and live with you, your dogs, and your elderly butler in a damp house by the sea. AFTER ALL WHO WOULDN'T.
Also she's a widow because she'd married your uncle who raised you who then recently died, so also this has just become the MOST oedipal and makes everyone feel gross thinking about it.
Said dumb dumb is Philip Ashley, who is 24 and aptly referred to in the recent film version as a "glorious puppy." He is so excited about some things. And so sulky about so many other things. He's our narrator, which here means he is our misogynistic, xenophobic lens through which to view all events. His uncle died in Italy soon after marrying Rachel. Said uncle suspected he was being poisoned. He also probably had a brain tumor. OR WAS IT THOSE CRAFTY ITALIAN DOCTORS LYING LIKE ITALIAN DOCTOR LIARS.
The book keeps you wavering between thinking Rachel is a nefarious mastermind or a grieving widow with no money and no agency who is just trying to survive. She's so impulsive!...say the men in the book. She spends so much money!...say the men in the book. She's maybe a poisoner!...say the men in the book.
The Italian + poison angle is almost too stereotypical, but exactly right if you're an idiot 24-year-old Englishman in the 1830s. And who knows, maybe she was. If she did it, I think there was an excuse for it, but you would have to read the book or see the recent excellent movie to get why.
My Cousin Rachel is tense and suspenseful and great and makes me want to read Frenchman's Creek straightaway. The film has a much clearer feminist interpretation, although My Cousin Rachel HAS been called the most feminist of Du Maurier's work. It's just a little less obvious in the novel.
As a final note -- have we all noticed how bookstores seem to be a little side-eye about Du Maurier? Yes, good, let's talk more about that immediately: Rebecca is frequently shelved in Romance, and not knocking Romance, but that's not what Rebecca is. Du Maurier is all about constant unease and the feeling Something Is Up, not unlike Shirley Jackson, but in a less creepy way than Jackson. If anything, put her in Suspense/Thrillers or just damn Fiction.
This to say that it feels she has not been as legitimized as an author as she SHOULD be. She isn't quite in the canon, which I primarily blame on the White Male Hegemonic Conspiracy that's still prompting us to read Philip Roth and John Updike when NO I DON'T WANT TO YOU CANNOT MAKE ME.
My Cousin Rachel is a complex look at the unfortunate position women were in in the 19th century or maybe about a murdering lady who knows.