I read the last few pages of My Cousin Rachel last night and there we were, left in the company of a feverish maniacal narrator, holding the hand of the young woman he has killed out of the unfounded conviction that she was trying to kill him with poisonous seeds. An envelope with laburnum seeds found in her possession seals her fate. Nature has ‘seeded’ both their intimacy throughout the text and finally at the end, she has ‘cultivated’ their irrevocable separation. All these we find out is untrue. the narrator has ‘seen’ what supports his delusions and thus the ‘evidence’ that seals her fate, proves barely circumstantial. But we never hear any remorse. The novel just stops. Just like Henry James’ naratorial tour de force, The Turn of the Screw.
Ironically ‘Cousin Rachel’ dies in the novel, due to the collapse of a picturesque bridge across a portion of garden she and the narrator have redesigned. The rubble she is lying in reflects the rubble of their relationship, yet what makes Du Maurier’s writing psychologically brilliant at this point is not the literal and metaphorical rubble, but the final, dying word she utters: ‘Ambrose’. …
Ostensibly and fatefully she mistakes the protégée for the guardian-or does she? For in identifying the young lover as the old, she is drawing attention to her tragic fate being dependent on the poisonous ‘seeds’ of doubt sown by the old Ambrose through his peculiarly disturbed letters to his ward Philip. As I mentioned in my first blog post on this text, the use of mirroring in the novel is suggestively insinuating and here, knowingly macabre.
I think it has to be Jamaica Inn or Rebecca next!
The Woman in Black
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