My Cousin Rachel, like Rebecca, is a gothic novel, and this one is set in some undetermined time in 19th century England – a time when people used carriages and horses to go into town, when a letter from a different country took over three weeks to arrive, and telegrams and trains don’t seem to exist or be in common usage yet. The narrator, 24 year old Philip, has been raised by his cousin Ambrose in a house without women. Ambrose was a bachelor for life, and didn’t need any women around with their desire for order and cleanliness, and as a result, I didn’t get the impression that Philip or Ambrose really understood them at all. Due to health issues, Ambrose spends most winters on the continent, until one winter he visits Florence to explore the gardens, where he meets Rachel. Philip only hears everything through letters, long delayed and occasionally sporadic, but Ambrose and Rachel get married, Ambrose extends his stay in Florence, and Philip feels jealous and neglected. Eventually two letters arrive from Ambrose, both odd, alluding to illness, and carrying a certain tone of paranoia regarding Rachel, calling her his torment, claiming that she is watching and monitoring him. Philip, being the loyal cousin that he is, races to Florence, only to discover that his cousin died three weeks previously, the letter only arriving after his departure, and Rachel has left the villa and the town.
I’ve read a few novels by Sarah Waters (maybe even all of them) and this novel is both similar and different from her others. Her novels all explore the psychology of her characters, their relationships, class conditions, and are all set in the past in England, but of the ones I’ve read this is the first one with a male narrator. Unlike the others, it also doesn’t feature a lesbian or queer love story. While it was described as a gothic novel and ghost story, it is really more of a character study with the ghost part of the novel taking second place for the majority of the novel. In fact, while there are some odd occurences towards the beginning, it isn’t until over halfway through that these incidents really start becoming a focus since up until that point any weird happenings were easily blamed on people or things.
Dr. Faraday is a country doctor living in the same village he was born and raised in. His parents were poor and struggled their entire lives to ensure that their son would be able to make something of himself, but he has come to the point in his life where he is doubtful of his success, and certainly as one of three or four doctors that works in the area, he isn’t exactly very financially secure. Set in the years following World War II, England is still under rations, and life is changing. One remnant of the past is the home and manor of the landed gentry and its residents, the Ayres. The doctor’s mother once worked at the house many years ago, and on his one childhood visit there, he was dazzled by its grandeur. Now, almost thirty years later, he returns to the house on a house call to check on a new maid’s stomach ailment.