Rachel, my torment. Philip Ashley lives in a Cornish manor with his Uncle Ambrose who essentially raised him. Both men are contented bachelors until a woman named Rachel lures Ambrose into a sudden marriage that ends tragically. When Rachel returns from Italy alone, Philip is determined to be quickly rid of the witch and her herb-lore, but eventually finds himself trapped by the same web as his mentor. Was she truly all that Ambrose warned him she was? Or is she merely misunderstood and to be pitied? My Cousin Rachel blurs the boundaries of reality and deception, and what should be done when presented with such a conundrum of a person. See if you can determine who is innocent or guilty, and of what crimes.
Rebecca is du Maurier’s masterpiece, about a cunningly deceptive, beautiful woman named Rebecca who still haunts the minds of those who live at Manderley, especially the young bride brought to replace her. Other books by du Maurier include: The Scapegoat, Jamaica Inn, Mary Anne, Frenchman’s Creek, the biography The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte, and numerous books of short stories and other biographies.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is a dark Gothic tragedy about the darkness and selfishness of human nature, which challenges what actions are justified in the name of love and self-preservation.
Lisey’s Story by Stephen King is a psychological thriller about a woman whose husband died, and who decides to return to his writing room and face the demons that tormented him.
The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman is a psychological thriller set partly in the late 19th century, and partly in the present. A female writer on a retreat uncovers centuries of family secrets and possible murder cover-ups while writing a novel about the woman who lived in the mansion in which she’s staying.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins is a classic Victorian novel of Gothic horror that blurs the lines of reality and perception.
“Rachel liked her tea…she would brew tisana for us both instead of Seecombe delivering the silver tea tray in the evenings.” Us, being both her and Ambrose, and then later, her and Philip. When Philip stood up Louise for an appointment he made with her, “Louise passed the time waiting for Philip by picking a basket of late blackberries.” And numerous times “Philip paused for a draught of cider at the inn on the town quay or at the Rose and Crown.” All of those ingredients were combined in balance to create the following cupcake, using a blackberry cinnamon flavored tea (if you can’t find a tea with both flavors, you can use a blackberry tea and add a teaspoon of cinnamon to it).
Blackberry Tea Cupcakes with Blackberry and Cider Frosting
- 1 1/2 cup (3 stick) salted butter, softened to room temperature
- 3/4 cup, plus 1/4 cup granulated sugar, divided
- 1/4 cup milk
- 2 blackberry cinnamon tea bags
- 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 5 tbsp plus 1 tbsp blackberry syrup, divided
- 1/4 cup, plus 1/2 cup fresh (or frozen and thawed), pureed blackberries, (in a food processor), divided
- 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/16 tsp ground cloves
- 1 tbsp vegetable shortening
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/2 cup water
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350° F. In the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed, whip one stick of salted butter for 1-2 minutes or until they are combined. In a glass or microwave safe bowl, heat the 1/4 cup of milk with the two tea bags for 30 seconds. Allow it to steep for 4 minutes. Add the 3/4 cup of granulated sugar and beat for another minute. Add 1 tsp vanilla, the eggs, and the pureed blackberries.
- In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1/16 teaspoon of ground cloves. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet while the mixer is on low speed. Stop the mixer to scrape down anything sticking to the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Follow that with the tea/milk, and, for a stronger flavor, you can remove the tea from the bags and add the tea leaves to the cupcake mix. Add the last batch of dry ingredients plus the five tablespoons of blackberry syrup, and mix just until combined. Distribute evenly into paper-lined cupcake trays, and bake for 16-18 minutes or until cupcakes are completely cooked through the centers. Test it with a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake. Allow cupcakes to cool at least 15 minutes before frosting.
- For the frosting: In a small pot over medium heat, add 1/2 cup blackberries, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 cup water. Stir frequently until blackberries have broken up and mixture is bubbling, about 3-5 minutes. In a small cup, mix together the cornstarch and 1/4 cup of water, and drop the heat to medium-low. Add the cornstarch mix to the pot of blackberries and stir until mixture becomes thick, about 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat. Allow to cool at least 10 minutes.
- To the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on medium speed, whip the remaining two sticks of butter with the vegetable shortening on medium-high speed for about a minute until both ingredients are well blended. Drop the speed to low, and add 2 cups of powdered sugar and 1/2 cup of the cooled blackberry puree to the butter mixture. Allow to combine, stopping the mixture if needed to scrape down the insides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Then add one more cup of powdered sugar, then the rest of the blackberry mix plus the tablespoon of syrup, followed by the last of the powdered sugar.
- Philip was convinced that his likeness to Ambrose, of which he was so proud, proved his undoing. In what ways was he similar to Ambrose, and what part did those play in how Rachel treated him, and even how he responded to her?
- Philip noted that Rachel’s eyes “held reserve and pride, coupled with the same abasement, the same agony of supplication” as the beggar woman in Italy beside the Arno. Was this because both women were Italian, or was Rachel much more like the beggar-woman than Philip first realized?
- Philip believed that “there is nothing so self-destroying, and no emotion quite so despicable, as jealousy.” Of whom was he jealous, and did this emotion account for his final act of guilt? If not, what emotion did drive him?
- Rachel tried to explain her connection with Ambrose to Philip, stating that “these things can never be explained…what queer chemical mix-up draws us to one another? To me, lonely, anxious, a survivor of too many emotional shipwrecks, he came almost as a saviour…tender, lacking all personal conceit…” Were these the only reasons or even the main things that drew Rachel to Ambrose? And what made him turn to her?
- Philip could not stand to hear his godfather talk of Rachel in her youth being notorious for “unbridled extravagance and… loose living.” Was this idle gossip, or were traces of this evident in her? How much a part do you think Rainaldi played in it all-was he merely being used as Philip was, in hopes of eventually winning her?
- Rachel lost her child with Ambrose and was told she could not have another. He swore in a letter that “her manner altered from that time…her distress was very great, profounder than my own.” Was this because, as he said, Ambrose still had Philip and was consoled by that, whereas Rachel had no children or heirs? Or could it also have been that she saw Philip even then as a threat to her inheritance and fortune?
- Philip wondered how “two people who had loved could yet have such a misconception of each other and, with a common grief, grow far apart.” How long do you think Ambrose misunderstood Rachel, and how long did Philip? Do you think Rachel ever misunderstood either of them, or was she more calculating? Did something “in their nature drive them to torment and suspicion”?
- Philip and Ambrose greatly distrusted and even despised Rainaldi. “But what weakness in Rachel made her keep him as her counselor and friend”?
- Philip’s godfather’s opinion of Rachel was that she was innocent. “Some women…good women…through no fault of their own impel disaster…whatever they touch somehow turns to tragedy.” Why did he feel this way about Rachel? Was he right about her, or anyone, or do some people tend to create or at least initiate the chaos that constantly surrounds them, if it is a constant thing? Or is tragedy just an inescapable part of life?
- Why did Rachel, in all sincerity, needed to believe Philip to be happy when she left him, in order to have peace of mind? What thoughts then possibly haunted her mind, and were they related to Ambrose or Philip?
- Who does the symbol of the hanged man represent and how?