Women Who Speak In Scripture

One of the things I hoped for when I began a Master’s degree in Rhetoric and Writing at a Christian-founded university was that I’d get a chance to study some Biblical rhetoric. This semester, I’m taking classes on Classic and Contemporary rhetoric. In one of them, we read texts by women written during the Renaissance where they used rhetorical strategies to prove that women have a role in teaching scripture.

It was both fascinating (and a little discouraging) to read Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz using the exact same arguments to defend her ability to teach the scriptures in 1691 that I’ve used in the 21st century. I agree with her that when Paul calls for women to remain quite in church (1 Cor 14:34; 1Tim 2:12), his “prohibition applied only to public speech from the pulpit” not to writing or even to teaching (The Rhetorical Tradition, 2nd ed., p. 788). It’s absurd to think that Paul meant women should never speak or teach when he also gives instructions for how and when it’s appropriate for women to pray and prophecy in church (1 Cor. 11:1-16) and since he directly instructs women to teach other women (Titus 2:3).

Stepping away from Paul’s writings for a moment, we see examples of women speaking, leading, and teaching throughout scripture. Deborah, the Queen of Sheba, Abigail, Ester, Rahab, and Hannah are all mentioned by de la Cruz, and she could have added Miriam, Ruth, Huldah, Anna, Philip’s daughters, and Priscilla as well. We also read another text in my class from 1666 written by Margaret Fell–one of the earliest Quakers and a highly influential teacher. She points out that there’s no indication in scripture that the apostles despised or rebuked women like Priscilla for teaching (The Rhetorical Tradition, 3rd ed., p. 860). Furthermore, God Himself said that His daughters would prophesy (Acts 2:14-18), so who are human beings to say women should not speak when they’re inspired by the Lord?

Fell also points out something I hadn’t thought of before. Women’s words are recorded throughout scripture and men often base sermons on their words. Fell accused men in the churches of her day of hypocrisy in this area, saying, “you will make a Trade of Women’s words to get money by, and take Texts, and Preach Sermons upon Womens words; and still cry out, Women must not speak, Women must be silent; so you are far from the minds of the Elders of Israel” (The Rhetorical Tradition, 3rd ed., p.865). Even if ministers today aren’t profiting off their work the same way the priests Fell criticizes were, many will still use Biblical women’s words as a sound foundation for teaching while telling modern women not to teach.

Last week, I wrote about a woman from the Bible named Hannah in my post “What Potential Does God See In You?” She’s one of the women whose example and words–including her recorded prayer–are still used to teach people today. God saw her and regarded her with favor though she was initially judged harshly by the priest. And Hannah is far from being the only example of women whom God takes notice of and whom He gives a key role in His plan. Let’s look at some others today.

Huldah

King Josiah was one of the very few righteous kings in the years following David’s reign over Israel. He became king at just eight years old, and when he was 26 he asked his scribe to make sure the priests had the funds needed to repair the temple in Jerusalem (2 Kings 22; 2 Chr. 34). While working in the temple, the priests found a book of the Law. They read it to Josiah, and he tore his clothes in grief when he realized how badly his nation had strayed from following God. He told his advisers, “Go inquire of Yahweh for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that is found.”

So Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, Achbor, Shaphan, and Asaiah, went to Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe (now she lived in Jerusalem in the second quarter); and they talked with her.

She said to them, “Yahweh the God of Israel says, ‘Tell the man who sent you to me, “Yahweh says, ‘Behold, I will bring evil on this place, and on its inhabitants, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense to other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.’” But to the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of Yahweh, tell him, “Yahweh the God of Israel says, ‘Concerning the words which you have heard, because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before Yahweh, when you heard what I spoke against this place, and against its inhabitants, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and have torn your clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard you,’ says Yahweh. ‘Therefore behold, I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be gathered to your grave in peace. Your eyes will not see all the evil which I will bring on this place.’”

2 Kings 22:14-20, WEB

Though this group included the high priest, he didn’t ask God for advice directly. Prophets and priests had different roles–the priests served in the temple and a prophet or prophetess delivered God’s messages to people. At this time, the go-to person for making inquiries of God was a prophetess named Huldah. She delivered God’s message, and King Josiah listened (2 Kings 23:1-30). There was no question of whether or not God could speak through her because she was a woman; He simply did, and that was that.

Priscilla

The first time in the Bible that we hear of Priscilla and her husband Aquilia is when Paul went to Corinth (Acts 18). They were tentmakers like Paul, and so he stayed with them to practice his trade while he preached Jesus Christ. When Paul left, Priscilla and Aquilia went with him to Caesarea. They stayed in that region while Paul went on to preach in Galatia, and they were there in the city of Ephesus when Apollos showed up.

Now a certain Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by race, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus. He was mighty in the Scriptures. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, although he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside, and explained to him the way of God more accurately.

Acts 18:24-26, WEB

Here, both Priscilla and Aquilia explained the way of God. She was teaching alongside her husband. In his letters, Paul sends greetings to them both and describes them as his “fellow workers” (Rom. 16:3-4; 1 Co. 16:19-20; 2 Tim. 4:19). Not once does he tell Priscilla to stay silent or stop teaching and let her husband do all the talking. That’s particularly worth noting because sometimes people will argue that Paul’s instruction for women to be silent applies only to wives (the Greek word could be translated either way), but both Priscilla and Huldah were married when they acted as teacher and prophetess. The more evidence we look at, the clearer it becomes that silence for women is situational (e.g. they shouldn’t disrupt church services, and typically don’t hold public/authority roles in the church).

Thoughts for Further Study

There are so many more examples we could look at. We could go to Exodus 15 where Moses’s sister Miriam is called a prophetess. We could turn to Judges 4-5 and read about Deborah the prophetess, a judge and leader of Israel. We can read in 1 Samuel 25 of how Abigail’s words and actions turned King David away from vengeance. Or we could travel in the New Testament to Luke 2 where Anna the prophetess proclaims Jesus to those looking for redemption. Then we could go to Acts and read about Philip’s four daughters who prophesied. We can also look at the end of Paul’s letter to the Romans and see how many women he mentions helping forward the gospel including Junia, who is “notable among the apostles,” and Phoebe who is “a servant of the church in Cenchrea” (the word translated “servant” is the same as the one translated “deacon” in 1 Tim. 3).

One of the things I appreciated about both Sor Juana’s and Margaret Fell’s writings is that they were careful about how they used scripture. Rather than saying Paul was wrong or that his words could be dismissed as outdated, they argued from scriptures that Paul’s letters were misinterpreted. That misinterpretation led to hundreds of years of women needing to fight for the roles in modern churches which God already gave us in His Bible. Thankfully, women are far more fully involved churches today than they were several centuries ago. Even so, I still occasionally hear things like, “Is it okay for you to have a blog where you’re teaching? Women shouldn’t do that, you know.”

There are ways that God has different roles for men and women to play (see, for example, Paul’s words on how marriage pictures Christ and the church). This includes some differences in how they serve in the church. Women in the Old Testament didn’t serve as priests in the temple, but they did serve as prophetesses and they continued that role into the New Testament. And while we don’t see women spoken of as pastors or church leaders in the New Testament, they are clearly serving in the congregations and sharing the gospel. It makes sense that there’d be plenty of areas where our serving roles overlap. We’re all children of God and we’re all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:26-28). God pours out His spirit on all of us alike, and gives us gifts and roles to serve and build up the church congregations (Acts 2:17; 1 Cor. 12).

Women have always been closely involved in God’s church and in His plan. They prayed, taught, sang, preached, and followed Jesus. In His time here on earth, He interacted with women as equals in a way that shocked His disciples (John 4:27). He included women in the gospel and pointed out that their actions should be recorded (Mark 14:3-9, for example). Women traveled with Him during His ministry, and they’re the ones He appeared to first after His resurrection and entrusted with taking the news to His disciples (click here to read that account across gospels). In Acts, women and men both received the gospel, got baptized, and endured persecutions together (Acts 5:14; 8:3, 12; 9:1-2; 17:4, 12). God even uses feminine imagery for the church as a whole, calling it calling it a Bride fully involved in serving alongside her Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. He doesn’t have a problem with women being fully involved in His church; He thinks it’s a good thing.

Featured image by Ben White from Lightstock

What Potential Does God See In You?

We know God’s mind works differently than human minds do. He knows more fully, sees the big picture, and understands motives in a way that we can’t. His thoughts aren’t like our thoughts nor His ways like our ways (Is. 55:8). This means that when He looks at human beings, He often sees something different than others see, or even something different than the person sees about themselves.

Yahweh, you have searched me,
and you know me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up.
You perceive my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down,
and are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
but, behold, Yahweh, you know it altogether.

Psalm 139:1-4, WEB

There’s a comfort as well as a nervousness that can go along with being known this well. We may long for someone to really know the truest version of us, but the idea of being fully seen can also be frightening. It’s reassuring, then, to look at what God shares in His word about how He sees the people He works with. In many cases, He has a higher opinion of us than others do and a greater belief in our potential than we do ourselves.

Gideon

In the book of Judges we see a pattern emerge in Israel’s history. After the death of Joshua, the people would rebel against God, God would punish them using their enemies, they’d turn back to God, and He’d raise up a judge to deliver them and guide them back toward righteousness. This went on for many years. At one point, “The children of Israel did that which was evil in Yahweh’s sight, so Yahweh delivered them into the hand of Midian seven years” (Judges 6:1, WEB). When they cried out to God for help, God called Gideon as the next judge.

Yahweh’s angel came and sat under the oak which was in Ophrah, that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite. His son Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press, to hide it from the Midianites. Yahweh’s angel appeared to him, and said to him, “Yahweh is with you, you mighty man of valor!”

Judges 6:11-12, WEB

Gideon is hiding in a winepress trying to thresh wheat when the angel shows up with this greeting. Then a little later, when Yahweh tells Gideon to tear down the altar to Baal that Gideon’s father had created, Gideon “did as Yahweh had spoken to him. Because he feared his father’s household and the men of the city, he could not do it by day, but he did it by night” (Jug. 6:27, WEB). Again, he hid what he was doing because he was afraid. Gideon is also the one who famously asked Yahweh for a sign twice before he could muster the courage to go and do as Yahweh commanded in order to drive out the Midianites (Jug. 6:36-40).

That doesn’t sound much like a “mighty man of valor” to us. It sounds like someone with low self-confidence and a lot of fears and worries to overcome. But God saw something different, and He used Gideon in mighty ways (Judges 6-7). Gideon’s fear, second-guessing, and his statement that “my family is the poorest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house” (Jug. 6:15) didn’t stop God from doing something mighty with him.

David

King David is the most well-known example of God looking past the outward appearance. In this story, God sent Samuel to Jesse’s house with instructions to anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel. When Samuel sees the first son he’s so impressed he says, “Surely Yahweh’s anointed is before him.” God has a different perspective (1 Samuel 16).

But Yahweh said to Samuel, “Don’t look on his face, or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for I don’t see as man sees. For man looks at the outward appearance, but Yahweh looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7, WEB

They go through seven sons before finally running out of the ones that are close at hand. Brining in David is an afterthought; he’s just the youngest boy, out tending the sheep. He wasn’t important enough for his dad to call him to the sacrifice earlier in this narrative and he certainly wasn’t one of the options for being the next king of Israel. God turns that expectation up-side-down. David becomes the greatest king of Israel. God even calls him “a man after my heart” (Acts 13:22, WEB). Once again, God sees potential for greatness in someone others overlooked.

Hannah

At the beginning of 1 Samuel we’re introduced to Hannah. She was one of two wives of an Ephramite named Elkanah. Her husband loved her, but she had no children and the other wife teased her mercilessly for it, especially when her family went to Shiloh to worship at Yahweh’s temple. One year, grieving Hannah goes off alone to beg Yahweh for a son. She was “in bitterness of soul, and prayed to Yahweh, weeping bitterly.”

Now Eli the priest was sitting on his seat by the doorpost of Yahweh’s temple. … As she continued praying before Yahweh, Eli saw her mouth. Now Hannah spoke in her heart. Only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli thought she was drunk. Eli said to her, “How long will you be drunk? Get rid of your wine!”

1 Sam. 1:9, 12-14 WEB

The priest thought she was drunk and accused her without knowing all the facts. Eli softened toward her when he heard her story, but God already saw her heart and heard the prayer she spoke in His temple. The next time “Elkanah knew Hannah his wife,” we’re told “Yahweh remembered her. When the time had come, Hannah conceived, and bore a son; and she named him Samuel” (1 Sam. 1:19-20, WEB). It’s not just the kings and great leaders that God sees with compassion and clarity. It’s also those longing for specific blessings and desiring good things in line with His will.

Moses

Moses grew up as a prince of Egypt, then fled after murdering an Egyptian. He spent 40 years as a shepherd before God showed up in the burning bush and told Moses that he’d be the one God used to deliver Egypt (Exodus 3-4). Moses was understandably shocked by this.

Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” …

Moses answered, “But, behold, they will not believe me, nor listen to my voice; for they will say, ‘Yahweh has not appeared to you.’” …

Moses said to Yahweh, “O Lord, I am not eloquent, neither before now, nor since you have spoken to your servant; for I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue.” …

Moses said, “Oh, Lord, please send someone else.”

Exodus 3: 11; 4: 1, 10, 13

Moses saw himself as unable to speak, utterly unqualified, and unwilling to do something so dangerous and so great. God had an answer for each of these protests, promising Moses could do what needed to be done because God would be there providing guidance and power. They finally reach a sort of compromise, with God letting Moses’s bother Aaron act as spokesman. Despite this rocky start, God helped Moses live up to the potential He saw in him. Moses even became one of God’s closest friends (Ex. 33:11; Num. 12:6-8).

What About Us?

Those are just four of many examples in the Bible of God seeing something in people that no one else did. Gideon was hiding and uncertain, David was overlooked by his family, Hannah was misinterpreted and rebuked by a priest, and Moses was convinced he couldn’t do the things God called him to do. But God looked at those situations and saw great potential for valor, kingship, motherhood, and leadership.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says Yahweh, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11, WEB

I’ve written before about how God defines our identities in Him. God sees you as someone worth dying for (Rom. 5:8). He says you belong to Him (1 Cor. 6:19-21). He sees you as salt and light in this earth (Matt. 5:13-14). He says you are called, holy, and chosen (1 Pet. 2:9). You are friends and siblings of Jesus Christ (John 15:14, Rom. 8:16-17). You are greatly loved and highly valued by both the Father and the Son (John 3:16; 15:13-14). We’re precious to God and He sees a glorious future for us where we’re part of His family, partaking in His divine nature. In Him, we can be courageous overcomers, recipients of abundant blessings, and eventually kings and priests in His kingdom (1 Pet. 2:9; Rev. 5:7-10). That’s the potential God sees in each of us.

Featured image by Manfred Richter from Pixabay

Song Recommendation: “You Say” by Lauren Daigle

Personality Type Myth-Busting: What’s The Rarest Personality Type?

Note: before you read this post, you should know that it quotes outdated information about type distributions. Currently, ENTJs are the rarest type in the population. I may rewrite/update this post at some point in the future, but for now you can read more about current type distributions at this link: “How Rare Is Your Myers-Briggs® Personality Type?”

As an INFJ, I often see people talking about how it’s the rarest personality type. According to every type distribution I’ve seen this statement is true. However, I’ve also seen quite a few INFJs treat this rarity as if there’s a huge gap between how rare we are compared to the other personality types. Some also treat this rarity as meaning that we INFJs are so rare no one else can relate to us and/or that it makes us extra special.

While INFJs are the rarest type overall, there are other types that are almost as rare. And when we break type distributions down by gender, INFJ is not the rarest type among women (though it is among men). You can see the Estimated Frequencies of the Types in the United States Population in this chart:

Personality Type Myth-Busting: What's The Rarest Personality Type? | LikeAnAnchor.com

Relative Rarity For Each Type

As you can see from the type distribution chart at the start of this post, most of the Intuitive types each make up less than 5% of the population. The estimates from Center of Application for Psychological Type cover a pretty broad range, though. The Myers-Briggs® Foundation offers more specific estimates in addition to the ranges. These percentages pin-point INFJ at 1.5%, ENTJ 1.8%, INTJ at 2.1%, and ENFJ at 2.5%. They’re all pretty rare. Read more

Lust, Murder, and Deception from Shakespeare to Today

I know this blog isn’t really about literature and reading, but I just finished two Shakespeare plays that I can’t resist writing about. I hope some of you will find this an interesting digression from our usual topics of Christianity, Myers-Briggs, and personal growth. And if not, don’t worry — I’ll get back to my more usual type of posts this weekend.

Four and a half years ago, I committed to reading 50 Classics in 5 years. You’d think someone who read 74 books just last year wouldn’t have any trouble doing that, but I let other books distract me too much and I have some catching-up to do before August 18 arrives. Today’s article is about two of the four Shakespeare plays on my classics club list (click here to read my thoughts on the other two).

These last two plays are The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice and Measure for Measure. On the surface they’re very different stories, but I was surprised to find they touch on the same core themes. Lust, murder, and deception lie at the center of both plays, and these topics are handled in a way that puts me in mind of things happening today in our modern society.

Read more

Elizabeth Gaskell’s Strong Female Characters

I’m fascinated by female characters who find ways to live life on their own terms within their culture’s ideas of femininity. Many of my favorite “strong female characters” from Classic literature (like those in Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Francess Burney, and Elizabeth Gaskell’s books ) already have a sense of their own worth and, while they may push against certain confining ideas on appropriate female behavior, they don’t hate their own femininity or attack other women for being feminine. When they fight for their rights, they do it as women who are inherently equal to men — not as women trying to be men.

My two latest books for The Classics Club list are both written by Elizabeth Gaskell. North and South is a re-read for me and Cranford was a new one. I decided to blog about these two books together so I wouldn’t be devoting quite so many articles here to book reviews. I’d expected them to have enough similar themes that this would be easy to do (similar to blogging about Cooper’s sea tales together). But I was pleasantly (if somewhat inconveniently) surprised to find out that the two books are very different. Gaskell is a much more versatile writer than I’d been giving her credit for in my mind.

Characters Who Need Each Other

The contrast is immediately apparent. North and South (1855) opens with a wedding while Cranford (1853) opens with the line, “In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women.” Men are extremely rare and viewed with much suspicion in Cranford, but in the world of North and South most of the action is driven by or centers around men. One might say Cranford is defined by the absence of men and North and South by the actions of men.

That wouldn’t quite be fair to the women of these books, though. Both stories are filled with what I would call strong female characters. They don’t punch things, shoot stuff, or walk around talking about how empowered they are while wearing sexy clothes. But I would submit to you they’re actually better-written and even “stronger” than the female characters who run around modern films insisting they don’t need anyone’s help. Gaskell’s characters model a connected community of both men and women who are stronger together. Read more

My Cousin Philip: Examining Perspectives In Daphne Du Maurier’s Novel My Cousin Rachel

I should never have stayed here. Nay, I should never have left Italy.

If my cousin Philip had not been so like Ambros perhaps I could have left. To see his face — that beloved, tormenting face — staring into my eyes once more was more than I could leave. More than I could resist when he asked me to stay. Or I should say ordered me. They were orders, though I turned a blind eye to it then because I wanted him. Or perhaps not him, but Ambros back in my life. I know not.

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My Cousin Rachel (2017)

I’m in such fear. It was a foolish thing on both our parts, the midnight of his birthday. He knows too little of the world to realize what I gave him was nothing more than a thank you. A birthday gift that would mean more than that stupid little pearl cravat pin. And yes, I wanted it too. A younger, more devoted Ambros to worship me once again if only for a moment.

And how could I have known that he meant marriage by his comment about lacking warmth and comfort? Or that he thought I’d agreed to be his when he took me into those primroses? Or that he would get so drunk he’d announce our engagement to his godfather and poor Louise at dinner?

I still feel the pressure of his hands at my throat. Those big, powerful hands of a man who works on his farm every day and stands a head taller than me. Stronger than the ones Ambros once put around my neck. My cousin Philip could have snapped my neck, though he wouldn’t have had to. The slightest squeeze more and I’d not have been able to draw the thinnest breath.

My Cousin Philip: Examining Perspectives In Daphne Du Maurier's Novel My Cousin Rachel | marissabaker.wordpress.com
My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Should I feel guilty for bringing Mary Pascoe into this house? Surely his fury won’t touch her, too. The worst he’d do is throw her out of the house. While me … I know not what he’d do were we alone now. Would he wrap his hands around my throat again and expect me to make myself his? Would he force me and afterward tell me I liked it and must marry him?

His fantasy is as complete as the paranoia that claimed Ambrose. I half-believe in his mind we’re already married. That he thinks I’m so sure to agree it’s as if I’ve done so already. That his ridiculous present of his entire fortune will surely convince me to stay.

I must get away. I have the means to do so now, though God knows it’s not why I came here. I simply wanted to see the home Ambros talked about. The symbol of what could have been before he turned on me. The idea of our marriage rather than the reality of it. The allowance my cousin Philip gave me was more than enough. More than I expected or even hoped. To have him honor the will Ambros never signed …

Did he think he’d bought me?

Will he let me leave?


This is quite a bit different than my usual review for books I’m reading on my Classics Club Book list. But I think Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel (1951) is the sort of novel that invites you to look at it from different perspectives. The fact that you’re trapped inside Philip Ashley’s mind for the entire novel leaves you guessing at what the other characters are really thinking. He’s an unreliable narrator and he’s hopelessly naive, especially when it come to women, so the motives he assigns to Rachel are likely untrue. But if he’s wrong about her, then what is right? Everything we know of her is filtered through Philip. We don’t know her true motive or any of her thoughts. We can only guess, as I’m doing in my little retelling from Rachel’s point of view (which overlaps Chapter 23 of the original novel).

My Cousin Philip: Examining Perspectives In Daphne Du Maurier's Novel My Cousin Rachel | marissabaker.wordpress.com
My Cousin Rachel (2017)

I watched the 2017 film adaptation of My Cousin Rachel before reading the book. I suspected I would still enjoy the book after seeing the movie, but knew if I read the book first there was a good chance I’d spend the film grumpy about how they’d adapted it. It turned out to be a very faithful adaptation, though.

*Spoiler Warning* The only major changes were made at the end. The film provides less evidence of Rachel’s alleged guilt, pointing viewers towards the idea that she was not poisoning Philip. And it also has Philip sending her to ride along a dangerous path rather than choosing not to warn her about a dangerous bridge in the garden. The film pushes you toward believing he intended her to die where the book leaves it a little more ambiguous. But then again, Philip’s the one telling the story. Of course he’d make himself look as good as possible.

Philip wants us second-guessing his cousin Rachel. But I suspect Du Maurier wants us to look at Philip just as closely. Because even though we’re getting his perspective on things and he’s certainly not putting any blame on himself, there are things about being in his mind that make me as scared of him as I think Rachel is.

My Cousin Philip: Examining Perspectives In Daphne Du Maurier's Novel My Cousin Rachel | marissabaker.wordpress.com
My Cousin Rachel (1952)

Repeatedly, Philip says he wants to isolate Rachel from everyone but him. And that’s before he starts becoming overtly controlling. And when he puts his hands around her throat, it’s not in the heat of anger. He presents it as a calculated decision to add fear to the list of reasons she should marry him. Later, he barely contains his fury and indignation when (after he’s given her all his property and she still hasn’t married him) she states that she can and will invite whoever she likes to stay with them because the house belongs to her and she doesn’t feel safe alone with him.

So instead of just asking, “Did Rachel poison Ambros and/or Philip?” I think we need to ask whether such an act could be considered self-defense. Abuse does not justify murder, but even if Rachel killed someone she may not be the evil and/or misguided character that Philip (who describes himself as feeling a strange compassion for her once he makes up his mind about her guilt) makes her out to be. It might have been more of an act of desperation and fear than calculating malice.

But that’s assuming she’s guilty at all. And there’s no clear evidence that she is. Laburnum (the plant Philip settles on as the murder weapon) isn’t even all that poisonous. The most common symptoms are nausea and vomiting, and that’s after eating several seeds. “Higher doses can produce intense sleepiness, convulsive possibly tetanic movements, coma, slight frothing at the mouth and unequally dilated pupils. … [However] the MAFF publication ‘Poisonous Plants in Britain and their Effects on Animals and Man’, says that all stories about laburnum causing serious poisoning and death are untraceable” (The Poison Garden).

My Cousin Philip: Examining Perspectives In Daphne Du Maurier's Novel My Cousin Rachel | marissabaker.wordpress.com
“Laburnum” by Neil Turner

Perhaps Du Maurier believed her chosen poison really was deadly based on the rumors that have made it one of the most feared garden plants. But perhaps she did her research and knew that Philip was jumping to unjustifiable conclusions. Maybe she would have known, as Rachel surly did with her expertise in herb lore and gardening, that most gardens are home to far more reliably deadly plants (like foxglove and oleander). Perhaps Du Maurier meant for her readers to realize that a brain tumor (for Ambros) and a relapse of meningitis (for Philip) are the most logical explanations for symptoms both men attribute to “Rachel, my torment.”

There’s an argument to be made that Philip isn’t really concerned about whether or not Rachel poisoned Ambros at all. He decides her guilt based on whether or not she “conforms to his desires and whims” (from “My Cousin Rachel (2017) and Male Entitlement“). After all, he already possesses everything else that belonged to Ambros. Why not Rachel as well?

The question of whether or not Rachel poisoned Ambros consumes Philip only until their first meeting. After that he’s quite certain she’s innocent until she makes it clear she won’t marry him. All his worry about whether or not she’s guilty of murder covers the fact that his inability to deal with rejection brings out a desire to posses and control her. He and Ambros call Rachel “my torment” because she brings out the ugliest side of their natures and they blame her for their darkness rather than looking to the true culprits. Themselves.My Cousin Philip: Examining Perspectives In Daphne Du Maurier's Novel My Cousin Rachel | marissabaker.wordpress.com

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