Rereading Du Maurier.

I have been busy rereading lots of Daphne du Maurier stuff recently in order to prepare for my disseration, which yes, I am doing on Daphne Du Maurier. How could I not? I have been wanting to write a dissertation on Daphne since I was about seventeen (yues I know that’s strange) but here I am, finally about to do it, and tutors, so far, actually LIKE my idea and are enthuastic on the idea. I couldn’t be happier. Seriously.

So it has meant a lot of rereading, particualarly of the less well known novels, ones that I haven’t read all that many times – partly because they’ve been less critically studied, and also because its more interesting, and I figure if I steer clear of the ones I adore, the ones that are overread anyway, I will still adore them. Clever huh?

I have reread as well things like Margaret Forster’s biography, relearning many details and intersting things which I had forgotten, as well as discovering and reading for the first time ‘Letter’s From Menabilly’, edited by Oriel Malet, an absoutely wonderful collection of letters and absoutely fascinating. It made me wish we still wrote letters in the same way, and it also absoutely transported me to Cornwalll – I have spent a lot time recently being disappointed that I’m not actually in Fowey. And I’m only two hours away. I will make it down there, sometime soon. I promise myself.

It has been brilliant and fascinating, and I am so excited that this is only just beginning. It makes all the Shakespeare I’m meant to be reading definitely not as exciting.

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Interview with Daphne du Maurier

There is a rather wonderful TV interview with Daphne Du Maurier on the BBC novelists archive, filmed in the 1970s and rare as Daphne did not like to be filmed. It is quite wonderful to hear her speak and in her home, Kilmarth. It is like a time capsule from the past, a snapshot of a former time, and it is quite a weird experience to hear her speak as I have not heard her talk before. It is quite remarkable – and she is quite a remarkable woman. Having read everythings she’s written, its quite a strange experience to see her actually speak.

Definitely worth the 50 minutes!

http://www.bbc.co.uk/archive/writers/12222.shtml

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The King’s General – Quote

I have seen the shadows creep, on an autumn afternoon, from the deep Pridmouth valley to the summit of the hill, and there stay a moment, waiting on the sun… Dark moods too of bleak November, when the rain sweeps in a curtain fromt he south-west. But, quietest of all, the evenings of late summer, when the sun has set, and the moon has not yet risen, but the dew is heavy in the long grass.

quote (c) Daphne Du Maurier, The King’s General 1946. Virago.

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The King’s General.

(spoilers)

The King’s General is one of Daphne Du Maurier’s historical novels, set at her beloved Menabilly in Cornwall. It takes place during the civil war and the events of the novel are drawn from true fact, inspired by the discovery of a skeleton in a hidden cell of Menabilly by a builder. From this fact Du Maurier wove fiction into the story, creating a beautiful and devastating love story. It is a story of love and heartbreak, and war.

The story is told from the eyes of Honor Harris, looking back on her youth. The novel begins with an account of Autumn, in typical Du Maurier style she evokes a feeling so strong you actually believe that you are there and that Autumn leaves are falling around you. Honor tells the story of when  she meets Sir Richard Grenville – a soldier who becomes famed as ‘the King’s General in the West’ – she soon falls in love despite her initial dismissal and dislike of him, and his cold, offensive, aggressive manner, which upsets so many people.

Yet tragedy ensues. A little after they are engaged, Richard’s sister Gartred misguides Honor and she tumbles off her horse, crippling herself.

The lovers’ part and Honor is bound to her bed for the rest of her life, while Richard Grenville gallivants off, to lead his army, and his own life, free from any constraints which Honor is now bound to.

It is not until years later, when Honor is sent to Menabilly as the war worsens that their paths cross again. She learns of many of the secrets of the house and sees through her own eyes the comings and goings of the Royalist army who are fighting in Cornwall. She remains resident in the house when it is taken by enemy forces and experiences the hardships of war. She remains shrewd and cunning despite many others belief of her weakness and she plays her part in the war when it is necessary.

Honor reflects back on her life and the events which led up to her being positioned so. Despite all that happened, she accounts how she remains loyal to Richard, no matter what he does and no matter how wrong others think him.

The story contains Du Maurier’s typical darkness and charm, and an essence of nostalgia and loss also runs through it.  A sense of longing runs throughout the novel, and it is tinged with this, amidst the wider topics of war and history, and the Cornish landscape to which it is set. The characters are complex and sometimes difficult to understand – Gartred’s actions for example can be very difficult to understand. The characters in the novel are mostly historical, although often romanticised. Yet this is the charm of the story. Honor herself is a very strong female character and her compelling narrative draws you in and makes you very sympathetic towards the characters. The places are very real as well, and being real it is very easy to imagine these locations and imagine the story taking place, even in the hundreds of years that divide the reader and the characters.

The novel is gripping, and one of those ones that you want to return to time after time. The characters become very real, and the terrors and heartache that they are put through as the war worsens become your own. Like all Du Maurier novels you become immersed in the story, and it becomes yours. There is a darkness and a sadness to the writing, and the imagery is haunting and beautiful. It is a novel which carries many of the same themes as her other works, but also contains its own magic and haunting message.

I become aware of a shadow, of a sudden droop of the sea, once far-off and a faint, comes louder now, creeping towards the sands. The tide has turned. Gone are the white stones and the cowrie shells. The sands are covered. My dreams are buried. And as darkness falls the flood-tide sweeps over the marshes and the land is covered. (page one-two)

(The Kings General, Daphne du Maurier (c) 1946)

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Frenchman’s Creek

(contains spoilers)

In many ways Frenchman’s Creek is the odd one out of Daphne Du Maurier’s novels. It is one of the shortest, and also the novel that left her labelled with the title ‘romantic writer’ – something which is clear from the majority of her writing that she is not.

Frenchman’s Creek is an enchanting novel about escape, running away, and freedom. It is set in Cornwall and features romantic French pirates and a country estate which backs onto a creek, and suspicious household servants.

It is the story of Dona (Lady Dona St Columb) who escapes her repressive and dull life in London with her two small children for the sanctuary and freedom of her husband’s Cornish estate. It is here however that she hears about some unfortunate goings on locally, and she becomes intrigued. She soon meets the centre of the trouble – the enigmatic French pirate who is using her creek to hide his boat.

The language is breathtaking and the descriptions of the creek and countryside absolutely captivating, making you wish you were there. The novel is magic and captivating, in a different way to Rebecca, it keeps its hold over you, long after the story is finished and it is one you want to go and revisit as many times as you can. The opening line is testimony to this;

When the east wind blows up Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores.

Despite its ‘romantic novel’ label the novel is far from being just a romantic novel and the romantic aspect is not emphasised or particularly central to the novel. It is just a captivating novel which grips your attention easily. It does not have the suspense that some of Du Maurier’s darker novels hold, but it is still an unforgettable novel. It is a story about escape and freedom, and being set free;

‘Do you remember my father’s aviary in Hampshire…. and how the birds there were well fed, and could fly about their cage? And one day I set a linnet free, and it flew straight out of my hands towards the sun?’

‘Because I feel like that. Like the linnet before it flew’.  

The first chapter in particular is one of my favourite parts of it; it opens with a visitor many years later visiting the creek. The visitor is described,

He feels – for no reason known to him – that he is an interloper, a trespasser in time….. he feels a spell upon him, fascinating, strange, a thing or queer excitement not fully understood.’ Page 4, Frenchman’s Creek – Virago, 2008.

This seems to sum up the feeling of the novel quite nicely, and the novel itself is captivating and memorable, if not for anything else then the secretive relationship between Dona and her pirate, and the magical landscape.

Quotes (C) Daphne Du Maurier – Frenchman’s Creek 1941.

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Apologies. (Again)

Sorry for abandoning, again, I have just moved into a new house and so have been internetless for two weeks. However, that is no more! New post in a moment.

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Quote – Frenchman’s Creek

How pleasant,’ Dona said, peeling her fruit; ‘the rest of us can only run away from time to time, and however much we pretend to be free, we know it is only for a little while – our hands and our feet are tied.”

Quote (C) Daphne Du Maurier, Frenchman’s Creek, 1941

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