I love Cornwall. Have you gotten that yet?
It just feels like I have that place in the blood (and I can claim some Cornish ancestors), so any book that’s based there holds quite the draw for me. And with the re-doing of Poldark there’s quite a few who are enthralled by stories from that part of the world. Du Maurier is well known as a lover of Cornwall and lived much of her life there.
She’s author of the famed and haunting Rebecca, and also of Jamaica Inn which was dramatised again a few years ago (and her short-story The Birds inspired Alfred Hitchcock’s famous film). I’d recommend watching Jamaica Inn by the way. It was slated at the time due to poor sound quality when it aired and ‘mumbling’ by the actors, so I ignored it for quite some time, but I finally came round to purchasing it when my period drama well had run dry and it did not disappoint. Sure, some of the accents are hard to decipher, but I thoroughly enjoyed the brooding nature of the cinematography and the well-acted characters.
Anyway, Frenchman’s Creek was on my list, and so I start my book a month for a year challenge with that. I was down in Cornwall when I began reading it, so that was rather handy, and let me just say, the opening passage is quite literally (or literary – pun oh so intended), b-e-a-utiful.
‘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. The short seas break above the bar at ebb-tide, and the waders fly inland to mud-flats, their wings skimming the surface, and calling to one another as they go.’
And on and on it goes, as though the words are the sea itself, tumbling in waves over the reader until they’re totally immersed.
Tempo and melody
Two things I love about du Maurier’s writing: it’s hypnotic tempo, and her ability to portray people’s thought patterns.
In the first passage you get the hypnotic tempo, as if you’re being pulled along, helplessly on the tide of the book and trip, trip, trip along like the words are in a silent melody of their own. Divine.
Thought patterns captured
The other thing she is so brilliant at is capturing thought patterns. She has this insightful ability to follow the trip, trip, trip of her characters thoughts in such ways as if we’re really in their heads thinking, ‘yes, I follow that, I would think like that.’ Rebecca is actually a better example of it, but Frenchman’s Creek has this aspect too.
I’m always impressed by authors who make me think in such a way that in ordinary life I never would. Du Maurier can do this to me. Frenchman’s Creek follows Dona St Columb, an aristocratic lady from the 17th century who runs away from her husband with her children to their old rambling Cornish manor, Navron. There, while escaping the meaninglessness of her life and the person it has made her become, the story is about her finding herself again and falling in love.
Perhaps not a story I condone
Normally, I’m not a fan of any story that condones extra-marital anything. And I still am not. But what I think du Maurier does so well is to capture the changing emotions and thoughts that are going on here. I don’t advocate the actions, but her writing really is electric, and that’s not to mention the pirate, smuggling, adventuring that the novel has too! And don’t be fooled, it doesn’t end like you think, just like with most of her novels.
And du Maurier always seems to capture my heart for Cornwall and the countryside, the way I see it and love it, as encapsulate in these words:
…the river would be the same as it was in a century now forgotten, in a time that has left few memories.
In those days the hills and valleys were alone in splendour, there were no buildings to desecrate the rough fields and cliffs…
Oh, it gives me shivers! So, thank you to all those people who encouraged me to read du Maurier, I will slowly be devouring her books for many years to come and I recommend Frenchman’s Creek to Cornwall and literature lovers alike.
On a trivial note, one of du Maurier’s daughters was called Flavia, which will lead nicely on to my next post about Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley who’s heroine is also called Flavia…