The Cornwall of Du Maurier, Cornwall


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The Cornwall of Du Maurier, Cornwall

Though she was born in London , the writer Daphne du Maurier is most closely associated with Cornwall , the county where she lived for the greater part of her life, and the setting for many of her novels.
It was the southern coast of Cornwall that figured largest in du Maurier‚s life, a countryside of gentle sheltered beaches and innumerable little inlets and tiny bays, pretty villages and stunning seascapes, at once genteel and mysterious. The beaches here are perhaps the most beautiful in the country, a wonderland for small children, but it is off just such a beach that the evil - or wronged - Rebecca's boat is scuttled.
Du Maurier's novel Frenchman's Creek makes the most of this landscape of secret coves and wooded walks, in that novel hiding the activities of bold - and attractive - buccaneers, and the Helford River to the south of Falmouth is indeed a lovely area, the famous Frenchman's Creek in particular drawing visitors from far and wide. A few miles north is Pendennis Castle , built in Tudor Times but most closely linked to Cromwell, and one of the settings for Daphne's novel The King's General.
In 1926 Daphne's parents bought a house named Ferryside, opposite Fowey on the Bodinnick side of the river. Here she wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit, set among the shipbuilding fraternity of Polruan at the end of the Fowey estuary, a village of narrow streets and steep steps reached in the summer by ferry from Fowey. Here also she first met her future husband Boy‚ Browning, then the youngest major in the British Army.
Fowey is a place of whitewashed Tudor and even earlier medieval cottages, the 15th century fortification called simply Place‚ dominating the town. Its narrow cobbled alleys and busy harbour are full of life and in summer full of colour with hanging baskets and flowers everywhere.
In later years the novelist lived in Menabilly, to the west of Fowey, in the house said to be the inspiration for Rebecca and in particular Manderley, the building which is almost a character in that novel. Later on she moved to another house on the same lane, Kilmarth, spending almost a quarter of a century there.
In The House on the Strand the protagonist is transported in time to 14th century Tywardreath, a village located just a mile or so along the A3082 from Fowey. Castle Dore, an ancient hill fort, again near Fowey, is the location of du Maurier‚s setting of the Tristan and Isolda story in her book (actually her completion of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's book) Castle Dor.
Also in the Fowey area is Llanteglos‚s St Willow Church, where Daphne and Boy Browning wed in 1932, going on to honeymoon romantically on his motor cruiser which they moored in Frenchman's Creek.
In stark contrast to the gentle southern Cornwall used in so many of her writings, du Maurier did set one of her greatest books in more rugged territory - Bodmin Moor . Jamaica Inn was supposedly inspired by a chance discovery of the eponymous pub when the novelist became lost on a riding expedition. Her use of the brooding presence of the landscape is reminiscent of the Brontes (and she was fascinated by them, writing a biography of Bramwell Bronte). This is a very different Cornwall, open countryside, offering long hikes and space aplenty, but still dangerous for those who venture out poorly equipped as the weather can be fickle. The inn itself can still be visited, and these days houses a collection of much du Maurier memorabilia, including her typewriter and various pieces of furniture.

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