Exploring Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall
In June we went to Cornwall, to Daphne du Maurier country, so here are some photos relating to all things du Maurier from our short holiday.
One day in 1936 the young Daphne du Maurier was out riding on Bodmin Moor with her friend Foy Quiller-Couch. They became lost, but eventually found their way to the Jamaica Inn. While recovering from their ordeal Daphne and Foy heard tales of long ago smuggling adventures and du Maurier was inspired to write her fourth novel. The book became the basis of a 1939 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock and starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara. Both du Maurier and the real Jamaica Inn were on their way to international fame. Just this year the BBC produced a new three part peak time mini-series based on the novel, though unfortunately this particular version seems destined to be remembered as the Jamaica Inn where most of the audience could barely understand a word that was mumbled. However, our Cornish landlady said she could understand the dialogue perfectly, so perhaps the difficulty was that most viewers could not adjust their ears to the Cornish accent. The BBC claimed technical difficulties, and rapidly remixed the sound for the second and third episodes.
Today the Jamaica Inn is next to the A30, though the road is hidden from view and can barely be heard even outside. The food is typical good pub food. Yes, I had fish & chips. When in Cornwall, eat fish. The Inn even has a du Maurier museum with one of Daphne’s typewriters.
When the du Mauriers came to Cornwall looking to buy a summer holiday home they spent their first night in Looe. A delightful village where we spent our holiday.
Daphne du Maurier eventually settled in Menabilly, near Fowey, the next village west. She was inspired to write the short story ‘The Birds’, which following Rebecca, was the third of her works to be turned into a film by Alfred Hitchcock, after watching seagulls following a tractor at Menabilly Barton Farm and wondering what would happen if the birds suddenly joined forces and attacked. The story is set in and around a fictionalised version of that farm, not in America, as Hitchcock had it. All around Looe harbour there are signs warning not to feed the seagulls. We asked our landlady if the gulls really are as vicious as the signs made out and and she explained that the birds would swoop and take food from your hand. She had once received a nasty gash to her index finger.
Here are three photos of the Cornish coast of Rebecca and other du Maurier novels…
In 1926 Gerald du Maurier, a famous actor-manager of his day, bought a house just across the water from Fowey and renamed it Ferryside. Daphne would spend summers, and eventually winters there as well. She wrote her first novel, The Loving Spirit, at Ferryside in 1929. Today it is the home of her son, Kits Browning, and his wife.
Daphne du Maurier’s novella ‘Don’t Look Now’, and Nic Roeg’s great film, climaxes with a chase sequence through the narrow streets and alleys of Venice. One thing struck me about ‘Don’t Look Now’ while visiting Fowey – In Enchanted Cornwall du Maurier writes: ‘The story was triggered in my mind by a visit to Venice. There are rather a lot of frightening little alleys, bridges and streets near the canals before you come to Saint Marco. Walking there one night I saw what looked like a little child, running beside a canal and I thought, this is sinister. The story is very spooky, but then Venice is spooky if you go out at night and walk around the back streets.’
But du Maurier actually lived most of her life in and around a little town which is Venice in miniature. Fowey itself consists of narrow little streets, narrower flights of stone steps running up the hillside and down to the water. They twist and turn, and like the streets of Venice, must echo strangely when the fog rolls in and night falls. And then across the water are two other small towns, Polruan and Bodinnick, both connected to Fowey by ferry – again, Venice in miniature to the imaginative mind. This was du Maurier’s world. Perhaps she didn’t really have to look as far as Venice…
Obviously no holiday is complete without a visit to every bookshop in the vicinity. Bookends of Fowey features an excellent selection of new and second-hand titles by and about Daphne du Maurier, as well as other authors associated with Cornwall such as Winston Graham, Derek Tange, Leo Walmsley and Sir Arthur Quiller Couch (who lived in Fowey). When I was there the shop had a first edition of Rebecca on display. I didn’t enquire how much it cost.
But even though I didn’t sell the house to buy Rebecca, I did treat myself to a first edition of Echos From The Macabre: Selected Stories, a 1976 collection which reprinted ‘Don’t Look Now’, ‘The Birds’ and seven other rather less famous tales. You can read my review here. In the last photo I am pretending to read it outside the Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre and Gift Shop. This is also worth a quick visit if you are going to Bookends, particularly for the interesting collection of archival newspaper articles about Daphne du Maurier.
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