Exploring Daphne du Maurier’s Cornwall

In June we went to Cornwall, to Daphne du Maurier countryso here are some photos relating to all things du Maurier from our short holiday.

 

Gary Dalkin outside the, as it says, world famous Jamaica Inn

Me outside the, as it says, world famous Jamaica Inn

 

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.

 

Jamaica Inn looking mean, moody and magnificent beneath a suitably Gothic sky

Jamaica Inn looking mean, moody and magnificent beneath a suitably Gothic sky

 

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.

 

Looe, Cornwall

Looe, Cornwall

 

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.

 

They take The Birds seriously in Looe - by order of the harbour commissioners

They take The Birds seriously in Looe – by order of the harbour commissioners

 

One of the seagulls of Looe - you have been warned

One of the seagulls of Looe – you have been warned

 

Here are three photos of the Cornish coast of Rebecca and other du Maurier novels…

 

The Cornish coast of Rebecca

 

The Cornish coast of Rebecca 2

 

The Cornish coast of Rebecca 3

 

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.

 

Ferryside, Daphne du Maurier's first home in Cornwall

Ferryside, Daphne du Maurier’s first home in Cornwall

 

When Daphne du Maurier first came to Ferryside she took the room under the eaves at the top right corner

When Daphne du Maurier first came to Ferryside she took the room under the eaves at the top right corner

 

Ferryside from Fowey, with me in the way

Ferryside from Fowey, with me in the way

 

Fowey, and across the water to Polruan

Fowey, and across the water to Polruan

 

boats are everywhere in Fowey, and like Rebecca de Winter, Daphne du Maurier quickly became an accomplished yachtswoman

boats are everywhere in Fowey, and like Rebecca de Winter, Daphne du Maurier quickly became an accomplished yachtswoman

 

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…

Don't Look Now - the Venice-like steps of Fowey

Don’t Look Now – the Venice-like steps of Fowey

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Bookends of Fowey

Bookends of Fowey

 

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.

 

Me, pretending to read Echoes From The Macabre outside the Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre (and Gift Shop), across the road from Bookends of Fowey

Me, pretending to read Echoes From The Macabre outside the Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre (and Gift Shop), across the road from Bookends of Fowey

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