Daphne Du Maurier’s Cornwall

A year ago we were in Cornwall, visiting Daphne Du Maurier sites. Led by our friend Jane, a Du Maurier scholar, we visited places that influenced Du Maurier’s novels. In Helford we searched for “Frenchman’s Creek,” a tale set in the time of Charles II and which includes love affairs, smuggling, and all sorts of swashbuckling adventures. In Fowey we walked on to a car ferry which took us across the River Fowey to Boddinick, where we could view from a distance (and later over a fence) Daphne’s home, “Ferryside,” where her son Kits now lives. This beautiful white house with blue shutters is perched on the edge of the water, and has the figurehead of the ship, Jane Slade, on one of the corners of the house. Jane Slade is the inspiration for the character of Janet Coombe of Du Maurier’s first novel, “The Loving Spirit.” Written in 1929, this novel tells the story of the four generations of the Coombe family of boatbuilders. We could see the boatyard that the Slades owned in the distance in Polruan.

Hiking through the nearby hills we came across a stone monument to Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a writer friend of Daphne’s, for whom she carried on the writing of “Castle Dor,” in 1959, a decade after Quiller-Couch died. Along the way we veered off the hike to visit the church at Lanteglos, where Daphne married her husband, Tommy “Boy” Browning, in 1932. We wandered in the churchyard, in search of the gravestone of Jane Slade. In the 14th century stone church was just one small mention of the wedding of Daphne and Tommy, amidst its long and storied history.

One evening we dined at “Sam’s at the Beach” in Polkerris, in an old converted lifeboat station. On the wall we saw the name Rashleigh on the Fowey lifeboat sign – this name is prevalent in this area. Du Maurier based her book, “My Cousin Rachel,” on the Rashleigh name, and called her main character, “Philip Ashley.” Menabilly, the house that Daphne Du Maurier rented for a few years, is on the Rashleigh estate. This house was the setting for her most well known novel, “Rebecca” – renamed Manderley in the book, which is set in the early 20th century, as well as “The King’s General,” set during the time of the English Civil War (1642-1646)

I wish I had read these novels when I was a teenager, as they would have stirred my imagination and filled my world with romanticism. Alas, most of these I read 30 years later, but found them just as intriguing and entertaining. Especially when combined with physically visiting the places – what could be more delightful!

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