Daphne du Maurier
Ferryside, Bodinnick, Cornwall
Hidden Menabilly, near Fowey, Cornwall
The Boathouse, Polridmouth Cove, near Fowey

Jamaica Inn, Bolventor, Cornwall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like the unnamed narrator of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (1938), the literary traveler must be satisfied to dream of  Manderley, for Menabilly—the estate near Fowey (pronounced “Foy”) upon which du Maurier based her evocative characterization of the deWinter domain—is shielded from the world behind an imposing gatehouse signposted “strictly private.”  No amount of fence-hopping nor hedgerow-peering can penetrate the thick plantation of copper beeches, oaks and firs that protects the place, which, as in du Maurier’s novel, makes it only that much more enticing.

 

The rest of du Maurier’s Cornish landscape lays itself obligingly before one.  There is the cottage at Polridmouth Cove (near Fowey at Gribbin Head) fictionalized as the boathouse from which Rebecca ostensibly sails to meet her fate.  There is Frenchman’s Creek, part of the Helford River estuary, from which the restless, aristocratic Dona St. Columb, dressed as a cabin boy, goes adventuring with her French pirate (Frenchman’s Creek 1941).  There is the rambling public house high on Bodmin Moor full of smugglers and wreckers, where orphaned Mary Yellin imagines she sees a dead man hanging from a gibbet only to recognize “the signboard of the inn . . . [that] swung backwards, forwards, with the slightest breeze. . . whose white lettering was now blurred and grey, and whose message was at the mercy of the four winds—Jamaica Inn—Jamaica Inn” (Jamaica Inn  1936).  There is Ferryside, the cottage at the foot of the hill in Bodinnick where the Fowey ferry lands and where London-bred teenager Daphne du Maurier found herself at home at last:  “’There was a smell in the air of tar and rope and rusted chain, a smell of tidal water.  Down harbour, round the point, was the open sea.  Here was the freedom I desired, long sought-for, not yet known.  Freedom to write, to walk, to wander, freedom to climb hills, to pull a boat, to be alone’” (Myself When Young 1977).

 

Discrete by U.S. standards and not as evolved as Dorset’s marketing of Thomas Hardy, the du Maurier tourist industry is evident in signposts welcoming one to “du Maurier Country” and in the annual Daphne du Maurier Festival in Fowey (www.dumaurierfestival.co.uk), whose May 2007 celebration included coast walks, cream teas, river cruises, an international literary conference, and serious lectures from the likes of scholars Nina Auerbach and Claire Tomalin and filmmakers Ken Russell and Nicolas Roeg.  Popular interest in du Maurier’s work thus seems as avid as it was when Alfred Hitchcock made Rebecca (1940) his entrée into Hollywood. 

 

Equally important, there is renewed critical interest in du Maurier’s life and work.  No longer satisfied to dismiss her as a “romance writer,” serious readers and especially feminist scholars are rethinking her use of genre conventions, her treatment of gender expectations and constructions, and the significance of her own bisexuality for her writing.  Auerbach argues that “if Daphne du Maurier writes romances at all, their achievement is to infuse with menace the lives women are supposed to want” (103).  Helen Taylor asserts that “her personal anxieties about, indeed contempt for, the constraints and sheer dullness of orthodox femininity in the early to mid twentieth century pervade the fiction, and resonate for all readers who have shared such feelings” (xvi).  Indeed, Virago Press has recently returned to print most of du Maurier’s writings, ensuring that such engagement extends across her oeuvre to a new generation of readers.

 

Auerbach, Nina.  Daphne du Maurier, Haunted Heiress. Philadelphia:  U of Pennsylvania P, 2000.

Du Maurier, Daphne.  Frenchman’s Creek.  London:  Virago P (1941), 2003.

Du Maurier, Daphne.  Jamaica Inn.  London :  Virago P (1936), 2003.

DuMaurier, Daphne.  Myself When Young.  “Introduction” by Helen Taylor.  London:  Virago P (1977) 2004.

DuMaurier, Daphne.  Rebecca. London:  Virago P (1938), 2003.

Forster, Margaret.  Daphne du Maurier.  London :  Chatto and Windus, 1993.

 

 

© Copyright Kim McMullen 2007