Sunday, August 23, 2015

Daphne Du Maurier - Frenchman's Creek

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When the east wind blow up Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores.

Thus starts the fourth novel by Daphne du Maurier.  The first chapter is a breathtaking description of Navron and the little creek in Navron, Cornwall.  A modern day sailor on a boat in the creek is suddenly disturbed by the visions of a beautiful lady and her French lover.

From here we zoom back into the Restoration period, perhaps 1650.  Dona St. Columb is a celebrated beauty in the court.  She is married to Harry St. Columb and has two little children.  She is an impetuous woman and given to hanging out with her husband and his friends in places of low repute.

Rockingham, her husband's friend,  fancies he can conquer Dona after they share a kiss.  Dona has no intention of following up on the kiss.  After an adventure, she finds herself sickened of the empty London society and on an impulse, takes her children and drives down to Navron, her husband's seat in the country.

Navron is a neglected place.  There is only one servant present, William.  He seems intractable and outspoken.  Dona, sickened of the fawning London society, finds him a refreshing change. Soon, the country house is in order and Dona enjoys the idyllic, lazy life there.  She takes walks around in the garden and plays with the children.

Her peace is soon shattered by the arrival of Lord Godolphin.  He warns her of a French pirate who has been disturbing the peace around here.  He robs the people on this side of the coast and quickly sneaks off to Brittany.  He wants Harry to come down from London and help capture this slippery pirate.

Dona discovers that the pirate has been using her house and anchoring his ship in the little creek close to her property.  She is captured by the pirates as she comes upon their ship in her creek.  She is captivated by their Captain, Jean Aubrey and joins forces with him, helping him rob the hapless rich aristocrats in that area. Aubrey in this for thrills and adventure and Dona St. Columb, bored with her staid life, finds him fascinating.

This is a beautiful novel.  The descriptions of flora and fauna around Navron are detailed exquisitely at every chance the author gets.

Du Maurier is known to set her novels around some wonderful houses. It was Manderley in "Rebecca" and Menabilly (said to be inspired by a real Menabilly) in "The King's General".  A later novel called "The House on the Strand" also has an ancient house that seemed inspired by Menabilly.

The author does not seem too comfortable in the London society scenes, but on her home turf, the great country house, she is in her element.  Whether it is an action scene, describing a pirate attack in a great detail, or life and manners in the country houses, she is perfect.

The novel is a fast-paced thriller.  There is action and a lot of romance.  When Dona St. Columb falls for Jean Aubrey, she does not hold back and they have a full-on affair.  There are captures and hangings and daring escapes and adventures.  Nary a dull moment, we can say.

This novel was adapted into two movies, one starring Joan Fontaine as Dona St. Columb made in 1944.  A later version starring Tara Fitzgerald (1998) departed so much from the novel right at the start, that I abandoned any attempt to view it.

This novel is not as famous at "My Cousin Rachel" or "Rebecca", yet it deserves to be.