Daphne Du Maurier: Cornish Inspiration
Published: Friday 14th Jun 2019
One of the country’s literary giants, Daphne du Maurier is a household name. A wickedly talented and dexterously diverse author, her name is recognised even amongst those who haven’t experienced her works first-hand.
Living in Cornwall for more than 50 years, du Maurier gleaned much of her inspiration from this wild and wonderful county. Writing far more freely here than in London, her unbridled love for this corner of the world, full of romance, history and intrigue, was sown into every page.
Inspiring countless generations, du Maurier’s creations remain ever poignant today. If you would like to take a step closer to the pages of her stories, here are some of the places that both inspired du Maurier and were used as the settings for her work:
Visit the Church of St Nonna at Altarnun to witness where du Maurier sought inspiration for the home of Jamaica Inn’s baddie, Reverend Francis Davey. Also known as the Cathedral of the Moor, this Norman church is famous for its 15th century screen, old woodwork, 33m high tower and intricate bench carvings.
An enchanting creek overhung by knotted branches and leafy canopies, Frenchman’s Creek in Helford is a place of true beauty. Featuring in many of her novels, including the eponymous Frenchman’s Creek where Lady Dona scandalously falls in love with a French pirate, it is accessible via Helford’s narrow, winding lanes or, for the more adventurous, via kayak.
A traditional Cornish fishing town, Fowey is a great place to go to learn more about Daphne du Maurier’s Cornish inspiration. Every May, the town hosts the Daphne du Maurier Festival of Arts and Literature, and there is a whole section of the local museum dedicated to her too. Throughout the year, you can visit the Daphne du Maurier Literary Centre, situated in the heart of the town.
With roots dating back to the 1700’s, Jamaica Inn has a rich and checkered history, brimming with tales of pirates, smugglers and illegal activities. Of course, these days business at Jamaica Inn is much more sedate, and it most widely recognised for du Maurier’s book of the same title, dubbed “perhaps the most accomplished historical romance ever written”. Although there are significantly fewer pirates these days, Jamaica Inn is still open and well worth a trip.
Taking a step into Daphne du Maurier’s personal life, a visit to Lanteglos Church in Polruan will reveal the magical setting in which she married her husband-to-be, Major Tommy ‘Boy’ Browning in 1932. An avid fan of her books, Major Browning sailed to Fowey to meet Daphne, and later became father to her three children. Lanteglos Church is woven into in her first novel, The Loving Spirit, as Lanoc Church.
Pendennis Castle, Falmouth
Pendennis Castle, a mighty artillery fort constructed for Henry VIII, appears in Daphne’s 1946 novel the King’s General. Walk to the top of the castle and take in the views and imagine the landscape as the novel’s female narrator, Honor Harris, would have seen it during the English Civil War. Maintained by English Heritage, Pendennis Castle provides a super day out come rain or shine.
Not far from Menabilly House (Daphne’s “Mena”), the beautifully unspoilt Polridmouth Cove was one of du Maurier’s favourite places. A secluded, south-facing beach lapped by turquoise seas, it’s not hard to understand why she found it such a creative influence as well as a tonic for the soul. Basing many of her novels here, Polridmouth Cove is where her fictional character Rebecca ultimately met her death.
Tywardreath and Menabilly House
Located between Fowey and Par on the south coast of Cornwall, Tywardreath is a quintessentially Cornish village with beautiful, far-reaching views. Appearing in The House on the Strand, Tywardreath played a huge role in many of du Maurier’s works and is also home to Menabilly House, Daphne’s once home and muse.
The inspiration behind Manderley in the novel ‘Rebecca’, Menabilly has seated the Rashleigh family since the 16th century and is part of a private estate. Sadly, much like the opening lines of Rebecca, “the way is barred” to visitors, but that all adds to the intrigue! Further down the road, a house called Kilmarth can be found not far from Tywardreath, which is where du Maurier lived the last years of her life.
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