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Du Maurier country

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Daphne Du Maurier, who was born one hundred years ago yesterday, was a first-rate storyteller and a master of suspense. For a long time she was the number one author for library book borrowings. Indeed I borrowed her novel Rebecca from my town’s public library.

In retrospect, I wonder if it’s much of a book for an impressionable girl, even a tomboy. The heroine is carried away by the prince in a sports car into a life of uneasy wealth. The tragedy of the book appears to be the burning of the beautiful house, not the husband’s murder of his former wife, who was relentlessly promiscuous. The present wife and narrator (who is never named) remains a child wife without children, abetting a man who never pays for his murder but is forever haunted by it. The book has been described as romantic, but the idea that some people deserve to be murdered and their murderers should escape legal punishment is not romantic and is completely at odds with British tradition. Gosh, relax, and enjoy the story, Du Maurier fans must be thinking. And she did grip me from the first line, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."

Described as very beautiful with “thick blonde hair and arresting eyes of a startlingly bright, clear blue” (Oxford DNB), Du Maurier was regarded as icily remote by some and warm and funny by others. Born into a theatrical family she was the granddaughter of the author of Trilby and the cousin of the boys who inspired JM Barrie to write Peter Pan. Her personality, she wrote a friend, comprised two distinct people – "the loving wife and mother she showed the world and the lover, a decidedly male energy, hidden to virtually everyone and the power behind her artistic creativity" (Wiki).

She wrote more than 30 books, and Rebecca, Jamaica Inn, and The Birds were made into popular films. One of the fine things about Du Maurier is her evocation of atmosphere, especially Cornwall’s old houses and the small hidden bays of its coast, the shining inland creeks and overhanging woods, and the high green moors.

This week Cornwall is celebrating Du Maurier with a festival.

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