Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier

This is du Maurier’s last novel and although it is set in her beloved Cornwall, it bears no resemblance to her other Cornish books. It is set in the 1970s and Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe has broken down. The U.S.A. has taken over Britain, supposedly sharing power and the combination of the two countries is known as USUK.

It soon becomes apparent that the U.S.A. is in complete control and the local inhabitants are not treated well. The locals revolt.

The character of Mad (Daphne) is an 80 year old retired actress who was born in London but regards herself as Cornish. Although she has a middle-aged son and a grand-daughter, she felt the need to adopt five boys who range in age from 3 to 19.

When one of the American soldiers goes missing things take a nasty turn and the whole area of Poldrea is punished. Although the water and electricity has been cut by the invaders, the family manages to discover that all the Celtic parts of Britain are fighting back – Cornwall, Wales and Scotland. I enjoyed the book but wonder why she chose to put the boot in to the U.S.A.

During World War 2, Daphne du Maurier lived in Cornwall surrounded by American forces who were camped there waiting to take part in the D Day invasions of France. It sounds as if she didn’t appreciate their presence and nearly 30 years on she wrote about them being the bad guy invaders. Other women of Daphne’s generation that I know of adored the influx of Yanks to their neighbourhood, maybe a bit too much.

There are elements of Peter Pan in Rule Britannia. Mad’s adopted sons are the Lost Boys of J.M. Barrie fame. Barrie had been an honorary uncle to Daphne and her sisters and the Llewelyn-Davies boys (the Darlings in Peter Pan) were the du Mauriers’ cousins. Writing about her ill-fated cousins must have been like bringing them alive again for her.

In 1969 du Maurier accepted an invitation to join the political party Mebyon Kernow (Sons of Cornwall). They were (are) trying to keep Cornwall Cornish. Her last novel seems to be have been her way of protesting.

Why did she choose Americans for the baddies? – I have no idea. I think the problem has always been that rich people in the south of England have always wanted more than their fair share of everything. They are quite happy to buy what should be family homes in beautiful rural areas and inhabit them for only a few weeks a year, pricing locals out of the market and making it impossible for young people to get somewhere to live in the place that they have been brought up.

It takes place all over Britain I suppose but it just so happens that it is worse in the Celtic regions. St. Andrews, about 25 miles from where I live is more expensive than London for property and rent.

Dear Daphne wrote a book about her local area being swamped by foreigners, I just have a moan.

It is just as well that she isn’t living now because things are much worse in Cornwall than they were in her day and I’ve been told that one village only has 3 houses in it which are lived in by locals.

Having said that, if you get the chance you should visit Cornwall. I read Rebecca for the first time when I was 12 or 13, I think, and then went on to her other Cornish novels. I fell in love with the place but it took me about 30 years to get around to actually seeing it. It’s about 750 miles from Fife – a very long drive, but worth it.

Cornwall feels a lot like Scotland, the architecture is very similar with stone houses and slate roofs, and of course you can’t get any further west, so to my eyes, it’s almost perfect.

14 thoughts on “Rule Britannia by Daphne du Maurier

  1. I read this in the ’70s when it was a new book and I was a teenager. I still consider it one of the weirdest books I ever read, and am thinking about rereading it because it holds such a bizarre place in my memory.

    I have wanted to visit Cornwall since I first read Rebecca–it’s frustrating when geographic gems are bought up and the local can’t enjoy. As a Colorado native, I feel that way about Aspen. One of the most beautiful spots in the state, if not the country, and it’s inaccessible to most Coloradoans…but that’s just the sour grapes talking 🙂

    • I don’t know how I missed this book for so long. I must have handled it plenty of times as I worked in a public library in the 70s. Maybe I blanked it out because of the title. I hope you get to Cornwall one day. I suppose it’s the same thing the whole world over, the well off grab the best of it. Our only hope is the lottery!

  2. I only just this week heard of this book when I got a copy from my sister.

    I’ve skipped over her books for reasons unknown to me and intend to make up for lost time. But I’m glad I read your review, because I now think I’ll wait and read a couple of her other books before this one. I haven’t even read Rebecca yet, so I think I’ll start with that.

    • Rebecca is definitely my favourite. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve re-read it. I remember loving Jamaica Inn too but haven’t read it for years. I think you’re right to leave Rule Britannia for later as it is quite weird, especially to American readers. I saw that it was amongst the pile you got from your sister, you’re going to be kept very busy with that lot. Happy reading.

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  4. I have just read this book, and could not put it down. I thought how relevant it was today in view of our coalition government, it seemed to fit in the 21st century though written in the 20th.
    Re the comments regarding second home owners, we have an awful lot in Devon, particularly the South Hams, as a Devon born local I resent these incomers and their Chelsea tractors and totaly agree that they deprive local youngsters of affordable housing.

    • Rosemary,

      Thanks for the comment. It is an enjoyable and intriguing book and since reading it I’ve read a few more by du Maurier and she does seem make quite disparaging remarks about Americans. I haven’t read a biography of her but hope to sometime as there might be a clue as to why, but then again I don’t suppose there has to be a reason for it.

      We had a holiday in Gunnislake some years ago and managed to see some of Devon too, which I thought was even lovelier than Cornwall. Lucky you being a local! I really wish something could be done about second home owners though.

      Regards, Katrina.

  5. I read this book as a young teenager at the end of the 90s, I loved it at the time but it then slipped my memory. The EU referendum happening now (literally waiting for the count results as I type) brought the book back to my memory – the warning of the UK withdrawing from Europe in the book is somewhat concerning! I’m. Definitely going to re-read this now.

    • Nathan Steele,
      I’ve just finished reading The Chequer Board by Nevil Shute (1947 but my local library has a Vintage Classics reprint). Anyway it is partly set in Cornwall during WW2 and goes quite along way to explaining why the (white) American army seems to have been so unpopular at that time. I think you would enjoy reading it.
      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment. I’m shattered but not surprised by the referendum outcome.

    • I’m just re-reading Rule Britannia for the first time in many years – the parallels with what is happening today are frightening, and what’s likely to happen if/when Britain leaves the EU and we have a complete economic collapse – and with Trump in the Whitehouse, this could really happen. A must-read I would say.

      • Diana Stevenson,
        The news nowadays is scary, it’s all very depressing. I think the Brexiteers are living in cloud cuckoo land. Europe is beginning to look too like the 1930s at the moment. It’s a pity more people don’t pay attention to history, we seem doomed to make the same mistakes. I’ll re-read Rule Britannia one day – when I feel up to it.
        Thanks for taking the time to stop by a comment.

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  7. I think Daphne’s choice of the USA was to find a culture which was different from that of the UK but which wouldn’t involve language problems, so she could explore the issues that would create. I’ve always considered this more of a ‘What if?’ type novel – what if Cornwall was invaded? how would that play out?- but a European invasion might be difficult to make plausible and might have too many reminiscences of WW2. A US invasion is (at the moment anyway!) so unlikely that it allows her complete artistic licence.

    • Helen Doyle,
      It’s a possibility, but I think she was looking back on her experiences in Cornwall during World War 2 when there were quite a lot of problems involving US troops. Nevil Shute wrote about the problems in Cornwall from some sections of the US army in his book The Chequer Board.
      Thanks for dropping by and taking the time to comment.

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