Rosamunde Pilcher 1924 – 2019

I knew that Rosamunde Pilcher had sold her home north of Dundee fairly recently, and that she was a fair old age so it wasn’t really a surprise when I saw that she had died a few days ago. I must admit that despite the fact that Rosamunde Pilcher set so many of her books in Scotland and had lived most of her life in Scotland, I got to her books very late on. In fact it was my German pen pal who spurred me on to read her as she is a huge fan of her books, as so many Germans are. That seems a bit strange to me but there is even a Rosamunde Pilcher trail in Cornwall where she was born and where her earlier books were set, and apparently German tourists flock there for the trail. You can read more about the trail and the German filming in Cornwall which draws the tourists, here.

You can read her Guardian obituary here.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Earlier this summer, my friend Joan, at Planet Joan, and I were having a chat about Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier, which we’d both just read. We’ve edited our chat a bit, leaving out the parts about what we were each making for dinner that evening, Katrina’s new summerhouse, the demolition happening around my house, the weather, gardening, and a raft of other things. We humbly submit our erudite discussion:

Joan Kyler:
I thought the moors and the weather on the moors were major characters.

Katrina Stephen:

Yes I know that du Maurier was a big fan of the Brontes and I suppose this is her version of Wuthering Heights, Bodmin Moor being used as a substitute for the Yorkshire Moors.

Joan:
I didn’t know that. I thought the characters and the outcome were predictable. I knew who the good guys and who the bad guys were from the start. And who Mary’d fall for and what she’d do about it. Not much suspense there. But it was a fun read. I read it back in the 1960s and have my index card from then. I said I didn’t think it was one of her best books.

Katrina:

I would agree with that although I did enjoy it, it is predictable. I first read it around 1970 I think and again in the mid 80s probably, sadly I didn’t take any notes but thinking back I thought it was darker and scarier than it actually is. There was more sexual threat in it than I remembered, but maybe I just didn’t pick up on that as a 12 year old. Uncle Joss saying – I could have had you anytime if I wanted you a few times in the book.

Joan:

I don’t remember if any of that got past me or not. I was into reading modern Gothics then, they’re usually fairly sexually charged. I just checked my file. Although they don’t have dates either, I have cards on Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek that, from the handwriting, look like I read them about the same time. I know I’ve read My Cousin Rachel, but I don’t have a card on it. Mary annoyed me for seeing things so black and white, but she was young, so maybe she could be excused.

Katrina:

On the other hand she is a stronger female character than her aunt who is I suppose worn down by years of domestic abuse. Also compared with the second Mrs de Winter in Rebecca Mary seems like a really strong young woman.

Joan:

That’s true. I don’t think Mary understood how hard it sometimes is to leave that sort of relationship, as we often wonder why women stay in them. She does seem strong and independent. I understand why she found Jem so attractive. I wasn’t sure she’d leave with him at the end, but I wasn’t surprised when she did.

Katrina:

Yes but maybe it would have been more sensible for her not to go with Jem. It’s that dark and dangerous male – I read years ago that it was books like this and Wuthering Heights which were bad for young women, making them think that men who were going to turn out to be bad for them were exciting and so worth the risk. I think it was a 1970s burn your bras feminist who came up with that one.

Joan:

But I can understand. I wonder what happened to them in the next ten years. He didn’t seem to be the type who would stay and she seemed like she might decide to go back to that farm by herself. In the meantime, they probably had some fun.

Katrina:

Yes I don’t see it lasting that long but in those days she would probably have had a few kids in tow by the time it all fell apart, she would have been forced to put the kids first.

Joan:

I think I’d like to read Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel sometime before the end of the year. I’ve seen the movie Rebecca so often, I think I get it confused with reading the book!

Katrina:

Rebecca is one of my comfort books so I’ll definitely join you in that. Obviously that’s her version of Jane Eyre, I love both of the books. As you say though it’s du Maurier’s writing of the place which is such a large part of the book and after reading this one I always wanted to go to Cornwall and loved books with a Cornish setting. It’s quite unusual for an English writer to have the setting basically as important as any of the actual characters. It’s a Scottish/Celtic trait in writing I think.

Joan:

Is it? I have to get on board with more Scottish books. I loved the wildness of the weather and the moors. I don’t think we made it quite that far when we were travelling in England. I looked at a map to see if I recognized any towns. We were in Swindon (sp?) and Cheltenham, but don’t think they’re considered Cornwall, especially Cheltenham. I was such a little Anglofile in the 1960s, all that British invasion stuff, but I used to go out in storms and thought I was very oddly British doing it!

Katrina:

You probably were, we often have no option and have to go out in hellish weather otherwise we would be housebound, in the winter anyway. You would have to have travelled quite a bit further south west to get to Cornwall. Strangely Cornwall feels and looks very much like parts of Scotland, even the old buildings look similar, I suppose it’s the stone but also the design of the houses. It must be a Celtic thing, the Cornish don’t regard themselves as English.

Joan:

That’s interesting. England’s such a small country to have divides like that.

Katrina:

I think it is because when the Romans invaded the Celts were pushed out to the fringes of the island. The Romans didn’t like Celts, I think they were afraid of them.

Katrina:

How about Rebecca what’s your opinion of Max de Winter – from memory . Do you see him as ‘that murderer’ or ‘sex on legs’ or what?

Joan:

You know, I don’t really remember. I don’t think I liked him very much, but I don’t remember much more than that.

Katrina:

Well that’ll be interesting then, I’ve always been on the ‘sex on legs’ side but it is a while since I re-read it, you never know, I might have changed my mind in my old age.

Joan:
I don’t think I’ve read it since the 60s, at least I don’t have a card on it. I started to get fairly compulsive about recording my reading after the late 1970s.

Katrina:

I so wish that I had thought of taking notes on all the books which I’ve read over the years. Shall we plan to do a Rebecca readalong sometime before the end of the year then?

Tristan and Iseult by Rosemary Sutcliff

Tristan and Iseult

This story is one of those things which was a bit of a cultural blindspot as far as I was concerned, because I really didn’t know much about it, apart from the fact that Wagner wrote an opera around the story. So when I saw this Puffin book in a charity shop I decided to buy it and rectify matters. Obviously this was written for children, as it’s a Puffin, not a Penguin, and I have previously read and enjoyed The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, which was made into the film The Eagle fairly recently. She does have a lovely way of painting the pictures for you.

Basically the story is very similar to the Arthur-Guinevere stories but Tristan and Iseult predates those ones. As with Arthur, the tales have been told and set in most European countries, with slight variations and in the foreword of this version Sutcliff explains that she decided to leave out the love-potion part of the storyline, as she thinks that that was added in medieval times as an excuse for Tristan and Iseult falling in love with each other.

It was a time when kings could give their sisters away in marriage to any chap who had pleased them, as a reward, and that’s exactly what King Marc of Cornwall did. That poor Cornish princess didn’t even seem to have a name, never mind a say in her future. Anyway, Rivalin King of Lothian took her back to his home in the north, but within a year his queen died, just after producing a son, who was named Tristan, which means sorrow.

Suffice to say that 16 years later Tristan asks his father the king if he can travel to Cornwall and so begin his adventures, including dragon slaying in Ireland and a quest to find a particular red-haired woman for King Marc, who is planning to marry again. Of course it turns out that the red-head is none other than Iseult the King of Ireland’s daughter. Unfortunately Tristan and Iseult fall for each other so it all ends in tears.

I enjoyed this old legend and as this is a children’s version it’s a very quick read at just 138 pages. It involves all the Celtic areas of Britain and Brittany too.

I don’t know if it was because of David Bowie being all over the news whilst I was reading this book, but that word ‘sorrow’ is mentioned right at the beginning of the book and I had his version of ‘Sorrow’ going through my head a lot of the time I was reading this, except it should have been long red hair and not blonde!

A lot of the story takes place in Tintagel, Cornwall which is one of my favourite places. It’s positively magical, have a look at the images here. They don’t give you the correct colour of the sea around there though, which is a beautiful deep jade green.

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.