Review 1647: The 1936 Club! Jamaica Inn

When Mary Yellan’s mother is dying, she makes Mary promise to go live with her Aunt Patience in Bodmin. However, Aunt Patience’s reply to her letter after her mother’s death tells her that she no longer lives in Bodmin. Her uncle is the landlord of Jamaica Inn out on the moors.

When Mary tells the coach driver her destination, he advises her to stay in Bodmin. Jamaica Inn is a place of ill repute. Mary feels, though, that she must keep her promise to her mother.

She finds Jamaica Inn a ramshackle, brooding inn with no customers. Patience, her mother’s sister, has changed from a vivacious, pretty woman to a terrified drudge. Her uncle, Joss Merlyn, is an overbearing bully with signs of being a habitual drunk.

Days after arriving at the inn, Mary must help serve the most disreputable bunch of men she has ever seen. Later, Joss advises her to stay in her room with her covers over her head. But she looks out the window and sees evidence of smuggling.

But the secrets of Jamaica Inn go far beyond smuggling. Mary looks for a way to safely remove herself and her aunt. In the meantime, she meets and is attracted to Joss’s younger brother, Jem.

It’s been many years since I read this novel, which I reread for the 1936 Club. I found it to be a truly exciting thriller.

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Review 1520: I’ll Never Be Young Again

Richard is a young man who has always felt his famous poet father disdained him. He is about to throw himself into the Thames when he is stopped by an older man named Jake. With Jake, he sets out as a common seaman on a Norwegian barque.

Richard is a very changeable, touchy, and selfish young man, but Jake says he will be all right, he’s just young. The pair go off traveling among the fjords and see Stockholm, with Richard changing how he feels about their experiences almost minute by minute. Ultimately, an accident sends Richard on alone to Paris, where he begins writing and meets a girl, Hesta.

I thought I had read just about everything by du Maurier, but I hadn’t come across this novel before. It is her second, and it certainly shows immaturity. Although du Maurier is good at description, this novel depends upon it too much, so that it is slow moving. In addition, the dialogue is quite crude. Du Maurier believed she had a male side that eventually led to an ability to write effectively from a male point of view, but I don’t think she’s quite there yet. She overdoes it.

Finally, Richard is so self-centered that its hard to find any sympathy for him, which made it difficult for me to finish the book. When he meets Hesta, for example, she is an independent young woman studying music. He manages to strip everything away from her so that she is totally dependent upon him. Then he takes her for granted.

So, I didn’t really enjoy this novel, although the ending lessened my dislike of it. I have to say, though, that Richard as a character is all too believable.

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Review 1466: Vanishing Cornwall

Over the years, I have read most of the novels written by Daphne du Maurier, but when I made up my current Classics Club list, I came across this work of nonfiction. It’s the book I read for the most recent Classics Club Spin.

Vanishing Cornwall is a little hard to describe. Du Maurier made her principal residence in Cornwall for many years, and I guess I would call this book an appreciation.

She starts out by traveling around the area with her son to take photographs from each of the Hundreds of Cornwall. So, the book is in small part a travel book. But as it progresses from region to region, aside from lyrical descriptions and photos of the scenery, du Maurier includes stories from history and folk lore. Toward the end of the book, she switches to chapters on specific topics, like fishing or free-trading, associated with Cornwall.

She ends with a conservation message, at the time a concern to preserve the area’s beauty while finding some way to help support the locals. I have never been to Cornwall, but I would imagine that some of what she has to say is out of date now, as it was even between 1967, when the book was first published, and 1980, the date of my edition, which switched out the original black and white photos for colored ones and added an epilogue. She does tend to romanticize some subjects, and her assertions such as the one that King Arthur did actually exist are a little more in doubt now.

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Day 882: Rebecca

logo for the 1938 clubBest Book of the Week!
Since Rebecca is a book that qualifies for The 1938 Club and is also on my Classics Club list, I thought this was a good time to reread it. I must say that during this reread, I noticed things I’d never noticed before.

Some years after the time of the novel’s action, the narrator recollects the events at Manderley from a life of exile. As a young, naive woman working as a companion for the vulgar Mrs. Van Hopper, the narrator meets the older, sophisticated Maxim de Winter one spring on the Riviera. When Mrs. Van Hopper becomes ill, the narrator spends some time each day with him, driving through the countryside. Mrs. Van Hopper recovers and decides abruptly to return to the States. When the narrator tells Maxim, he proposes.

Cover for RebeccaThe narrator, whose first name we never learn, is an immature girl who is prone to imagining what people are saying about her or what may happen, usually in exaggerated terms. The wedding is not the romantic event that she imagined, but she goes along with whatever Maxim suggests.

Finally, they come home to Maxim’s family home of Manderley, and that’s where the novel really gets going. For the narrator is already haunted by the thought of Rebecca, Maxim’s first wife. Rebecca was beautiful, assured, accomplished—everything the narrator believes she is not. Everyone assures her that Maxim adored Rebecca and was shattered when she died in a sailing accident. Everyone tells her she isn’t at all like Rebecca. The decor of the house reflects Rebecca’s taste, her name is scrawled inside books, her monogrammed handkerchiefs are in the pockets of coats, and the servants tell her, when she timidly makes a request, “Mrs. de Winter used this vase,” or “Mrs. de Winter sat in this room in the morning.”

Further, there is the terrifying Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper, from whom the new Mrs. de Winter senses actual hostility. Mrs. Danvers was devoted to Rebecca and resents a new wife taking her place, especially one so much Rebecca’s inferior.

The narrator was not brought up to a life with servants, running a big house, and she has no idea how to behave. Maxim gives her little help in this regard, just expecting her to adapt. She makes mistakes, and his moods become more erratic until she thinks he regrets their marriage. As she becomes more unhappy, events build to a climax on the night of a big costume ball.

This is an extremely powerful novel that, I think, hits you differently depending upon the age you are when you read it. When I was young, I thought it was romantic and scary. Now, I think it’s more of a study of some very maladjusted characters. But this is the first reading where it made me think of Mr. Rochester.

Even though I love Jane Eyre, I’ve never been much of a fan of Mr. Rochester. But what does he do? He yearns for a young, innocent girl and is prepared to commit a crime to get her. We can say this for Jane, though, she has a strong sense of herself.

I don’t want to say much more about Rebecca in case you haven’t read it. But let’s keep it at this. Maxim de Winter also yearns for a young innocent girl, but his choice has such a weak sense of self that we don’t even learn her name. He takes her to a life for which she is completely unsuited and untrained, with a servant he might predict would be hostile, and just leaves her to make the best of things. And this comment doesn’t even touch on the darker secrets of the novel.

Do these observations make me love the novel less? No, this is a great novel. Rebecca is one of Daphne du Maurier’s most atmospheric novels, in a career with many atmospheric novels. I believe she modeled Manderley after the house where she lived in Cornwall, and its description is detailed and loving. Du Maurier was interested in aberrant personalities, in which she probably counted her own. This is a dark novel that fully draws you in. It is very well written, an excellent character study and a masterful suspense novel.

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Day 678: Castle Dor

Cover for Castle DorIt is clear from the number of books Daphne du Maurier set in Cornwall that she found the region inspiring. In the case of Castle Dor, a book I had not heard of until recently, she actually finished a book begun by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, which is a retelling of the ancient Cornish legend of Tristan and Iseult. The novel also features another interest of du Maurier’s, the unexplained.

Dr. Carfax is the observer of this story set in the early 1800’s. He has a theory that he shares with a French visitor, elderly Monsieur Ledru, that the events of the old legend took place in the area of Cornwall where he lives. Monsieur Ledru has in fact traveled there to investigate just that subject. Ledru has also taken an interest in a young French onion-seller named Amyot Tristane and helps him free himself from his abusive ship’s master and get a job on the Bosanko’s farm.

It is the doctor who begins to feel an eerie familiarity in the behavior of Amyot once he unfortunately encounters Linnet Lewarne. Linnet is the most beautiful woman in the region, and she has at 18 married a much older man, the innkeeper Mark Lewarne. After Amyot meets Linnet, he seems to be aware of the history of the area in a way that is unlikely for the unsophisticated foreigner that he is. As Dr. Carfax views certain events and sees in them the similarities to the legend, he begins to fear the same fatal result for Amyot.

Linnet, although she is also presumably taken over by the strong forces of the past, is depicted unsympathetically, as ambitious and remorseless. As in the legend, there is a potion, but instead of being a love potion, it is poisonous.

The characters in this novel are rather one-sided, but it is the atmosphere and the legend that are important in the novel, set in the vicinity of the legendary Castle Dor. However, this is not one of du Maurier’s best, and for a retelling of the legend, I prefer Dorothy Robert’s The Enchanted Cup.

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Neverland: J. M. Barrie, the du Mauriers, and the Secret Life of Peter Pan

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Day 237: Neverland: J.M. Barrie, the du Mauriers, and the Dark Side of Peter Pan

Cover for NeverlandDuring the past year I read Margaret Forsters’ biography of Daphne du Maurier, and I find that Neverland makes a fascinating contrast with it. Piers Dudgeon traces the history of the du Maurier family and speculates how their relationships with J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan, adversely affected them. Several members of the family were indeed disturbed, but the question is, how much, if anything, did that have to do with Barrie?

Dudgeon paints Barrie as a sociopath without exactly calling him one. Barrie grew up unloved by his hypochondriac mother, who took to her bed with the death at fourteen of her favorite son David. Barrie was six at the time and was never able to attract much of her attention, even resorting to dressing up as his brother and imitating him to try to get her to love him. This behavior is indeed bizarre, but Dudgeon makes the first leap by alleging that Barrie must have somehow caused his brother’s death to have been so neglected.

The early life of George du Maurier is not similarly examined (George being Daphne du Maurier’s grandfather); instead, Dudgeon zeroes in on du Maurier’s experiences as a young bohemian in Paris. Du Maurier is best known as the author of Trilby, a novel in which Svengali takes over the life of a young woman by means of hypnosis and eventually ruins her. This novel is based at least in part on the experiments of du Maurier and a group of friends during which they repeatedly hypnotized a young artist’s model. Du Maurier apparently regretted this episode in later life, although he did not give up “mesmerism,” and what he called “dreaming true” (self-hypnosis) until he married, and he later returned to his experiments.

Dudgeon uses this background to weave the theory that Barrie–who admired du Maurier’s first book, Peter Ibbetson, a story about a man who can escape the bounds of space and time by “dreaming true”–was somehow rejected by du Maurier and took his revenge by purposefully befriending and dominating members of du Maurier’s family, causing changes in their behavior. There is actually no proof that du Maurier and Barrie ever met, although Barrie certainly befriended Sylvia Llewellyn Davies, George’s daughter, and her children. It is also clear that he “stole” her children. Both Sylvia and her husband Arthur died when the boys were quite young, and Barrie copied the letter that Sylvia wrote during her last illness requesting the children’s nanny and her sister Jenny to take charge of the children, changing “Jenny” to “Jimmy,” and thereby co-opting the children. Oddly, none of the du Mauriers seems to have objected to that, to which Dudgeon ascribes more sinister goings-on. Of those boys, only one seemed not to be at all disturbed by their upbringing with Barrie.

Modern minds will think sexual abuse, of which there are indeed some indications, but Dudgeon thinks Satanism, if that’s not an exaggeration. And here we get to Peter Pan, who was not intended to be everyone’s picture of innocent, irresponsible boyhood, but who Barrie intended to be a villain, a Pan or “demon boy” figure, a pixie who stole other people’s children, who hated mothers, and who killed without compunction. Barrie was good at hiding the antisocial nature of his work behind saccharine sentiments, but this depiction is indeed what he intended, and Dudgeon of course sees Peter Pan as a self portrait of Barrie.

Dudgeon presents a great deal of information about the various fates of the Llewellyn Davies boys, but he spends his final chapters on Daphne du Maurier, their cousin. Margaret Forster’s view is that du Maurier’s tendencies toward homosexuality (borne out by some affairs and statements by du Maurier herself) and possible affair with her own father colored her life and affected her relationships with her husband and children–that and an appalling degree of selfishness. But Dudgeon doesn’t think she was homosexual at all. He believes that she and her father Gerald, a well-known actor who appeared in several Barrie plays, were so overshadowed by Barrie that her “demon boy” self came out in adolescence and dominated most of her life, until she suffered a breakdown in her 50’s.

I am not criticizing this book for lack of interest–it is indeed engrossing. But Dudgeon hangs a great deal too much of his tale on the assumption that most of Barrie’s and both the du Mauriers’ writings were autobiographical in some way. Even if they were, many of the quoted passages can be interpreted in more than one way. Barrie’s submersion of the children into a fantasy life certainly doesn’t seem to have been good for them, and as I said before, there is some indication in his own writings of the possibility of child sexual abuse, but I don’t know what else can be said with authority.

Day 119: Daphne Du Maurier: The Secret Life of the Renowned Storyteller

Cover for Daphne Du MaurierI have enjoyed reading Daphne Du Maurier’s books for many years, so I was interested to come across this biography by Margaret Forster. The main revelation of the biography is that Du Maurier struggled with bisexual and homosexual feelings all her life and always thought she was putting on a show of a normal life. She explained to others that she was two people, one with a female side–wife and mother–and the other with a male side–lover–that was the fuel for her creative energy.

The book examines Du Maurier’s life and works in terms of these feelings and how they conflicted with her roles as a wife and a mother. In fact, she seemed at times extremely self-obsessed and stunningly unkind to her children when they were young, as she was cold and immersed in her work. She was also unkind to her husband when he returned from service in World War II. By that time, she was living in the home in Cornwall that she never wanted to leave. Her husband “Tommy” Browning was asked to serve the royal family, which he had to do from London. He was obviously lonely, but she refused to move there or even visit. Instead, he made the trip out there every weekend for years after his strenuous, lonely weeks working for the royals. Until he didn’t. She eventually divorced him and later remarried.

The book also tells about Du Maurier’s long-time affair with the actress Gertrude Lawrence and her attraction to Ellen Doubleday, the wife of her American publisher.

Du Maurier tended to hide herself in her Cornwell home while she was writing. Although she became more sociable as she aged and many people remembered her as a warm and funny hostess, she eventually ended up almost a recluse who was devoted to her own daily routines.

The biography is interesting and well written.