It 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.