Dear friends and readers,
Since tomorrow I’m going to try to travel to Cornwall where I will spend a week with a beloved friend, I thought I’d orient myself by reading an overview of the place, and found myself again reading DuMaurier’s Enchanted Cornwall and Vanishing Cornwall. Though I’ve long loved a number of her books (basically the historical romances with female narrators, Rebecca, her biographies, life-writing, travel writing) my yearning to see Cornwall does not come from them, as what drew me were the atypical romance stories; it comes from the Poldark novels where the life experience, landscape, kinds of employment offered, society of Cornwall is central. Thus (with little trouble) I’ve picked photos from DuMaurier’s book which relate directly to the Poldark world:
I remember Demelza frolicking on such a beach with her lover, Hugh Armitage (The Four Swans)
and DuMaurier tells a tale of haunted vicar living a desolate life after he alienated the few parishioners he had in Warleggan church:
I’ve read all sorts of books on Cornwall since my love of these Poldark novels began, from mining to Philip Marsden’s archeaological reveries, Rising Ground, Ella Westland: Cornwall: The Cultural Construction of Place, to Wilkie Collin’s ode to solitude and deep past in his Rambles beyond Railways); to smuggling, politics beginning in Elizabethan times, poetry (its authors include Thomas Hardy, John Betjeman’s Summoned by Bells), to women artists (Elizabeth Armstrong Forbes, Dame Laura Knight), corrupt politics in this patronage-run Duchy. If I were to go back to count in the books on Arthur and the legends surrounding his figure, and literature, I have conquered whole shelves. Bryychan Carey’s website will lead you to much from a modern abolitionist left point of view, plainly set out. So much from one corner of a country.
DuMaurier’s lyrical prose carries so much information so lightly, one is in danger of not realizing how much is there. There is a film adaptation of Vanishing Cornwall (half an hour); it accompanies the movie, Daphne with Geraldine Somerville and Janet McTeer as the leading lovers) developed from her letters, memoirs, and Margaret Forster’s biography. Her stance is less subjective than Graham’s, legend, myth, than Graham does in his Poldark’s Cornwall, which dwells on his life, his career, the place of Cornwall in his fiction right now. Appropriate to Graham’s fiction so concerned with law, justice, in his travel book, we have a photo of Launceston jail gate today:
The DuMaurier’s may be regarded as instances of l’ecriture-femme too: in Enchanted whole parts of her novels emerge from this or that landscape memory as well as the sea. I had forgotten how many of her novels are situated there, from the one I think her finest, The King’s General (set in the later 17th century, the heroine in a wheelchair almost from the beginning) to the later one, Outlander takes off from, Hungry Hill. Her historical novels are historical romances: at core they are gothic, erotic fantasies. Vanishing is circular in structure, at the core her retelling of legend is minimized so she can do justice to the geography, archaeaological history, various industry. There is a paragraph on the coming of pilchards every spring which owes a lot to Graham’s lyrical miracle in the third book of Ross Poldark (there used to be a podcast on-line from the BBC, now wiped away, alas). Legend blends into history; history becomes poetical writing. She is not much on politics, dwelling on the upper classes as they’d like to be seen (mostly the later 17th into later 18th century and again the 20th).
For now here a piece from Vanishing Ground read aloud, evocative.
A poem by Betjeman: Cornish Cliffs
Those moments, tasted once and never done,
Of long surf breaking in the mid-day sun.
A far-off blow-hole booming like a gun-
The seagulls plane and circle out of sight
Below this thirsty, thrift-encrusted height,
The veined sea-campion buds burst into white
And gorse turns tawny orange, seen beside
Pale drifts of primroses cascading wide
To where the slate falls sheer into the tide.
More than in gardened Surrey, nature spills
A wealth of heather, kidney-vetch and squills
Over these long-defended Cornish hills.
A gun-emplacement of the latest war
Looks older than the hill fort built before
Saxon or Norman headed for the shore.
And in the shadowless, unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air.
Nut-smell of gorse and honey-smell of ling
Waft out to sea the freshness of the spring
On sunny shallows, green and whispering.
The wideness which the lark-song gives the sky
Shrinks at the clang of sea-birds sailing by
Whose notes are tuned to days when seas are high.
From today’s calm, the lane’s enclosing green
Leads inland to a usual Cornish scene-
Slate cottages with sycamore between,
Small fields and tellymasts and wires and poles
With, as the everlasting ocean rolls,
Two chapels built for half a hundred souls.
Laura Knight paints the contemporary world’s hopes.