Frenchman’s creek – Daphne du Maurier: A Never Ending Love Story
Until recently, the reading experience was an eminently introverted one, but along with my new literary project “Dor de zbor / Lust for Flying”, I discovered a great joy to see how a review made with heart and, perhaps, with a touch of grace, can arouse / revive the interest in reading. Also, within this new approach of literary exteriorization, I decided to participate, for the first time, in a book club, organized by the literary group „5 o’clock bookclub” that I’m happy to be in. Thus, today I will tell you a little about a love book, as February is a month of love – „Frenchman’s creek”.
About the author
Daphne du Maurier is a British novelist and playwright, coming from a family with an artistic tradition – her grandfather, George du Maurier, being a writer, and her father and mother, Gerald du Maurier, respectively Muriel Beaumont, both being actors. Born in 1907 in London, Daphne du Maurier made her debut at the age of only 25 with the novel “The Loving Spirit” followed by a series of mostly romantic stories, set in Cornwell, where the writer had settled. She also wrote historical fiction, plays and a travel guide (“Vanishing Cornwall”, 1967). The author’s best-known novel is “Rebecca”, which was repeatedly adapted for stage and for movies. It was sold in 3,000,000 copies between 1938 (the year of publication) and 1965 and it was awarded with the National Book Award in the U.S., in 1965. The writer passed away at the age of 81. Among her most famous works are “Jamaica Inn”, the stories “The Birds” (the main inspiration for Alfred Hitchcock’s movie having the same name), “My cousin Rachel”, “Frenchman’s Creek”.
About the book
“Frenchman’s creek” is a book I would have chosen to read on a lonely beach, with the roar of the sea and the howls of seagulls in the background and the salty air in my lungs. I don’t know if I wouldn’t have scrutinized the horizon waiting for a stylish French pirate. But, oh, I revealed the novel’s intrigue! What I wanted to say is that although we are dealing with a novel with a simple plot, it is not superficial and reading is like a story you enter and you can’t get out of until you find out the denouement.
The central figure of the novel is the woman. Some would say that it is the love, and they would not be wrong, but I felt the love through the experience lived by the spectacular Lady Dona St. Columbus. The author does not reveal anything about Dona’s childhood and adolescence, she being introduced to us as an almost 30 years old beautiful woman belonging to the London elite, intelligent, charming, spontaneous, rebellious and atypical and whose effervescence arouses passions. She is married to the placid Harry and, together, they have two children. Dona is the only wife who frequents the clubs where the London gentlemen go out with their mistresses, and the monotony of the life of the high society determines her to have adventurous experiences that makes her well known all around England.
Without having at least a bit of Dona’s sparkle and charm, Sir Harry, her husband, is a gentle guy, addicted to alcohol, and nurturing a great love for the two dogs from which he never separates. In his own way, Harry loves Dona, but her understanding of love is much more complex and deeper. To the question I asked myself, as a reader, about the reasons why this lovely woman married a man of indisputable platitude, Dona answers candidly – due to the fact that he was funny and he had beautiful eyes. I could speculate that the noble rank also had a consistent contribution.
Feeling suffocated by London society, Dona decides to break the conventional barriers of this false and shallow world. Thus, together with her two children (Henriette and James, the youngest for whom the mother has a guilty preference) and their nanny, she will move to the country, in Helford, a village located by the sea, in the beautiful but abandoned mansion owned by the family – Navron House. Here, time flows differently, and Dona will enjoy the small joys of life – playing with the children in the grass, walking barefoot in the forest, lazy mornings and pastoral peace which is a balm of the soul.
The idyllic picture will be shattered by the electrifying meeting with Jean-Benoit Aubery, a pirate pursued by all the wealthy men of the area for repeated thefts and alleged violent acts against women in the villages. The insolent Frenchman proves to be an interesting, refined character, “escaped” from his estate in Brittany for reasons similar Dona’s – “he was tired of being Jean-Benoit Aubery”. With a seemingly simplistic view of the world, with uniquely defined concepts – such as happiness, contentment, peace, freedom, life itself – the pirate will irretrievably conquer Dona’s heart.
Along with the love story between the two, Dona appears to us full of compassion and with an adventurous spirit and a dizzying appetite for life. Together, the two will discover simplicity, sensuality, love that implies a spiritual union as well as a physical one. The repeated feeling of déjà-vu makes Dona think about returning to a primordial happiness, to a primitivism of feelings in which she completely abandons herself. She will become aware of the incompatibility in her relationship as a result of the fact that the two spouses are on different levels of knowledge and understanding of eroticism.
Oscillating between her adored lover and her beloved children, Dona is in a cognitive dissonance that forces her to an imaginary duplication: the mother and the mistress will take control one at a time.
Such a complicated conjuncture is not the premise of a long-lasting happiness and as the unexpected events appear, Dona will prove to be a brave woman, able to wisely manipulate and even capable of extreme violence.
A special note for the remarkable the character of the servant William, whose complicity makes the love story possible. He is a muzzle that conquers the reader through his fidelity to the master, his cleverness, his discretion and his delicious retorts.
Last but not least, a special mention regarding the beginning of the book that I reread at the end of it, as an epilogue that alleviated my need to dream.
“Frenchman’s Creek” is a book about love and motherhood, choices and duty, responsibilities and sacrifice.
Once she discovers what love and passion mean, will Dona be able to return to her life? Is there a “right” choice? And if so, which could be it? Will Dona be able to make a decision, even if that means sacrificing her happiness once she felt it invading her body and spirit?
Sit comfortably in an armchair and find out the answers yourself. The book is … lust for flying.
Daphne, see you again in the summer, cause I’m longing to spend a lovely day at the seaside, along with Rebecca!
- “Marriage and piracy do not go together.”
- “Contentment is a state of mind and body when the two work in harmony, and there is no friction. The mind is at peace and the body also. The two are sufficient to themselves. Happiness is elusive — coming perhaps once in a life-time — and approaching ecstasy.”
- “And all this, she thought, is only momentary, is only a fragment in time that will never come again, for yesterday already belongs to the past and is ours no longer, and tomorrow is an unknown thing that may be hostile. This is our day, our moment, the sun belongs to us, and the wind, and the sea, and the men for’ard there singing on the deck. This day is forever a day to be held and cherished, because in it we shall have lived, and loved, and nothing else matters but that in this world of our own making to which we have escaped.”
- „I wonder … when it was that the world first went amiss, and men forgot how to live and to love and to be happy.”
Read more book reviews by Raluca Neagu here.