Daphne du Maurier has long been one of Cornwall’s most famous and critically acclaimed authors. Although not born in Cornwall it became her adopted home and her work is closely associated with the area, especially around the harbour town of Fowey and the quiet waters of the Helford. The beautiful Cornish countryside and coastline, its atmosphere, history and legends undoubtedly became the inspiration behind and the backdrop for many of her bestselling books.
Du Maurier had been visiting Cornwall since childhood and in 1926 her parents purchased a little waterside home at Bodinnick called ‘Ferryside’. It was in this house that she began work on her very first book, The Loving Spirit, which was, of course, set in Cornwall. But it was when Daphne was walking at Gribben Head many years later that she found her own dream home. Menabilly was a run-down country house owned by the Rashleigh family which had been left empty for many years, after much persuasion they agreed to let her move in at Christmas in 1943.
Menabilly, home for over 25 years
Menabilly, which had been built originally in 1596, was to be Daphne’s home for the next twenty six years and the inspiration for much of her writing. She wrote sixteen of her books in a little hut she had built in the gardens. Menabilly most famously features as Mandalay, the atmospheric setting for her book Rebecca and a bizarre local legend about the house also inspired her civil war novel, The King’s General.
But it was not only du Maurier’s home that featured in her writing, she was a keen walker and loved to sail, spending many happy hours exploring Cornwall’s hidden corners. As a result the novels My Cousin Rachel and Castle Dor are set in Cornwall. Her famous book Jamaica Inn, which is still a hotel and pub today, was born out of her own experiences on the wilds of Bodmin Moor and the many tales of smuggling she had heard, stories that were such a part of Cornish culture. Another location, which inspired the book of the same name, is Frenchman’s Creek. Now owned by the National Trust, this stunning wooded inlet on the Helford River was once infamous for pirates and smugglers and makes a wonderful place for a walk.
Cornwall was as memorable a character as Mrs Danvers
One of her last books, The House on the Strand, features the area around her final home in Cornwall, Kilmarth near Polkerris, after she had been forced to leave her beloved Menabilly in 1969. It seems fair to say that for her many fans Cornwall was as memorable a character in Daphne du Maurier’s work as Mrs Danvers or Joss Merlyn. Writing in her book on local history, Vanishing Cornwall, Daphne said: “I walked this land with a dreamer’s freedom and with a waking man’s perception – places, houses whispered to me their secrets and shared with me their sorrows and their joys. And in return I gave them something of myself, a few words passing into the folk-lore of this ancient place.”