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Daphne du Maurier’s inspirations

I went on a tour of Fowey as the guide is an acknowledged expert on Daphne du Maurier. We passed the pub which featured in My Cousin Rachel. On a sparkling day the harbour glowed with marine life. Here in June 1932 Daphne and her husband Boy Browning took his boat up stream to be married and thence to Frenchman’s Creek on the River Helford for their honeymoon. Ferrybridge House, across the water from Fowey, bought in 1926 by Gerald du Maurier, is now occupied by Daphne’s son Kits.

I walked the coastal path, as Daphne did with her sister, and trespassed into the Menabilly Estate over which she eventually acquired a lease. This is owned by the Rashleigh family and much of Fowey by the Trefry family. The Rashleighs were royalists, the Trefrys parliamentarians. A skeleton of Sir Richard Grenville was found inthe Rashleigh home at Menabilly and formed the inspiration for The King’s General. Once, on walking in Menabilly, Daphne saw a gull disturb a tractor driver. Her fertile imagination created the story for The Birds. Outside Pridmouth Cottage is a pond and it’s advised on the Menabilly website that attention should be paid to young children. Those who have seen or read Don’t  Look Now will recall it begins with the death by drowning of the couple’s young child in a pond outside their home. There is a second smaller cottage on the estate, Keeper’s Cottage, where two blind psychic ladies once stayed. These two featured in Don’t Look Now too. Of course Menabilly is best known as the inspiration for Manderley in Rebecca.

Menabilly was the great love of Daphne’s life, which was shattered when she was forced to leave because the Rashleighs wanted it back. Opinion is still divided who was in the right. Daphne claims there was an unsigned lease to stay on, but legally at any rate the Rashleighs were entitled to their property which they had owned since the time of Elizabeth 1. A compromise was reached by Daphne moving to Kilmarth House, a dower house, in the mid sixties. There she wrote House on the Strand, inspired by the lab of the precious occupier Professor Singer.

Daphne is not the first novelist to be confined in, but  inspired by, one area. One thinks immediately of the Brontes. There is a Cornish connection as Elizbath Branwell, a Cornish  woman who was the sister of the priest father who brought up by the children after the death of their mother. Daphne wrote a biography of the Bronte brother and the title of  her first novel The Loving Spirit comes from an Emily Bronte poem.