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Review of Fowey Festival 2019



We have had a fantastic week in Fowey for this year’s Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature! A huge thank you to Festival Director Brenda Daly, Joint Chairs Lynn Goold and Melissa Hartwell, and the Board of Trustees for organising such a brilliant programme of events for us and to all of the many volunteers and stewards who ensured that everything ran smoothly across a wide range of unique venues in Fowey, from the Fowey Hall and Fowey Harbour Hotels to the town hall and church. Talking to festival-goers, it is clear that the lovely venues, friendly audiences, down-to-earth speakers, and interactive events combine to make for a warm, welcoming, and intimate Festival atmosphere. Festival-regulars meet up year on year and newcomers are quickly overheard planning a return visit! Thank you to everyone who came along and supported the Festival.

 

The quality of events remained very high and as ever, the celebration of the life and works of Daphne du Maurier was at the centre of the Festival programme. Throughout the week there were guided walks of Du Maurier Country, taking in Daphne’s Fowey- including Ferryside and the ‘rook with a book’ sculpture- and the landscape of her most famous novel, Rebecca, including the beach at Polridmouth, the location of Rebecca’s beach house.


The 'rook with a book' sculpture.


This year’s Festival film was the 1944 adaptation of Frenchman’s Creek, starring Joan Fontaine as Dona St Columb and Arturo de Cordova as the Frenchman. Made just four years after Fontaine played the second Mrs de Winter in Hitchcock’s Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek also starred Nigel Bruce as Lord Godolphin (Bruce played Giles Lacey in Rebecca) and a favourite actor of Daphne’s teenage years, Basil Rathbone, as the dastardly Lord Rockingham. It was a delight to see the film on the big screen in Fowey church and to enjoy the glorious costumes and enchanting soundtrack, which included Debussey’s Clair de Lune, one of Daphne and her husband Tommy’s favourite pieces of music.



Adaptation was a key theme in Kate Aspengren’s fascinating talk on Daphne du Maurier’s plays. Kate is a playwright and is on the faculty of Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where she teaches playwriting, and her perspective on Du Maurier’s considerable skill as a playwright was very illuminating. Kate discussed Daphne’s craft and technique in establishing character, atmosphere, and setting in her two original dramas The Years Between and September Tide (the latter is clearly set at Ferryside in Fowey) and the challenges that Daphne faced in adapting her own novel Rebecca for the stage in 1940. Kate has also been comparing a variety of modern adaptations of Rebecca and the effect that different approaches have on the representation of key characters such as Mrs Danvers. It is clear that Du Maurier should be more widely recognised for her talent as a playwright and we very much enjoyed Kate’s entertaining and detailed talk.


Kate Aspengren in Fowey Town Hall


Throughout the week we focused on lesser known Du Maurier works and Dr Laura Varnam lead a busy programme of reading groups on Daphne’s 1959 short story collection, The Breaking Point and her second novel I'll Never Be Young Again. Attendees enjoyed a lively debate about Dick, the narrator of I’ll Never Be Young Again, and about the two parts of the novel (Dick’s adventures with Jake and his relationship with Hesta in Paris). We explored the ways in which the novel showed Daphne’s skill in engaging our interest in unsympathetic narrators and examined her ability to explore gender and relationships from a variety of perspectives.

Discussions of The Breaking Point covered Daphne’s mastery of the short story form and both groups agreed that ‘The Alibi’ and ‘The Blue Lenses’ were favourites in the collection. We enjoyed exploring the symbolism of ‘The Chamois’, the magical atmosphere of ‘The Pool’, and how modern readers respond to the sexual identity of the narrator of ‘Ganymede’. We discussed the range of locations for the stories- from Cornwall to America, Venice to the imaginary kingdom of Ronda- and we thought about the manifold ways in which Daphne exploits the theme of ‘breaking points’ in the collection. As ever with Daphne’s brilliant work, the discussion could have continued for hours and a fantastic range of viewpoints were shared and debated.


On Thursday, Dr Laura Varnam gave the Du Maurier Anniversary lecture which discussed two novels that celebrate significant birthdays this year: Daphne’s lesser known 1949 novel inspired by her theatrical childhood, The Parasites, is 70 and her perennially popular Cornish time-travelling novel The House on the Strand is 50. Laura is currently writing a book on Daphne du Maurier, focusing on her craft and practice as a writer, and in her analysis of both novels, she discussed not only the genesis of the ideas in Daphne’s imagination and personal life, but also the structure and style of each novel and the research that each one required. Laura emphasised the humour and experimental style of The Parasites and the importance of The House on the Strand as a way of Daphne coming to terms with moving house from Menabilly into Kilmarth. It is clear that even with a well-known novel such as The House on the Strand, there is still plenty to discover and learn, and the literary calibre of Daphne’s writing could not be in doubt.

Dr Laura Varnam


On the final day of the Festival, Dr Ella Westland, author of Reading Daphne, was in conversation with Bert Biscoe about Du Maurier, Brexit, and Cornish rebellion, taking in The King’s General and Daphne’s 1972 novel Rule Britannia, a novel that many modern critics argue predicted Brexit. Daphne’s publisher, Virago, has just brought out a new edition of Rule Britannia and we are sure that the novel will continue to be a literary touchstone for modern politics.


Daphne remained a constant presence throughout the Festival in other events too. Professor Helen Taylor discussed the role of literary festivals and book prizes in the modern world and we all agreed that Fowey was a very special festival due to its welcoming atmosphere and friendly audiences, as well as its beautiful location at the heart of Du Maurier country.

We were delighted to welcome bestselling novelist Diane Setterfield to Fowey to discuss her brilliant new novel Once Upon a River with Laura. In the course of the discussion, Diane talked about her writing practice- which involves walks by the Thames, just as Daphne walked through the Cornish landscape- and how her novels respond to her favourite authors’ works. Diane said that in Once Upon a River she wanted to create an enigmatic character at the centre of the novel, rather like Daphne’s Rebecca, for example, and she also mentioned My Cousin Rachel as a favourite Du Maurier novel. Diane’s first novel The Thirteenth Tale is often compared to Rebecca and it is clear from her subsequent books that Diane has the same versatility and literary quality to her work as Daphne herself. We look forward to seeing what she writes next!

Diane Setterfield at Bookends of Fowey


We are already looking forward to next year’s Festival and we hope that you will be able to join us in our celebration of the life and works of Daphne du Maurier in Fowey from 8-16 May 2020. In the meantime, do follow us here on the website and on twitter and facebook, where you can keep up to date with all the Du Maurier news.


 



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Last updated 15th December 2019           Website by WesternWeb Ltd