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Review of Castle Dor - Laura Varnam
Castle Dor is unique amongst the works of Daphne du Maurier in that the initial conception of the novel was not her own. Castle Dor was begun by the writer and Cambridge Professor of English Literature Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. 'Q', as he was known, had died in 1944, leaving the novel unfinished, and his daughter Foy Quiller-Couch, a life-long friend of du Maurier, asked if she would complete the project some years later in 1959. Martyn Shallcross comments in Daphne du Maurier Country that Foy Quiller-Couch felt that her father had 'somehow tired of the subject or, at least, felt that the manuscript would never be good enough to publish. This upset her greatly and, interestingly, when Sir Arthur died in 1944, this unfinished manuscript came into her possession. In a way it was a fortunate act because daughter reversed father's decision' (p.91).
The novel was published in 1962 by Dent, under the names of both du Maurier and Quiller-Couch. It is thought that du Maurier takes over the bulk of the narrative from 'Q' in Chapter Seventeen but as Foy Quiller-Couch comments in her Preface to the novel, du Maurier had 'so cleverly woven her work into his, that I defy anyone to discover where the shuttle passed from his hand into hers'.
Du Maurier first met 'Q' when she was living at Ferryside, her parents' holiday home in Fowey. 'Q' was also living in Fowey, in a house on the Esplanade called The Haven and he became a valued friend and mentor to the young writer. Daphne's friendship with Foy, 'Q's daughter, had played a part in her writing career before Castle Dor as it was when out riding with Foy on Bodmin Moor in the fog that the two visited Jamaica Inn and du Maurier began brewing her popular story of pirates, smuggling, and wrecking. Du Maurier was honoured to have been asked to complete 'Q's unfinished novel by his daughter but the task was rather daunting: 'it would be awful', she commented, 'if they said I had ruined his beautiful style' (Forster, p.316). 'Q' himself was no stranger to the notion of finishing a predecessor's work as he had been asked by the estate of Robert Louis Stevenson to complete his novel St Ives: Being the Adventures of a French Prisoner in England (1898). 'Q' had also given du Maurier his consent to use the title of one of his short stories 'Frenchman's Creek' for her novel of that name in 1941.
Castle Dor is set in Cornwall, around the river Fowey, in the mid-nineteenth century and it tells of the Breton lad Amyot Trestane who falls in love with the newly married Linnet Lewarne, an affair which tragically re-enacts the doomed love of Tristan and Iseult from the Arthurian legend. In the novel, under the influence of the Cornish landscape which had provided the setting for the medieval star-crossed lovers, Linnet becomes Iseult, Amyot becomes Tristan, and Linnet's husband Mark becomes Iseult's husband, King Mark. 'Q' also introduced a character in the novel called Doctor Carfax who, along with the notary Ledru and Carfax's patient Tregentil, research the Tristan legend and function as the novel's in-built commentators on the ways in which Amyot and Linnet's relationship replays the Tristan legend. As Carfax's comments make clear, there were a number of versions of the legend, often unfinished and frequently contradictory, and part of the drama in the novel is which version of the legend the characters will ultimately re-enact. In her introduction to the Virago edition, Nina Bawden describes Carfax as 'Q's 'main mover and shaker, controlling events, Daphne du Maurier suggests, a little like Shakespeare's Prospero' (p.vi). The novel opens with Carfax's sense of foreboding at Linnet Lewarne's birth and concludes with an epilogue focusing on his thoughts some years after the events of the narrative have unfolded.
Du Maurier's research for the project was initially a collaborative affair as she and her husband Tommy spent time retracing the footsteps of Tristan, Iseult, and King Mark in the local Cornish landscape, including the Iron Age hill fort of Castle Dor, from which the novel takes its name. 'Q's original idea for the novel came about in the same manner, when rowing up the river towards Lantyan with his daughter he discovered the place-name of 'Mark's Gate' on a map: 'from then on the fascination of uniting the legend of Tristan and Iseult with the Fowey River took its hold' (Foy Quiller-Couch, Preface). Du Maurier was an obvious choice to complete the novel, not only because of her connection with both 'Q' and his daughter, but because of her natural affinity with the subject matter; her evocation of the Cornish landscape is unparalleled and her works repeatedly feature characters haunted by places.
'Many years ago, in the early 1840s, on an October night very clear and lustrous, a certain Doctor Carfax stood sentry with a field-telescope upon the earth-work of Castle Dor in Cornwall.' (p.3)
The novel opens with a Prologue in which Doctor Carfax stands on Castle Dor, gazing at the stars, while the blacksmith's wife gives birth to her child. Carfax is overcome with the feeling that the earth-work possesses secrets and is charged with a primal energy which is in some way related to the events and persons of his present day life. He muses that the English landscape is 'scored over with writ of hate and love, begettings of children beneath the hazels, betrayals, appeals, curses, concealed travails' but that his premonition is 'different somehow. It had no dimensions, small or great. In a way it had escaped dimensions, to be universal; and yet just here - here, waiting...' (p.5).The blacksmith's wife is delivered of her child and Carfax departs.
Book I introduces the protagonists: Linnet, the blacksmith's daughter, lately married to Mark Lewarne, the publican at the Rose and Anchor in Troy and Amyot Trestane the Breton onion-seller who arrived on the schooner the Joile Brise. When Linnet and Amyot meet 'she had a strange sensation of something breaking out of the past to connect itself with something immediately to come' (p.10). The notary Ledru arrives and reprimands Amyot's master, Fouguereau, for beating him. Ledru arranges to stay at the Rose and Anchor and asks if Amyot might row him up the river later in the day. Meanwhile Linnet and Mark depart for the races as Linnet is due to present the winning cup. Ledru encourages Amyot to resign from his job with Fouguereau and when he does, Fouguereau snaps his fiddle and throws it overboard. Ledru promises Amyot a new fiddle and the pair row up the river as Ledru is eager to find an island where 'two knights fought centuries ago - the one for his master's gain, the other for a lady' (p.27). Amyot reacts strangely to the place, saying that 'it reminds me - [...] Of no place that I remember - and yet it reminds me.' (p.27). Amyot and Ledru arrive at Castle Dor and when Ledru muses that many years ago 'a queen came, making excuse to her husband but in truth for the first glimpse of her lover' (p.31) Amyot suddenly declares 'Lantyan!' (p.31). Ledru is astonished by this pronouncement as Amyot can have no previous knowledge of the place or its name but their discussion is interrupted by a runaway carriage from the races. The carriage is the Lewarne's and Amyot jumps into its path to stop the horses. Both Amyot and Linnet are injured and Doctor Carfax is summoned.
Ledru and Doctor Carfax discuss Amyot's remarkable outburst at Castle Dor. Amyot had never visited the place and yet he intuitively knew its name. In the medieval legend, Lantyan was the place where 'Tristan once trysted with Queen Iseult' (p.53) and Carfax and Ledru wonder whether 'a certain spot - a place, say, of waters, woodlands, old buildings - can hold a memory, a thought almost, and even utter it, once in a while, through human lips?' (p.54). Carfax and Ledru set out for Lantyan, where Amyot is recovering from his injuries at the farmhouse of the Bosanko family. Mrs Bosanko shows them a map of the local area and the doctor and notary begin to discover further places which relate to the Tristan and Iseult legend, such as the orchard where they met and the island where Tristan fought another knight called Morholt. Back at the Rose and Anchor, Ledru is given a cordial by the maid, Deborah Brangwyn, whose surname is coincidentally the same as the Christian name of Iseult's maid in the legend. Carfax and Ledru continue to meet, discussing the Tristan legend and investigating local maps in order to plot the major incidents of the legend, using the etymology of place names as clues. When they discuss the various medieval versions of the legend, such as those by the French poet Beroul and the German Gottfried von Strassburg, Ledru declares that 'it is a curious coincidence that no poet [...] has ever lived to conclude this particular story. His work has always been finished by another' (p.80). Ledru is to depart the following day but after he accepts another draft of cordial from Deborah, he has a heart attack and dies in his sleep.
At the hay harvest at the Bosanko's farm, Amyot plays his fiddle and tells stories to the Bosanko children, Mary and Johnny, in the manner of a medieval minstrel: 'he seemed to fetch them out of himself, out of fairyland, anywhere; not playing on his fiddle, but laying it across his knees and plucking at a string at times, as if to help his memory' (p.92). As the last load of hay is carried home and the harvest celebrated, Linnet climbs up onto the wagon and suddenly falls down into Amyot's arms: 'Linnet's cheeks were hot and flushed; Amyot's white as a man's who has just seen a ghost' (p.97). Linnet meets Amyot the next day and admits that she fell from the wagon deliberately and the two admit their sudden love for each other. Mrs Bosanko begins to worry about the affair as Linnet is a married woman and she talks to Amyot, urging him to leave before it is too late. Amyot packs his bags and leaves, to the great dismay of the Bosanko children, and resolves to meet Linnet on Castle Dor. Amyot has an inkling that their love affair is doomed: 'no story of love between man and woman at its highest could ever come but to a tragic end' (p.114). The two meet and Amyot tells Linnet that he must leave, and they part on the seashore as Amyot dives in and swims away, promising to return.
Amyot appears at the Custom-House to discover that the boat on which he was to be employed has already sailed. He then sees the Jolie Brise, and its skipper Fouguereau, whose employ he had left at the beginning of the novel, and Amyot strikes him three times until he lies on the ground. Amyot flees and when he awakes, Fouguereau goes to the Rose and Anchor to attempt to discover him. Meanwhile Johnny and Mary Bosanko set out to find their missing friend and they discover him in a ruined cottage in an orchard just as Linnet arrives to bring him provisions. Linnet tells Amyot that he might face prison for his attack on Fouguereau and the Bosanko children promise to keep his whereabouts a secret. [It is generally accepted by critics that du Maurier takes over the narrative here]. Mark Lewarne goes to visit Doctor Carfax, declaring 'it's the wife, she's breaking my heart' (p.140). Lewarne tells Carfax that he had confronted Linnet regarding her infidelity and her quick tongue bested him: 'of course I've lain in another man's arms. I fell off the hay wagon at Mr Bosanko's and if the farm-hand [Amyot] hadn't caught me I'd have broken my ribs, so I can't swear no one's touched me but you can I?' (p.143). After Lewarne leaves, Carfax muses: 'Did not a queen, centuries past cover her guilt in the self-same fashion?' (p.144). His suspicions that the Tristan legend is being replayed by Linnet and Amyot are then allayed when he decides that his patient and pupil Tregentil must have inadvertently discussed his researches at the Inn and given Linnet the idea of the deception.
Linnet and Amyot meet in the woods and Linnet ponders the strange quality of their love: 'Have you ever thought that you and I have lived before - perhaps many times, to be born again, to kiss, to drain one another's heart out through the lips, to possess, to die?' (p.149). Carfax approaches Tregentil but he denies sharing his researches with either lover or the cuckolded Mark and while out walking the two stumble across Linnet. On the return through the woods to Tregentil's cottage, Linnet waits outside while Tregentil informs the doctor of his discoveries regarding the Tristan legend, in particular that the major versions differ in important respects. When Tregentil discusses the lovers' betrayal by a servant, Linnet suddenly exclaims to Doctor Carfax: 'How dare you discuss my private affairs with Mr Tregentil?' (p.158). Carfax attempts to explain that they were discussing Queen Iseult but Linnet reacts angrily. When Carfax returns to home, he finds a police inspector waiting who informs him that Fouguereau died from the blows which he received from Amyot. Meanwhile Tregentil is reading of the legend of Tristan slaying the giant Urgan, receiving a magical dog which he gave to Iseult, and the banishment of the lovers by King Mark. Linnet goes to the forest to warn Amyot as the Bosanko children begin to look for him. Johnny discovers a small injured dog which Amyot then entrusts to Linnet just as Tristan gave to Iseult.
Amyot has to stand trial for the manslaughter of Fouguereau but he is acquitted and Bosanko stands surety for him. Tregentil takes tea at the Bosanko farmhouse and when discussing the Tristan legend further and a possible outing with the Bosanko children to Castle-an-Dinas, Amyot remarks that 'I could swear I knew a man called Dinas once, but who it was, and when it was, I cannot tell' (p.202). Linnet, who is to accompany Mark to a dinner for publicans at the Indian Queen, plans to sneak away and meet with Amyot. Doctor Carfax hears about the planned trip and worries about Amyot visiting Castle-an-Dinas; he resolves to go to meet the party.
When Amyot, the children, and Tregentil reach Castle-an-Dinas, Amyot again seems to know the geography, despite having never visited the spot. When Mary wonders about the folk who lived there previously, Amyot answers in a peculiar manner: 'Rough men, if you like, but all my friends, and Dinas the wisest and the best, bearing me here to die. The causeway's yonder, beneath the grass under the westward gate, and that was the way she rode when Dinas brought her to my side' (p.220). Doctor Carfax sets out for Castle-an-Dinas, determined to keep Amyot and Linnet apart. He worries that he, Tregentil, and Ledru 'had in some way set the appalling thing in motion' (p.224), in particular his own musings under the stars at Linnet's birth, 'dooming her to unwilling repetition of a story that was not hers' (p.224). He ponders over an alternative ending to the story from a French Romance in which Tristan is wounded by Mark and dies at the fortress of his friend Dinas. When Carfax arrives, Linnet and Amyot have given the others the slip. When Tregentil asks where they are, Carfax replies 'in some borderland of buried kings and lovers' (p.230).
As Mark prepares to set off for the Indian Queen, Linnet's servant Deborah betrays her and tells Mark about her planned meeting with Amyot. She then gives Mark a phial of liquid and he and Linnet set off through the fog for the Indian Queen. When they arrive, Mark slips the liquid into Linnet's drink, she falls suddenly asleep and he locks her in an upstairs bedroom. Amyot sets off to meet Linnet, despite Mary Bosanko's attempts to stop him, and when he gets there he pretends to be a musician and offers to play for the company of publicans who are gathered there. Mary waits nervously outside and sees Amyot joining in the games with the landlords. Finally when it is Mark's turn to play, he is blindfolded and has to choose from four bowls- uncannily he chooses the bowl containing dirty water, symbolising adultery and he lunges at Amyot. Mary shouts for help and Doctor Carfax appears.
Carfax and Tregentil have prepared to travel out to the Indian Queen and they again discuss the two endings to the Tristan legend. In one, Tristan, who had gone to Brittany and married King Hoel's daughter, had sent for Iseult as he lay dying but she arrived too late; his death had been hastened by his jealous wife who had tricked him into thinking that Iseult was not on board the ship. In the other, Iseult's maid Brangwyn betrays her mistress to Mark who wounds him with a poison-tipped spear. Mark locks Iseult in her chamber to prevent her following Tristan and he dies at the castle of his friend Dinas before she can say goodbye. Carfax asks Tregentil 'if we do find ourselves mixed up in a tragedy of some thirteen hundred years ago, who is to play the part of Dinas, you or I?' (p.254).
Carfax arrives at the Indian Queen as Amyot flees. He rushes in to see Linnet and when he discovers her drugged by the draught which Deborah gave to Mark, he remembers the notary Ledru's death from a heart attack the previous year after drinking Deborah's potions. Carfax urges Mark to take Linnet to Bodmin hospital but Carfax makes a detour to Castle-an-Dinas in search of Amyot. When they arrive, Carfax searches for Amyot in an abandoned mineshaft and 'it seemed to the doctor [...] that he hovered now in strange and sickening fashion on the threshold of another world. Whatever he said or did in the present time would only be repetition of a day gone by, and anyone who listened to his voice calling in the darkness would hear it as the voice of another, dead these thirteen hundred years' (p.263). He discovers Amyot and tells him that he is 'Dinas, your friend' (p.264) but Amyot, possessed by the spirit of Tristan, suspects a trap and the two struggle. Amyot draws Carfax's pocket knife and holds it to the doctor's throat and as Carfax pushes his assailant away, the knife is accidentally driven into Amyot's shoulder, 'thus playing, fatefully and ironically, the role of a long-vanished poisoned spear' (p.266).
Carfax drags Amyot from the mineshaft and returns to the Lewarnes who are in the carriage. Amyot cannot understand why he and Carfax were fighting: 'the lad was no longer a wanderer in time, caught up in a past that was no of his own seeking, but a simple Breton sailor, wounded through misadventure' (p.267). Carfax places Amyot in the barouche as Linnet, still unconscious, travels towards Bodmin with Mark. As Amyot is nursed by Mary Bosanko he tells her that 'we made a pact once, long ago, she and I. If I ever needed her she swore she'd come to me' (p.268). Mary does not tell him of Linnet's condition and when he hears wheels on the road she tries to reassure him by telling him that there is another carriage, 'painted black' like Tregentil's (p.268) but 'the lie, spoken on impulse to spare him distress, had failed in its purpose' (p.269) and Amyot whispers 'Dieu vous garde. Je ne vous verrai plus' (p.269).
Doctor Carfax is in his eighties and has retired from his practice. He thinks about the changes which the years have brought about. Johnny Bosanko has become a doctor, Mary a nurse and Tregentil has a new enthusiasm for astronomy. He regrets that he had not been able 'to stay a senseless repetition of one of the saddest love stories in the world':
'Senseless perhaps, yet not entirely so. The pleasure and pain of love, once breathed upon the air, rose but to fall again, like blossom or like rain, infecting all things living with pain and ecstasy. Because of this a boy now healed the sick. Because of this a girl brought consolation to the suffering. And he himself, an old man hear his time, uttered eternal thanks for that redemption that had swept him like a tide some years before, when the hapless Amyot laughed at the wound that killed him, and the dying Linnet stirred in her sleep and smiled.' (p.274).
Castle Dor is a complex and intricate novel, not least because two writers were responsible for it, and it deserves to be the focus of more considered critical attention. Du Maurier's biographer Judith Cook commented that because 'Q' had 'made his protagonists not King, Queen and Knight, but publican, Breton onion seller, and publican's wife', Daphne was 'left with a story which lacked the grandeur of myth, and she seems to have found real difficulty in blending all the ingredients of the original legend into a cohesive whole. It remains an interesting exercise' (p.234). That the novel was 'an interesting exercise' has frequently been the extent of the critical discussion. Margaret Forster scarcely mentions it and Richard Kelly omits it from his bibliography of du Maurier's works in his otherwise excellent book of 1987. Nina Bawden's introduction to the recent Virago edition of Castle Dor goes some way to rehabilitate its reputation: 'this immensely complex but extremely readable novel is a splendid story of love and loss with fascinating links to two widely separated centuries by two very different, but very skilful writers' (p.viii). The novel deals with the favourite du Maurier theme of place, in this instance with a place so saturated with its mythic past that those who traverse the landscape in the present are fated to replay the lives and loves of their ancestors. The medieval past was to resurface again in du Maurier's 1969 novel The House on the Strand in which protagonist Dick Young travels back in time to the fourteenth century while under the influence of an experimental drug.
Doctor Carfax's musings on the various, often contradictory versions of the Tristan legend by writers such as Beroul and Gottfried von Strassburg demonstrate not only 'Q's scholarly interests and character, for which as Cambridge Professor of English Literature he was rightly famous, but also du Maurier's own rigorous and thorough approach to the research for her historical novels. Carfax's discussion of his medieval forebear's literary endeavours also captures the style for which the fourteenth-century writer Geoffrey Chaucer and his contemporaries were famous. To be 'original' as a medieval writer, rather than creating an entirely new set of characters and narratives, the tradition was to re-write and re-cast an existing narrative drawn, for example, from the Arthurian legend or from classical sources such as Virgil's Aeneid or Ovid's Metamorphoses. Geoffrey Chaucer's narrative poem Troilus and Criseyde retells the story of another pair of doomed lovers and his narrator, like Doctor Carfax, wrestles with the contours of a narrative whose ending is already written. Du Maurier's own novels have since become the subject of retellings and rewritings. Susan Hill's Mrs de Winter, Maureen Freely's The Other Rebecca, and Sally Beauman's Rebecca's Tale attempt to revise and re-vision du Maurier's Rebecca, for example. Castle Dor is a unique and fascinating work in the du Maurier canon and it more than repays careful reading.
Castle Dor (Dent 1962, Doubleday 1962).
Castle Dor is currently in print, published by Virago (2004). Page references throughout the review are taken from this edition.
Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster (Chatto & Windus 1993) (Published in the US as Daphne du Maurier - The Secret World of the Renowned Storyteller (Doubleday 1993)).
Currently available in paperback, published by Arrow Books (2007).
Daphne: A Portrait of Daphne du Maurier by Judith Cook (Bantam Press 1991, Corgi 1992).
Daphne du Maurier by Richard Kelly (Twayne 1987).
Daphne du Maurier Country by Martyn Shallcross (Bossiney Books 1987).
Arthur Quiller-Couch: A Biographical Study of Q by F. Brittain (Cambridge University Press 1947)
© L. Varnam 2009.