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Daphne du Maurier

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Review of the Fowey Festival 2018

It has been a fantastic week at the Fowey Festival of Arts and Literature. The sun was shining, the Festival events were well attended by enthusiastic and knowledgeable audiences, and we were delighted to see that the life and works of Daphne du Maurier were at the heart of the Festival’s programme of events.

As we reported in an earlier post on our Festival news page, there were a range of events centred on Daphne du Maurier, from guided walks of Fowey and the landscape of Rebecca, to talks and reading group discussions, a film screening and an exhibition of paintings inspired by Daphne’s works. There was something for everyone and it was a pleasure to meet so many du Maurier fans, old friends and new, in Fowey during Festival week. During the week we regularly updated our Facebook and Twitter feed and we were delighted to hear from so many of you throughout the week, both those of you who were lucky enough to attend the Festival and those of you who participated online by sharing your thoughts and ideas with us.

Polridmouth beach and the Gribben

Daphne fans were treated to a range of events throughout the week. Cornish Riviera Guides ran their popular du Maurier walks around Fowey and along the coastal path to Polridmouth beach and the Gribben, the landscape of Rebecca. Fans who are keen to walk in the footsteps of Daphne’s characters will be pleased to hear about the publication of Sue Kittow’s new book, ‘In The Footsteps of Daphne du Maurier’, which includes maps and instructions for walks in the places associated with The King’s General, Frenchman’s Creek, and other popular du Maurier novels. Sue Kittow’s book is available to purchase from Bookends of Fowey.

Reading group discussion of Du Maurier's Rule Britannia in the Fowey Hotel

There were plenty of opportunities for audiences to discuss du Maurier’s work during Festival week. Regular contributor to the Festival Dr Laura Varnam (University College, Oxford) ran two reading groups, one on Rule Britannia at the Fowey Hotel and the other on The King’s General, which was so popular that it moved to the new Festival marquee on the lawn of the Fowey Hotel. The discussion of Rule Britannia was very lively and interesting and the audience discussed the remarkable contemporary relevance of the novel. Published in 1972, before Britain joined the EU, Daphne imagines a scenario where Britain has joined and then exited the EU and formed an alliance with America (the USUK alliance- or ‘you suck’- is just one of the amusing touches in this novel). The reading group audience loved the character of Mad, her granddaughter Emma, and the troop of ‘lost boys’ at Trevanal but after the US ‘invasion’ of Cornwall, the novel takes a darker turn and it became clear that in classic du Maurier fashion, all was not as it seems.

Laura’s reading group on The King’s General had the biggest audience yet for a discussion group and attested to the huge popularity of du Maurier’s civil war novel. In her opening remarks Laura explored the impressive historical research undertaken by du Maurier in preparation for writing the novel and the discussion took in the courageous narrator, Honor Harris; the dastardly King’s General himself, Sir Richard Grenville; the intriguing character of Gartred (who the audience agreed is reminiscent of Rebecca herself); and the role of Menabilly as the setting for the novel. In an extra special moment, Laura was able to share with the audience a real piece of civil war history, kindly brought in by Jane and Patrick Newberry- a civil war musket ball! The musket ball was found in the grounds of Jane and Patrick’s house in Stoke Climsland near Plymouth which was the location of a civil war battle involving Sir Richard Grenville and his royalists. It was wonderful to have a little piece of history connected to the events of the novel and the king’s general himself.

Anne Hall's new book: The Du Mauriers: Just as They Were

Two new books on Daphne du Maurier were launched at the Festival and their authors gave talks about the process of researching and writing their respective books. The first book was called Daphne du Maurier: Looking Inward by Teresa Petersen (published in 2017 by Austin Macauley). Teresa Petersen explores the possibility that incest is a key theme of du Maurier’s work and the book interweaves autobiographical material with close readings of du Maurier’s fiction. The other book that was launched during the Festival was Anne Hall’s much anticipated research on Daphne’s French ancestors. The Du Mauriers: Just as They Were was published this month by Unicorn Press and Anne Hall was in conversation with her publisher, Lord Strathcarron. Anne Hall discussed Daphne du Maurier’s research into her ancestors and her understanding of her grandfather George du Maurier’s novels (Peter Ibbetson, Trilby, The Martian). Anne currently lives in France and was able to undertake research in local archives in the glass-blowing region where Daphne’s ancestors lived and worked.

Anne Hall in conversation with Lord Strathcarron

We also celebrated the anniversary of du Maurier’s Rebecca at 80 in a special event with Dr Laura Varnam. Laura began the event by talking about the novel and its popularity and she shared some new readings of her own favourite moments in the narrative, including of course the evocative opening, ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…’

The audience were then invited to participate and share their ideas and memories and there were some fascinating and moving insights about what the novel still means to readers and their families. Laura wrote an article on why we keep returning to Manderley in The Independent earlier this year (read the article here).

David Willmore, bookseller at Bookends of Fowey, in conversation with Dr Laura Varnam

The final Daphne du Maurier event of the Festival week was the screening of the Festival film in Fowey Parish Church: the 2017 adaptation of My Cousin Rachel, starring Rachel Weisz as Rachel and Sam Claflin as Philip Ashley. This film was the first du Maurier adaptation for the silver screen since Don’t Look Now (1973) and it is the second film version of My Cousin Rachel, which was originally adapted in 1952, starring Olivia de Havilland and Richard Burton. After the film screening, the Festival audience enjoyed a talk about the film by Laura, focusing on the treatment of du Maurier’s novel- both positive and negative!- and an in depth discussion of the primary location of the film, West Horsley Place in Surrey. Laura wrote an article about her guided tour of this fascinating house for the website last year (read the article here). We hope to show another du Maurier adaptation as the ‘Festival film’ next year.

West Horsley Place, the location of the 2017 'My Cousin Rachel' film

The Fowey Art Trail is a regular part of the Festival programme and this year we were delighted that Fowey artist Helen Williams opened her lovely house to show an exhibition of her paintings inspired by Daphne du Maurier. Helen painted the wonderful image on the cover of the Festival programme this year and she showed four further paintings, inspired by Rebecca, Frenchman’s Creek, The Loving Spirit, and My Cousin Rachel. You can read more about Helen’s work in this special interview here on the website. Helen’s next painting is going to be based on The King’s General and Helen attended Laura’s reading group on the novel during the Festival and the audience made all sorts of wonderful suggestions for images to include in the painting. We look forward to seeing the results!

Helen Williams' beautiful du Maurier inspired paintings on display during Fowey Art Trail

Festival-goers also took the opportunity to visit the ‘rook with a book’ sculpture which was unveiled in Fowey in March, to launch the Festival programme and to celebrate the life and works of Daphne du Maurier. The rook was created by Thomas and Gary Thrussell and you can read more about it here on the website.

The 'rook with a book' and Ferryside in the background

We are already looking forward to the 2019 Festival and we will be working with the Festival director and Festival board to ensure that Daphne du Maurier remains at the heart of the wonderful programme of events. We would like to thank Brenda Daly and her team for their fantastic work this year and all of the speakers who came to the Festival to share their knowledge of du Maurier’s works and their passion for our favourite author.

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