Review of Fowey Festival 2019
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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