If you’re like me, then you know Daphne du Maurier from two things: her story “The Birds” and Rebecca, that freaky book you had to read in high school. But recently, I came across her romance novel!!!! in a secondhand bookstore in the city, and I had to have it. It’s called Frenchman’s Creek, and it will give you feels. I have to say, this has automatically become one of my favorite works of literature; it has almost everything I look for in a great story. Read more about this recommendation!
What it’s about: Frenchman’s Creek is about a noblewoman named Dona St. Columb (a perfect romance-novel name, IMO), who feels stifled in her life in London. It takes place in Restoration England, and the entire narrative is a kind of flashback through the eyes of a modern-day yachtsman visiting the place in Cornwall where Dona flees to when she can’t take her life anymore. The framed narrative creates a spooky atmosphere that is definitely characteristic of du Maurier’s other works.
When Dona arrives in Cornwall at her house called Navron, with her two children in tow (but not her husband), she is consumed by a feeling of freedom she’s been craving all her life. Eventually, she meets and has an affair with a philosopher turned pirate named Jean-Benoit Aubéry, who teaches her that even though she craves escape, it’s almost impossible for a woman to have the same freedom as a man does. Their relationship becomes a metaphor for societal expectations placed on women, and the whole metaphor is couched in the language of a high romance novel with plenty of passion. Oh, and the writing is utterly breathtaking, so you don’t have to feel bad about reading romance!
Through her experiences with the pirate, she tests her strength, her courage, and finds herself outside of her constructed “proper” persona. She becomes her own person, someone whole and fulfilled in both life and love. She finds freedom and happiness.
Favorite character: Possibly a tie between Dona and Jean a.k.a. “The Frenchman,” but probably Dona. I felt a lot of the same things she describes regarding wanting escape, and feeling free. However, she’s also a loving, devoted mother who is ultimately puts her children before her own desires. So think of The Awakening without the alleged “problematic” ending.
Favorite quote: SO MANY! The Frenchman and Dona have very interesting, thought-provoking, philosophical discussions about what freedom means, both for a man and for a woman, and how each sex finds fulfillment. It borders on sexist, but I find it characteristic of a novel written in the 1940s, and it seems as thought du Maurier is also poking holes in this gendered argument, but doing it sneakily. So here’s my favorite quote:
“And all this, she thought, is only momentary, is only a fragment in time that will never come again, for yesterday already belongs to the past and is ours no longer, and tomorrow is an unknown thing that may be hostile. This is our day, our moment, the sun belongs to us, and the wind, and the sea, and the men for’ard there singing on the deck. This day is forever a day to be held and cherished, because in it we shall have lived, and loved, and nothing else matters but that in this world of our own making to which we have escaped.”
Why you should read it: Frenchman’s Creek is another side of Daphne du Maurier you don’t get from her short stories or from Rebecca. I haven’t read Jamaica Inn, but I heard this book is even one of her weaker ones. Read this for the ruminations on freedom and escape, and for the swoon-worthy romance. 😉
Recommended for: Those interested in gender studies, in Daphne du Maurier, and in romance novels. Read this if you loved Rebecca but thought it was too dark, or if you hated The Awakening! (Note: I did not hate The Awakening.) Definitely check out Frenchman’s Creek!