Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Daphne du Maurier -- in her own words

I've really struggled with my thoughts after finishing Dame du Maurier's The House on the Strand the other day.  

While I was at work at the library, I found this on the shelf -- Enchanted Cornwall, a Pictorial Memoir, published a year or so after she died.  In this lovely collection of pictures and book excerpts, du Maurier shares with us the secrets and mysteries of Cornwall -- and how it influenced nearly all of her writing. 

But most specifically, it helped me understand the genesis of The House on the Strand...which for me, was such a strange novel.  Had I read her thoughts first, I might have had a better impression of it.

I knew Strand was an homage to her estate, Kilmarth -- but I learned the following:


I moved to Kilmarth in June 1969...I would visit the empty house and walk around the rooms in a daze, trying to picture the sort of people who had lived in the house before.  I found a lot of dusty bottles in a room in the basement, bottles containing curious things like embryos.  My predecessor had been a scientist, Professor Singer, I began to imagine what he got up to in this old house...

So, her character, Mangnus Lane, the crazy professor with his basement lab filled with bottles and potions, was actually based on a previous tenant of Kilmarth.
Additionally, the time travel story line began here:

I discovered that the house dates back to the 14th century...and that in 1327 one Roger Kylmerth (featured prominently in Strand) owned it and that the foundations of his house are beneath me now...

She adds:

So it was that I found the storyline for The House on the Strand.  It would be set in both the present and past...the hero Dick Young would travel back in time, in this case the 14th century world of Roger Kylmerth, and he would do this not by dreaming...but by means of a drug prepared by his friend, Mangus Lane, in the laboratory full of curious exhibits that I found in the basement.

With regards to Dick's "addiction" to the time travel potion:


...I did wonder...whether people would be put off when they heard it was about a time drug.  Fortunately they weren't and if noting else my use of the drug is a clue to the time of its writing.  The late '60s was the ear of LSD.  Aspects of Dick's altered state of consciousness are certainly similar to the LSD experience, and as a result, people have asked me whether I tried LSD...the answer is that I did not.

I found this personal narrative fascinating...and again, had I known this before I started this book, I would have had a far greater appreciation for the maturation of the storyline.

Certainly in the future, I plan to read all of the excerpts featured in Enchanted Cornwall prior to reading her novels for her fascinating insight.