Book Review: Frenchman's Creek by Daphne Du Maurier
When Lady Dona St Columb becomes exasperated with her high and fancy lifestyle in King Charles II’s court in London she takes her children and moves out to her husband’s second home, Navron, in Cornwall. Eager for an escape, some peace and quiet, she spends much of her time lazing around in the gardens and playing with her children in a manner that would have been considered quite inappropriate for the times. When she hears that there has been a spate of burglars in the nearby estates and that the perpetrator is some kind of pirate, she is more concerned that her husband does not come to ‘protect’ her than she is about her safety. More prominent in her mind is to solve the mystery of where her servant William disappears to at night, and who his illusive Master is. When she re-traces William’s steps down to the creek one day, all the mysteries are solved as she is kidnapped, taken on board ‘La Mouette’ and brought face to face with the Captain.
The French captain is able to offer Dona everything she never knew she wanted; a life of passion, excitement and freedom, as well as, of course, teaching her about birds and fishing. During the course of their tryst, Dona learns that real passionate love can exist, and that there can be complete ‘compatibility’ between two people. She masquerades as the Frenchman’s cabin boy and accompanies him on a voyage to steal a ship from one of the men intent on bringing him down, whilst her children are left in Navron under the care of their nurse. But just as Dona thinks life couldn’t get any better she is brought back to reality by the arrival at Navron of her husband and his friend Rockingham, ready to fight the pirates. As the Frenchman hatches his one last plan to truly embarrass the Noblemen, will he be successful? and what will Dona decide when she has to make the ultimate decision of whether she is ready to leave with him or stay faithful to her husband and children.
Many years ago I read Rebecca and Jamaica Inn by Du Maurier but somehow Frenchman’s Creek managed to pass me by. When my mum found out that I hadn’t read it she gave it to me and said it was a must (I always listen to my mum in regard to books). Apart from the first chapter which was purely description, I was absolutely hooked from the start and loved the book. I was surprised by some of the responses that were provoked in me. When Dona spends what must be a week on the ship with the Frenchman, leaving her children behind, I felt that she was doing something very wrong. I was enjoying the story very much but there was a part of me thinking ‘how can she do that to her children’ who believed her to be in bed with a fever. It’s not like me to be so concerned like that, perhaps I am growing up! When she has to choose between her family and the Frenchman at the end, as much as I like love to win, I personally think that she should back to her family.
It’s not only for the sake of her children that I felt she has to go back to them though. She was looking for an escape and freedom from her London life, but if she spent the rest of her life with the Frenchman either on the sea or settled down in France there’s no saying she wouldn’t get just as bored with that in the end. If she goes back to her family she’ll look back on her time with the Frenchman as a special event that she’ll never forget and remembering it will make her amazingly happy and sad at the same time, and she’ll think of how much she loved the Frenchman. If she stays with him forever then it makes that one event less special. If they stay together and she ends up miserable then she takes nothing positive from the experience.
I think the only criticism that I have is that the characters are all so whimsical and unbelievable. The Frenchman is a pirate burgling the estates along the coast of Cornwall, but only those who can afford it. He and his crew never hurt women or children, or seem to be violent in any way and seem to just want to have fun, and in his spare time, the Frenchman likes to draw pictures of birds. He has particular views about women and how they differ from men in matters of love, and yet he allows Dona into his life and heart, which seemed to be against everything he believes in. I think Dona’s character is equally flawed, at least for a woman of her time. I can accept that a woman in the 18th century is bored of her life; I imagine that boredom is timeless but I don’t know that a Lady would just take off for the other end of the country, and leave her husband behind indefinitely and moreover just be a bit put out at being kidnapped rather than terrified.
Having said all that, I would still recommend the book to anyone who loves a feel good story. I really did love Frenchman’s Creek and I’m considering re-reading the ones I’ve read before on the basis of how much I enjoyed this one. Despite the criticisms I have given I thought it was a wonderful, heart-warming story and I couldn’t wait to read more!