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A spellbinding love story, Castle Dor was the unfinished last novel of the British novelist Sir Arthur Quiller-Crouch, better known as “Q.” The novel was passed on to Daphne du Maurier by his daughter, who was sure that du Maurier’s storytelling skills were perfectly suited to completing the tale.
The result is a magical, compelling retelling of Tristan and Iseult, the star-crossed lovers transplanted in time to the Cornwall of the last century. A chance encounter between the Breton onion-seller, Amyot Trestane, and the newly-wed Linnet Lewarne launches their tragic story, taking them in the fateful footsteps of the doomed lovers of Cornish legend.
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Castle Dor is a double find for me. Not only is it a novel written—or partly written—by Daphne du Maurier that I had not read before, but it is one that had been begun and half completed, before she took it over, by a hero of my youth, the writer and critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. When I was at school in the forties, "Q," as the great man was more generally known, inspired me to read—and I hope to recognize—the best in English literature. I still possess three of his excellent Studies in Literature, old and with yellowing pages but still serving as the best guide to literary judgment that I know. In his foreword to the earliest volume, first published in 1918 and reprinted many times since, he states his own position with beautiful clarity: "… before starting to lay down principles of literature or aesthetic a man should offer some evidence of his capacity to enjoy the better and eschew the worst." And, as an example—he always gives examples: "By 'poetry,' in these pages, I mean what has been written by Homer, Dante, Shakespeare and some others."
That this exceptionally scholarly man whose judgments, always rich and sensitive, though sometimes austere, should have embarked on an intensely romantic retelling of the old Cornish legend of that famous pair of tragic lovers, Tristan and Queen Iseult, is intriguing in itself. But what makes it even more fascinating is that Daphne du Maurier, asked by "Q" 's daughter long after her father's death to finish this novel that he had set aside "near the end of a chapter, halfway through," did so in such a skillful fashion that it is impossible to guess with any certainty the exact point at which she began to write. She says, in a modest foreword, that she "could not imitate 'Q''s style… that would have been robbing the dead," but she had known him when she was a child, remembered him as a genial host at many a Sunday supper, and "by thinking back to conversations long forgotten" she could recapture something of the man himself and trust herself to "fall into his mood."
She has succeeded superbly. "Q" had set his retelling of the ancient legend in the early 1840s, in the Cornish countryside around the Fowey river that he loved and knew so well. The Tristan of the legend has become Amyot Trestane, a young Breton onion-seller from the Jolie Bris, a small schooner that plies the Breton coast and sails to Cornwall regularly with seasonal cargoes of strawberries, apricots, onions and lime—the last in great demand by the Cornish potteries, since the kilns which had once burned at the head of every creek had by this time been abandoned. The Captain of the Jolie Bris is a monster, a vicious drunk, and Amyot jumps ship to escape from his sadistic cruelty. After rescuing her when her horse runs away with her carriage, he falls in love with Linnet Lewarne, the beautiful new bride of Mark Lewarne, the landlord of the Rose and Anchor inn at Troy. Mark dotes on his young wife but he is a cantankerous old man and wildly jealous. And so the stage is set.
Each of the doomed lovers has moments when he or she is seized by confusing sensations of being part of something older and stronger than themselves, some force that links them with the past, and sets them on the same tragic path as the legendary pair who lived and died so many centuries before. Central to their story is a certain Doctor Carfax, who seems to have been intended by "Q" as the main mover and shaker, controlling events, Daphne du Maurier suggests, a little like Shakespeare's Prospero. He is, for her, the most sympathetic and rounded character in the novel, which opens with him in his role as the local doctor, waiting one night upon the earthwork of Castle Dor for the blacksmith's wife to give birth, and being seized by wonder at the earth that holds so many universal secrets that might "never so flower again, yet be unable to forget or desist from the effort to throw up secondary shoots." Doctor Carfax is present throughout the story, explaining, holding it together, and at the end he is still there, an old man pondering the mysteries of love, and dreaming about one of the "saddest love stories in the world."
There are a number of different versions of the Tristan and Iseult legend and Daphne du Maurier tells us that she read all she could discover before she took on the task of completing the novel, and found inconsistencies and confusions that she had to resolve in order to satisfy her own "sense of order." In "Q" 's unfinished half of the novel, the earthwork of Castle Dor where King Mark, Queen Iseult's husband, had his palace in the legend, has become the site of Lantyan, a farmhouse that belongs to Bosanko, a local farmer with whom Amyot finds refuge and a job. Although Bosanko and his wife and two children play no part in the original story, there are many deliberate connections between the old tale and the new. In "Q" 's version, Linnet contrives to fall from a hay wain into Amyot's arms, and when her jealous husband accuses her of infidelity, she laughs at him, saying that she can hardly claim no other man has touched her, since the lowly farmhand, Amyot, has just saved her life. Centuries before, Queen Iseult had made the same mocking answer to King Mark after she had been helped ashore from the Fal by Tristan, disguised as a leper, and had tumbled with him, wrapped in his arms, on landing. A somewhat more labored connection is made between Tristan's unintended death by a friend's poisoned spear, and Amyot's death, after he has misunderstood Doctor Carfax's attempts to rescue him from a disused mine shaft and inadvertently cut himself with the doctor's clasp knife that had just been used to remove a stone from a horse's hoof. There were no antibiotics in 1840, as Carfax's musing over the results of the terrible accident reminds us.
Daphne du Maurier is often—and automatically—dismissed as a "romantic novelist." Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch is, above all, a scholar. In the first of his Studies in Literature he includes an essay, or discourse, on the terms "Classical" and "Romantic." He considers these labels, as they are often applied to great poets, novelists, playwrights, to be meaningless, and is against considering literature as if it were something that could be studied in compartments under abstract headings: "influences," "tendencies," "isms." Books, plays, poems, he insists, I think rightly, are written using the rare skills their authors were born with and have honed over the years. "Shakespeare, Milton, Shelley did not write 'classicism' or 'romanticism.' They wrote Hamlet, Lycidas, The Cenci."
This immensely complex but extremely readable novel is a splendid story of love and loss with fascinating links to two widely separated centuries by two very different, but very skillful writers.
You and I and Amyas,
Amyas and you and I
To the green wood must we go, alas!
You and I, my lyf, and Amyas.
The unintelligible word was spoken in a liquid foreign voice; not, however, as the French would pronounce it, but closing with a sharp "t"—sharp as if plucked on a lute string. A sigh lingered after it. Word and sigh seemed to melt together off the old mirror in which Mrs. Lewarne had been admiring herself.
She turned about. Someone had spoken within the room, close, at her shoulder. Her maid, Deborah?
But no Deborah stood in the doorway. Indeed on a quick second thought she knew that the old mirror, for all the tarnish of its quicksilver, would have reflected anyone standing there. Into the paneled triangular bedroom, frowsy with disuse, the sunshine, reflected from a whitewashed house-front across the narrow street, filtered as if stealing its way. Linnet Lewarne, half an hour ago, had pulled up the blind and lifted the window before falling to study her image in the glass; an excusable dalliance, she being a bride of twelve months. Also she was mistress of this house—the Rose and Anchor, Troy—an old well-reputed house, owned by an old husband who idolized her in his way. She had, as folks said, "done very well for herself." Her maiden name had been Linnet Constantine; her father a onetime blacksmith, having owned, some nineteen years ago, a forge and cottage, high on the hill, by Castle Dor.
If the smallest shadow of demur or of discontent had clouded her brow as she lifted the blind, set it down to her pure youthfulness upon which the waft of age through the old bedchamber acted repulsively. And now all trace of demur—if such it had ever worn—was gone from her face as she stepped half a pace back, then a little more than half a tiptoe forward, turning a little this way and that before her image that the old quicksilver clutched like a miser.
For her husband had given her a new gown of her choosing, to drive with him to Castle Dor races. It was of a very pale green muslin sprigged with rosebuds; and her hat matched it—a broad hat with pale green ribbons meeting under the chin. And her sunshade matched. She had half opened it, to try its effect; but desisted, remembering that it was unlucky to open any sort of umbrella indoors.
The voice had not been Deborah's quite, and yet was mixed up with hers, as well as with some preoccupation over a foreign gentleman. It was annoying of course that he should have chosen Castle Dor race day of all others for moving in. All yesterday had been spent by her and Deborah in cleaning, dusting, airing bed linen, polishing the old uneven floor with soft brooms and beeswax. Stepping to the window, she heard Deborah's irritable voice, now from the doorway close around the angle of the house.
"Two shillings! Highway robbery!"
Linnet divined. This was the time of year when the Breton schooners arrive, and their cabin boys are sent ashore to chaffer strings of onions, asking a price which can be cheapened by a fifth at the shop next door. It had happened so last September, her first month of housekeeping.
Linnet could never afterwards tell why she turned so quickly from the mirror and slipped out past the door of the large Wagon Room, within which glasses jingled, and her old husband, from the chair of the Ordinary, led a "tally-ho" to the company over some sporting story. She paused by the door for an instant, just to listen like a good wife and make sure he was not drunk, then passed down the stair.
She foreknew more or less the scene in the doorway: the town square, empty as usual in the dinner hour—today even emptier than usual, the populace having tramped up the hill to the race field. The farmers and sporting men, now finishing their brandies and cigars in the Wagon Room, would presently push themselves into two-horse brakes and be borne away to the field, puffing bad tobacco between the hedgerows. She would follow after an interval, seated in a barouche beside her husband, who had a craze for exhibiting her. Her name appeared on the placards of the race-meeting as donor of a twenty-guinea steeplechase cup, which she was to hand to the winning jockey. She had practiced her gesture in giving it twice or thrice before the old looking glass.
Down the stair to the porch she came. On the step Deborah, hand on hip, stood denouncing a young man in patched blue jumper and worse patched trousers that, being all too short, showed naked ankle and three or four inches of naked leg above his wooden sabots, a beret on his head and, across his back, a pole with five or six ropes of onions slung on it.
"Heathen boy! Go and ask two shillings off the Pope—no, but hi, you! Come back!"
The onion-seller had turned to go as Mrs. Lewarne reached the porch. At Deborah's sudden outcry he wheeled slowly about in the roadway: a singularly handsome fellow with a sullen set of the jaw and fine brown eyes, his skin deeply tanned by wind and weather.
Deborah darted at him and spun him roundabout.
"See here, mistress!"
"Oh, it's cruel!"
A broad smear crossed the young man's back, over the shoulder blades and just beneath the onion pole: a smear that at one point ran down to five or six inches, purpling and still damping his blouse with blood.
"Who did it to you?"
"What is your ship?"
"Your name, anyway?" demanded Deborah.
"Foolish woman!" said Mrs. Lewarne. "When he told it to you not five minutes ago!"
"Told it to me? I never…" protested Deborah.
Mrs. Lewarne stood all confused, putting out a hand to a pillar of the porch. She had a strange sensation of something breaking out of the past to connect itself with something immediately to come. The square all seemed to be hushed as an empty space…
"Amyot," repeated the onion-seller. "Amyot Trestane." For a second or two he searched back among their questions; then added in his broken speech: "Of the Jolie Brise, schooner, from Brest. Mais tenez, mesdames—le patron!"
A giant of a man had lurched out of the bar, where he had been dozing off his liquor, and stood in the porchway, pausing for the moment to wipe his mouth. Over Mrs. Lewarne's shoulder his gaze fell on the onion-seller.
"Petit cochon!" he roared. "Pas un chapelet vendu! Attends seulement!" and with that passed into a torrent of mixed French and Breton curses.
Linnet understood a little French, but nothing of his Breton. She faced around on him.
"All his onions are sold: I have bought them. But did you do that?" She pointed as Deborah spun the young man about again. "If so you are a beast!"
The giant grinned tolerantly, as one who understands women.
"These fellows, madame, are all lazy swine. They will learn nothing but at the rope's end."
With a sharp cough Linnet's husband, Mark Lewarne, peered out from behind—a man of some sixty years, proprietor of the Rose and Anchor.
"What's all this?" he demanded in a high voice, half dictatorial, half querulous. Then, his eyes falling on his wife, he became of a sudden insensible to the rest of the scene. "What's all this?" he repeated, more shrilly. "Didn't I expressly ask you, my dear, to come in and hand around the cigars?"
"Didn't Deborah hand the cigars?"
"It's not the same. It's not the same thing at all. And afterwards to sit and take a sip out of my glass. There was a chair set by my side. That gown of yours—I shall pay a pretty penny for it, this side of quarter-day. A man's own is his own, eh?" He appealed to the Breton skipper.
"Above all, when he owns an armful of so much charm," agreed that ogre, turning from him to leer knowingly at the two women.
Mrs. Lewarne avoided Deborah's eye; yet her next words were addressed to Deborah.
"I have bought those onions. Take them off his back."
The skipper stepped forward, possibly to help in a half-drunken way, while she felt for placket-hole and purse.
"At two shillings the string?" he demanded, looking back at the landlord to make sure.
But he spoke too soon. The onion-seller, as Deborah released the pole of its weight, caught it off his shoulders, swung it high and made for the giant as if to brain him. Deborah screamed. Linnet caught her breath. The giant stepped back half a pace. He had arms like a gorilla's. But just then the scene came to a ridiculous pause. Feet of the revelers came tumbling downstairs from the upper room, and almost simultaneously a voice commanded:
"Stop that! What the devil!…" followed, in the instant, by "Halte la!"
The Notary Ledru
The occupant of the barouche opened his eyes and lifted his shoulders from the cushion against which they reclined—this with a slight start, as of one suddenly awakened from a doze. Yet it was incredible that he could have dozed through that precipitous descent into Troy, which has been known to terrify strangers half out of their wits.
He wore a black traveling-cape. A black hat of velvet, extremely wide of brim, covered his white locks. It had fallen forward a little over his eyes; and as he pushed it back with a black-gloved hand Linnet had a sensation that he was the oldest man she had ever seen in her life—old past belief, so many were the lines on his shaven face; and yet (as she put it to herself a moment later) most wonderfully young for his age. For his complexion was as of ivory, almost transparent, and seemed to hold an inner light of its own.
As a rule old things made Linnet shiver—or had made her shiver of late. But the aspect of this old man did not repel her. It mastered her, rather. It mastered at any rate, and at once, her curiosity.
She had a quick eye. "A gentleman," she said to herself, as Deborah stepped to open the carriage door.
The visitor too had a quick eye. It flickered for an instant on Linnet and then selected her husband from the group on the step.
"Monsieur my host, if I am not mistaken? But pardon me, I seem to have dropped, at your doorway, back into my own country."
He spoke in excellent English, with scarcely a trace of foreign accent, looking meanwhile from the onion-seller to the skipper, whom he next addressed, gently enough.
"My friend, our meetings would seem to be providential. The last, if I remember, was at Landerneau, when the bishop was forced to interrupt a pardon because you were beating an ass unmercifully at the back of the fair."
"As I am an honest man, Monsieur le Notaire—"
"Which, in fact, you are not," returned the stranger, dusting his hat. "It was not, if I remember, precisely for that virtue that you, Fouguereau, left Quimper two years ago and opened a cabaret at Pont l'Abbé. A theft of fowls, was it not? And I had the pleasure of prosecuting. You afterwards purchased a ship at Loctudy. You remember me also, I dare say?"
"I do, Monsieur Ledru. Why, of course—"
"You see, he already introduces me." The stranger turned to address the landlord. "Yes, my name is Ledru, Notary of Quimper: and my room will be ready for me, doubtless, as your carriage was waiting at Lostwithiel railway station, even though," he added, lifting his face to a sudden roar of laughter from some belated drinkers in the Wagon Room upstairs, "you entertain more company than I had expected."
"The races—" began Mark Lewarne.
"Yes, but your room is ready for you, sir," Linnet interrupted, stepping close up behind Deborah, who still held open the carriage door. "The oldest in our house; but a pleasanter one, freshly papered, if you prefer it."
Monsieur Ledru's eyebrows went up a little. "Tenez, and are you the charming mistress of this house?"
"Your hot water shall be ready at once; and after that a grilled plaice, and an omelet to follow."
"With onions, if you please." He nodded at the ropes still encumbering Deborah's left arm.
"Shredded and fried: and Deborah here can make an omelet," Linnet promised valiantly.
"Then I am more and more at home."
Monsieur Ledru bowed, distributed a benign smile on everybody and turned slowly about. He had by some power of command held the whole violent scene arrested. There stood the onion-seller in the roadway, with yoke-pole lowered; there the giant skipper, a bully; Deborah's hand still hung at the carriage door. The driver stood as he had climbed down off the box seat: Linnet stood with lips half parted; her husband stood on the step behind her like a man who has received a message of which, for the moment, he can make nothing. And always in the upstairs room the noise of silly laughter continued.
"Then all is providential and I feel more and more at home." Monsieur Ledru, standing erect, unwound the traveling rug from his legs. "And this fellow? It seemed to me, as we drove around the corner—turn right about, my son!… Ah! But this is abominable, you Fouguereau! May I put it to you that it discredits our country? No; for such as you do not understand. But let me at least assure you that this young man does not voyage back in your ship."
Then followed a swift exchange of words in Breton, at the end of which the skipper picked up the stick which the onion-seller had dropped in the roadway, and slouched away with hunched shoulders.
Monsieur Ledru, still standing upright in the barouche, turned on the other.
"From where do you hail, my son?"
The answer came after a pause and as if with an effort.
"From L'Ile Tudy."
"So look up at me and answer. What is your name?"
"Amyot, eh? And will that be Christian name or surname? What other, if you have one?"
The onion-seller was still staring after the retreating figure of his employer.
"My mother, sir, was called Trestane. She belonged to Douarnenez, so she once told me, and that we came to L'Ile Tudy, I think she said, soon after I was born…"
He shrugged, as though indifferent to past history, the light in his eye suggesting he had but one thought in mind: to renew the struggle—despite disparity of height—with the brutal skipper.
"A troublemaker, if you ask me," pronounced the landlord, asserting himself from the upper step of the porch. "But I never pretended to understand foreigners—if you'll excuse me, mister."
Monsieur Ledru, in the act of stepping from the carriage, politely ignored this remark.
"The first thing to do," said he, composedly addressing Deborah and signing that he wished to descend, "is to take this fellow indoors and bathe his back. Afterwards, if he be recovered, he shall row me some way up your river—that is, if you have a boat for hire, sir?"
"There's a boat, of course—"
"Yes, I know; you would not be bothered about that just now. You are going to the races and on the point to depart for them, you and madame." He bowed to Linnet as he climbed agilely down the carriage step. Then, after feeing the driver: "I saw the advertisement of your races on the blacksmith's shutter at the crossroads. Madame is giving a cup, I understand."
"Well, you may put it so," the landlord conceded. "Of course, as a fact—"
"To be sure, and as a gallant husband… I think I hear your equipages coming downhill. Before they arrive and, rather than incommode these sportsmen"—with a bow to the general company in the porchway—"shall we pass in?"
May and November
Mark Lewarne, his wife and their guest entered and went up the stairs in single file, Deborah following with the valise. At her command the onion-seller waited in the passage below. On the landing Lewarne, with an apology, turned aside to open the door of the Wagon Room and announce to the remnant of the diners that the wagonettes were approaching: Linnet and Monsieur Ledru went onto the best bedchamber.
"We have done our best with it, sir, but, as I said just now, we have a brighter one, newly papered, should you prefer it. Deborah, you may set down the gentleman's portmanteau: then run, get some hot water and attend to that poor young man. Afterwards you can unpack for the gentleman in whichever room he decides upon."
"But what is the matter with this room, madame?" asked Monsieur Ledru, looking about him.
"For my part I hate everything old," Linnet confessed.
"Ah?" Monsieur Ledru turned, and with his back to the window looked at her quickly. The light, such as his opposing figure admitted, fell full on her face. "Now for my part I can understand your view, madame, though you can see with your own eyes that I must not share it."
Linnet's face had flushed, almost as soon as the words were past her lips. The manner of this fine old gentleman at once invited speech and rebuked it.
"I did not mean, sir—"
"Why, of course you did not. And if you had I should have no resentment. The old, madame, as they draw nearer to God, grow to share a little in one attribute of His—or if you prefer in a vacuity of His. He has no silly touchiness."
"I only meant," Linnet stammered, "that I dislike the smell of all this old oak. You see that Deborah has laid a fire, sir. We have been burning a fire for two days past, to air the room: but we agreed that, in this weather, it might be too hot for you. Still, if you are taking a boat, you may find the sight of one cheerful, later—and after traveling so far."
"Thank you: yes, I should like a fire. At my time of life, madame, what used to be luxuries tend to become necessities. And unlike you I love old oak. There is nothing like it, madame, to last. We sleep in it, some endlessly; in our old age we like to dream by it and watch, waking, the fire in its core. But we dream of the birds that one built in the high branches, rocked by the wind."
At this moment Deborah opened the door, carrying a can of hot water; and almost as though her opening of the door had admitted the noise through the open window opposite, the train of wagonettes rumbled below, rounded into the square and deployed, their drivers calling one to another for room with many facetious objurgations. Deborah announced first that the gentleman's luncheon would be ready within ten minutes; next that the onion-seller was below, sponging himself, and she wished the mistress could see his wounds. She added, with a glance at Monsieur Ledru, that time was getting on.
"With your permission, madame, I also should wish to examine the young man's hurts," said the Notary, holding open the door.
So, Deborah, having deposited her jug, all three went their way out into the narrow corridor and were intercepted by the last-leaving diners at the door of the Wagon Room.
Mark Lewarne led them and, heading off his wife, faced about on her so that there was at once a block on the corridor and in the doorway behind him. He was clearly in an evil humor.
"I thought I told you—I thought I told you—"
Linnet's face went white for an instant before hoisting a red flag of defiance. Monsieur Ledru could not perceive this, for he stood immediately behind her: but, noting the quick back-tilt of her pretty head, he surmised.
- On Sale
- Dec 17, 2013
- Page Count
- 288 pages
- Little, Brown and Company