If you think of the works of Daphne du Maurier, you probably have the same sort of images in mind that have been given to us by film treatments over the years: the blasted heath, the storm-tossed moors, the insular people with dark secrets lurking broodily over pewter tankards of black, frothing ale… And certainly, that’s a part of du Maurier’s Cornwall, and her picture of the Cornish. But it is by no means the whole.
Daphne du Maurier’s Vanishing Cornwall is essentially a long love-letter to a place which deeply effected the author’s writing and, it seems, her personality. Her love of the landscape which she saw as changing – and not necessarily for the better – in the 1960s is deeply personal and heartfelt. Vanishing Cornwall is a genuinely lovely evocation of place, and one which not only fans of her writing, but those who love portraits of locales, or those who are fascinated by all of the corners and nooks and crannies of England.
Of particular interest to me were the descriptions of the lives of the tinners, those who first hunted tin in the streams and rivers and sediments of Cornwall, then moved to the mines beneath the earth; and also of the clay workers, who extracted the argillaceous earths for shipment abroad and for the manufacture of fine ceramics domestically.
I’m not sure that du Maurier’s optimism for the future of Cornwall and the Cornish has been borne out by history, and in nearly fifty years the changes to England overall could scarcely have been imagined in 1965. But overall, this book is a fascinating look at a landscape and a people and a culture which, like so many special corners of the world, has fallen to the threat of the modern world.
Originally reviewed 2 March 2012.
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