Mysterious Cornwall

Posted by on Apr 8, 2014 in Blog, Cornwall | 0 comments

TheLighthouseMystery, murder, intrigue, the gothic and the macabre have found a welcome home in Cornwall. Writers—and film makers—have flocked there in pursuit. Fictional detectives from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, to Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, to P.D. James’s Adam Dalgliesh have slept there. And the cool Queen of Mystery, Daphne du Maurier, lived there.Young_Daphne_du_Maurier

What is it about the place that has attracted them? What in the mists and crags, the coves and moors might other writers find in the landscape to inspire their own writing?

To answer these questions, perusing the  important works (and the list is by no means complete) of others who have come before might provide some clues.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes made his (supposedly) final appearance while on holiday with his faithful Dr. Watson in Cornwall in “His Last Bow.” It appeared as a short story in “Strand” in 1917, and in several movies renditions, including the BBC series starring Jeremy Britt in 1985 entitled “The Final Problem.”Poirot

Agatha Christie visited Cornwall as setting more than once. Her famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot first took his “little gray cells” and his mincing walk there in 1923 with “The Cornish Mystery,” which involves a nice case of poisoning. It is set in the small fictional town of Polgarwith, based on either Plymouth or Torquay (actually in Devon). “Peril at End House,” published in 1932, first introduced such key characters as Poirot’s secretary Miss Lemon and the often bungling Scotland Yard detective Japp. Under the pen name Mary Westacott, in 1948, Christie wrote a gothic tragedy set in the Cornish town of St Loo, “The Apple and the Yew Tree,” whose title was borrowed from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding.”  

—Mary Renault wrote “The North Face” in 1948 about a couple who meet in a Cornish B&B.

—Gordon Williams, in 1969, published a psychological thriller entitled “The Siege of Trencher’s Farms,” set in Cornwall. It became the controversial and acclaimed 1971 film, “Straw Dogs,” directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring Dustin Hoffman and Susan George.

My Cousin Rachel—Daphne du Maurier spent most of her life in Cornwall, primarily in the southern coastal town of Fowey, or the rented estate, Menabilly, often the setting for her fiction. From her early work, such as “Jamaica Inn” (1936), set on the Bodmin Moor; to her most famous novel, “Rebecca” (1938); to “Frenchman’s Creek” (1941); to “My Cousin Rachel” (1951); and her final work, “Rule Britannia” (1972), a post Vietnam War book with an anti-American edge, she always found her subjects, her setting—and an element of horror—in Cornwall.

Her books also inspired many film makers, in particular Alfred Hitchcock, who turned many of her works into movies. Notably, he produced “Jamaica Inn” in 1939, starring Charles Laughton and Maureen O’Hara; “Rebecca” in 1940, with Laurence Olivier as the brooding owner of the great estate, Manderley, Joan Fontaine as his naïve young bride, and Judith Anderson as the sinister housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers; and “My Cousin Rachel” in 1951, also set in an estate on the Cornish coast and starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. “The Birds,” 1963, was also based on a du Maurier short story.The Birds

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