Romance in Cornwall

Posted by on May 11, 2014 in Blog, Cornwall | 3 comments

romanticcornwall-1Looking for romance? Writers don’t have to go far to find it in Cornwall—at least not the literary kind. Rocky coasts, heroic characters, unrequited love—nature, intense emotion and elevating personal experience—these are the not-so-secret romantic ingredients in poetry, fiction and creative non-fiction, ingredients that Cornwall supplies in an abundance that is, quite literally, legendary.

Right. Flash back to the 12th Century and one of the Western world’s most popular romantic tales. The origins of the story of Tristan and Iseult are debatable, but whatever the designated source, much of the action is centered in Cornwall. It is King Mark of Cornwall who sends the chaste and loyal knight, Tristan, to Ireland to fetch back Cornwall’s future queen, Iseult. The ensuing love triangle has mesmerized generations and been celebrated in every imaginable art form.Edmund Leighton Tristan and Isolde-1902

Near Fowey, a small town on Cornwall’s southern coast, there is a granite pillar, known as The Tristan Stone upon which is carved a two-line inscription. It dates back to the 6th century and reads: DRVSTANVS HIC IACIT CVNOWORI FILIVS or ‘Drustan lies here, of Cunomorus the son’. There is a mysterious third line, now missing, that refers to DOMINA OUSILLA, Ousilla being a Latin version of the Cornish name Eselt.

 And what of Tintagel, birthplace of Britain’s greatest king—on paper, at least—and site of a scandal that has titillated audiences for centuries? Arthur, Britain’s “Once and Future” king, was said to have been conceived there when Uther Pendragon, disguised by Merlin, found his way into the chamber of Gorlais’s castle and took his vassal lord’s lady, Ygerna, to bed. The Cornwall connection to Arthurian legend doesn’t end there. Like Tintagel, Camelot, Merlin’s Cave, and the Isle of Avalon, as well as numerous other locations similarly celebrated in Arthurian lore, are said to be located in Cornwall just waiting for the right writer to literarily reignite the passion that surrounds them.Tintagel-2

Fast forward, for the purposes of this blog only, across vast expanses of time and you will arrive at the 19th century world of Thomas Hardy, the romantically inclined Victorian realist and author of Far from the Madding Crowd, The Mayor of Casterbridge, Tess of the d’Ubervilles and Jude the Obscure, whose semi-fictional literary landscape of Wessex includes Cornwall where, in a Dante-and-Beatrice-like moment at the parish church of St. Julio, the author met his first wife, Emma Gifford. Emma served as the inspiration for many of his poems and the first of his novels to be published under his own name, A Pair of Blue Eyes.

JeanRysAnd one certainly wouldn’t want to forget that Cornwall was the sometime-hideout of Jean Rhys, reclusive writer and author of Wide Sargasso Sea, the beautiful and exquisitely romantic ‘prequel’ to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

In a previous blog we’ve mentioned P.D. James, Agatha Christie, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Daphne du Maurier.  Let’s add Virginia Woolf, Rosamunde Pilcher, Arthur Quiller Couch and John Betjeman to our list of writers who have lived and written in Cornwall.

Do you think William Golding’s Lord of the Flies was influenced by the territory of his childhood?


When I Set Out for Lyonnesse

When I set out for Lyonnesse,
A hundred miles away,
The rime was on the spray,
And starlight lit my lonesomeness
When I set out for Lyonnesse
A hundred miles away.

—Thomas Hardy


  1. So many books, so little time. Thanks for all the romantic insights, Linda.

  2. Dear Linda,

    Please send me to my email info on the Cornwall adventure I’m interested subject to dates and cost. (Still recovering financially from the move, and there are the usual family obligations). I had wondered if you still had this trip in mind but didn’t know how to find anything out . All the best to you,
    Love, Virginia

    • Hi, Virginia. Glad you are settling in. Cornwall is sold up, but I’m taking writers to Japan in early 2015. It will be an amazing trip. Want to join me for that one??

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