The Loving Spirit
DAPHNE DU MAURIER
Table of Contents
VIRAGO MODERN CLASSICS 497
Daphne du Maurier
DAPHNE DU MAURIER (1907-89) was born in London, the daughter of the famous actor-manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and granddaughter of George du Maurier, the author and artist. A voracious reader, she was from an early age fascinated by imaginary worlds and even created a male alter ego for herself. Educated at home with her sisters and later in Paris, she began writing short stories and articles in 1928, and in 1931 her first novel,
The Loving Spirit
, was published. A biography of her father and three other novels followed, but it was the novel
that launched her into the literary stratosphere and made her one of the most popular authors of her day. In 1932, du Maurier married Major Frederick Browning, with whom she had three children.
Besides novels, du Maurier published short stories, plays and biographies. Many of her bestselling novels became award-winning films, and in 1969 du Maurier was herself awarded a DBE. She lived most of her life in Cornwall, the setting for many of her books, and when she died in 1989, Margaret Forster wrote in tribute: ‘No other popular writer has so triumphantly defied classification . . . She satisfied all the questionable criteria of popular fiction, and yet satisfied too the exacting requirements of ‘real literature’, something very few novelists ever do’.
By the same author
The Loving Spirit
I’ll Never Be Young Again
The Progress of Julius
The King’s General
My Cousin Rachel
The Birds and other stories
The Glass Blowers
The Flight of the Falcon
The House on the Strand
The Rendezvous and other stories
Gerald: A Portrait
The Du Mauriers
The Infernal World of Branwell Brontë
The Winding Stair: Francis Bacon, His Rise and Fall
Myself When Young
The Rebecca Notebook
The Loving Spirit
DAPHNE DU MAURIER
Published by Hachette Digital 2010
Copyright © The Estate of Daphne du Maurier 1931
Introduction copyright © Michèle Roberts 2003
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
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eISBN : 978 0 7481 1458 0
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Daphne du Maurier takes her title from a poem by Emily Brontë:
Alas - the countless links are strong
That bind us to our clay,
The loving spirit lingers long,
And would not pass away.
Emily Brontë seems to be talking about how hard it can be to find the freedom of death if we are at all frightened of dying, how the beauties of the world can exert their pull on us right up to the end. Daphne du Maurier’s lushly written novel, on the other hand, salutes the necessity of death as a conduit between the generations through which the loving spirit can be poured. While it is a rapturous celebration of the beauties of the Cornish landscape, in particular, it is also about the drive towards abandoning the cares and duties of the daily, material world in order to pin your faith on a transcendent symbol and a love so intense it approaches the taboo, even the perverse.
First published in 1931,
The Loving Spirit
is both a romance and a family saga, a novel about thresholds and changes. It begins with one marriage and ends, three generations later, with another one.The heroines who brace the story, like book-ends, are linked by their semi-mystical appreciation of the power of love to inspire, save and heal. The presiding goddess of this intense emotional landscape is Janet Coombe, whom we meet, in the opening chapter, on her wedding morning. She is about to marry her sober, God-fearing cousin Thomas, a boat-builder, and has fled up to the cliffs above Plyn, her village, and the harbour it shelters, to say goodbye to her old life and begin looking towards her new one.
Part of Janet fears her soul is ‘sinful and wayward’ for drifting off in daydreams: ‘her heart would travel out across the sunbeams to the silent hills’. She is chided by all the village gossips for loving to play truant, for running and jumping, for answering back, for envying male freedoms. Her mother scolds her and beats her, but Janet insists on becoming a woman in her own way. Her beauty and strength attract all the local boys and from them she chooses Thomas.
She is doubtful about marriage, at first: ‘No more could she lift her skirts and run about the rocks, nor wander among the sheep on the hills. It was a home now to be tended, and a man of her own, and later maybe, and God willing, the child that came with being wed.’ So far, so mapped out. But then:
At this thought there was something that laid its finger on her soul, like the remembrance of a dream, or some dim forgotten thing: a ray of knowledge that is hidden from folk in their wakeful moments, and then comes to them queerly at strange times. This came to Janet now, fainter than a call; like a soft still whisper.
So Janet recognises her conflicted desires and destiny:
... and it seemed that there were two sides of her; one that wanted to be the wife of a man, and to care for him and love him tenderly, and one that asked only to be part of a ship, part of the seas and the skies above, with the glad free ways of a gull.
This opening chapter, having thus introduced the main themes and symbols of the entire novel, closes on an epiphanic note: ‘she knew in her soul that there was something waiting for her greater than this love for Thomas. Something strong and primitive, lit with everlasting beauty. One day it would come, but not yet.’ Of course I’m not going to spoil the story for the first-time reader by telling you what that is. Suffice it to say that it’s the fuel for the entire book and drives it unflaggingly, through episodes of cruelty, treachery, war and loss, towards its peaceful and triumphant end.
How does du Maurier achieve her effects? To begin with, she’s an accomplished storyteller, keeping the narrative racing along with plenty of colourful characters, dramatic incident, cliff-hanging chapter endings, mystery and suspense. More importantly, I think, she relies on the Gothic and Romantic elements of personage, narrative and landscape employed by Emily Brontë inWuthering Heights
. Her entire novel is a homage to that of her great precursor. Janet Coombe is a free spirit like Brontë’s Cathy, and her wild, rebellious son Joseph has a lot in common with Brontë’s anti-hero, Heathcliff. The great love between Janet and Joseph defies death, destitution, and wretchedness to the point of madness, just as Cathy’s for Heathcliff does.Wuthering Heights
could in no sense be described as a family saga, but it shares withThe Loving Spirit
the inbuilt necessity for the plot to be worked out over more than one generation. Du Maurier is conscious and proud of her debt to Brontë. At the beginning of Book One, her story of Janet, it’s no accident that she quotes one of Emily Brontë’s greatest poems:
No coward soul is mine,
No trembler in the world’s storm-troubled sphere:
I see heaven’s glories shine,
And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.
As inWuthering Heights
, the weather plays a crucial part. The Romantic Fallacy is in full swing. Storms at sea mirror storms in the human heart. Plants and creatures feel just as we do. Du Maurier invokes ‘the glad tossing of the leaves in autumn, and the shy fluttering wings of a bird . . . a pale forgotten primrose that grew wistfully near the water’s edge’. Imagining that flowers can share our wistfulness, or birds our shyness, is consoling, of course. This is what we might call the banal side of the Romantic Fallacy. But Brontë turned it around into a profound statement of mysticism, in which people dissolve into the universe to become one with it, and du Maurier follows her:
... the spirit of Janet was free and unfettered, waiting to rise from its self-enforced seclusion to mix with intangible things, like the wind, the sea, and the skies hand in hand with the one for whom she waited. Then she, too, would become part of these things forever, abstract and immortal.
Only Brontë, I think, would not have said ‘hand in hand’: much too tame. Indeed, du Maurier is a much more sentimental writer.
Brontë’s use of Gothic inWuthering Heights
allowed her savagely to satirise the genteel bourgeois world she despised, to dream of a hero brutal enough to overturn the established order, and to hint at some of the secrets festering underneath the placid surface of normal domestic life. Women writers have tended to take up the Gothic with enthusiasm, since it allows them to peer down the cellar stairs and up into the third-floor attic and reveal some of the bad things that go on in seemingly respectable houses. Du Maurier employs Gothic hyperbole and excess to permit her decent, hard-working, artisan characters to express their turbulent emotions in dramatic and even violent language, accuse each other of evil and madness, and knock each other down. No point fretting she’s hamming it up; she’s in a tradition as much theatrical as literary. To emphasise her novel’s reach towards the timeless and the sublime she mixes in biblical phrases, cadences and rhythms, lots of archaisms, repetitions and inversions:
And she strove to banish these thoughts . . . the cold rain shut outside and the damp misty hills, and the sound of the wild harbour water coming not to her mind ... And Joseph looked down on Christopher, and stifled the nigh-overmastering impulse to kneel beside the boy and ask him to place all faith and trust into his keeping, but it came to him that the boy might feel shy and embarrassed to see his father act in such a way.