Up Frenchman’s Creek; or, How (Not) to Prepare for a Vacation

Well, I’ve been home barely twenty-four hours and already I am packing my suitcase again. After a weekend up north in Manchester, I’ll be off tomorrow on a weeklong trip down south to Cornwall. Instead of flicking through my travel guides this morning, I started reading Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Now, there’s a description of scenery you wouldn’t get from your travel agent:

[There] was a lashing, pitiless rain that stung the windows of the coach, and it soaked into a hard and barren soil. No trees here, save one or two that stretched bare branches to the four winds, bent and twisted from centuries of storm, and so black were they by time and tempest that, even if spring did breathe on such a place, no buds would dare to come to leaf for fear the late frost should kill them. It was a scrubby land, without hedgerow or meadow; a country of stones, black heather, and stunted broom. 

There would never be a gentle season here. [. . .] 

Not much more hospitable is the seascape depicted in the opening chapter of du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek:

When the east wind blows up Helford river the shining waters become troubled and disturbed and the little waves beat angrily upon the sandy shores [. . .].

The long rollers of the Channel, travelling from beyond Lizard point, follow hard upon the steep seas at the river mouth, and mingling with the surge and wash of deep sea water comes the brown tide, swollen with the last rains and brackish from the mud, bearing upon its face dead twigs and straws, and strange forgotten things, leaves too early fallen, young birds, and the buds of flowers.

Perhaps reading du Maurier’s Cornish romances is not such an ideal way to get into the spirit of things, especially not when one is hoping for spring and renewal. At least their author was familiar with the locations described. Listening to the 10 February 1947 Lux Radio Theatre version of Frenchman’s Creek, I got no sense of the locale at all; nor, for that matter, much sense of the story. There was too little of it left to suggest the illicit passion of a married woman for a dashing pirate.

The radio version is not so much an adaptation of the novel, but of radio dramatist Talbot Jennings’s screenplay for Paramount’s 1944 technicolor production, which cleaned up du Maurier’s act in accordance with Hollywood’s production code. Mitchell Leisen’s film, of course, was not shot in Cornwall either, but in Jenner, California, which also stood in as Devon in The Uninvited, an old-fashioned ghost story featuring the novelty of a sun rising in the west.

I don’t suppose Alfred Hitchcock’s reworking of Jamaica Inn is any more useful as an introduction to Cornwall; I’ve always confused it with Under Capricorn, another one of Hitchcock’s misguided forays into period piece froufrou (although I confess having enjoyed his Waltzes from Vienna). And since there is little time to dip into the poetry of John Betjeman, I think I’d better get back to my travel guide after all—and finish packing. I will try to relate my impressions upon my return next Wednesday—provided I can find a radio drama angle.

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