Reading Cornwall

A little while ago I declared my intention of reading at least one book about my Cornish homeland each month. I am delighted that Verity will be joining me, and I hope that others will sign up too. Nothing official, just wonderful books! I promised a list  and it’s in the works, but for now here’s just a selection of what’s out there.

I have to start with the wonderful Daphne Du Maurier. Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn, The House on the Strand, Frenchman’s Creek and The Loving Spirit all have Cornish settings. And did you know that her sister Angela Du Maurier wrote too? Her memoir It’s Only The Sister and her novel  Treveryan are still in print courtesy of local publisher Truran Books. They have a wide ranging catalogue of fiction and non fiction and it is well worth browsing. And Daphne Du Maurier isn’t the only Virago author with a Cornish connection. Mary Renault‘s The Friendly Young Ladies opens in Falmouth. F Tennyson Jesse had strong ties with Newlyn – and surely Moonraker was inspired by Treasure Island, which opens in Penzance.

Treasure Island brings me on to children’s books.  Over Sea, Under Stone and Greenwich by Susan Cooper both have Cornish settings. Chris Priestley‘s Tales of Terror from the Black Ship are related on a Cornish clifftop. The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber is utterly charming. And Chris Higgins is a popular contemporary local writer.

And now a list of five very different twentieth century Cornish writers, all with a substantial body of work and worthy of further investigation: Arthur Quiller-Couch, Denys Val Baker, Crosbie Garstin, Derek Tangye and the great A L Rowse.

We have crime of course. W J Burley‘s Wycliffe series was very successful and was even televised some years ago. And here are two more authors of crime series set in west Cornwall that I have heard great things about: Janie Bolitho and Debby Fowler. Jessica Mann has a home in Cornwall and has set at least one book here – A Private Enquiry. Nicola Upson sent a fictionalised Josephine Tey down to Cornwall in her second novels, Angel With Two Faces. And Sarah Challis has Daphne Du Maurier solving Murder on the Cliffs. P D James sent Adam Dalgliesh to Cornwall in The Lighthouse. And Agatha Christie sent Hercule Poirot for Peril at End House.

There are many art books that can take you to Cornwall. Books about the St Ives School – Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth come to mind. And the Newlyn School – Stanhope Forbes and Laura Knight – I have Laura Knight’s two volumes of autobiography lined up. Francesca Kay‘s Orange New Writers Award winning An Equal Stillness passes through Cornwall. So does Jonathan Smith‘s Summer in February – a fictionalised portrait of royal Academy president Sir Alfred Munnings. Charles Lee was a contemporary of the Newlyn School artists. I don’t know too much about hime but a small collection of short stories has been reissued and looks lovely.

There are of course many family sagas. Winston Graham‘s Poldark novels are probably the most famous. Rosamunde Pilcher used Cornish settings for The Shell Seekers, Coming Home and Winter Solstice. I’ve a feeling that one or two of her earlier books that were reissued when she found success late in life were set here too. Ben Woolfenden‘s The Ruins of Time is very firmly set in West Cornwall. Many of E V Thompson‘s works have Cornish settings.

Mary Wesley spent the war years in Cornwall and uses it as a setting in many of her books – most notably The Camomile Lawn.

And lots of historical romance. There’s Susan Howatch‘s blockbuster Penmarric, Mistress of Mellyn by Victoria Holt, Crossed Bones and The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson. And, coming a little more up to date  Sarah MacDonald has set both Another Life and Come Away With Me in Cornwall. Santa Montefiore uses Cornish Settings in several of her books too.

Of course many of the tales of King Arthur have Cornish roots. And Tristan and Iseult is our own Cornish legend. I particularly like Diana L Paxson‘s retelling in The White Raven.

Or you want great contemporary writing? There’s Zennor in Darkness by Helen Dunmore, Notes on an Exhibition by Patrick Gale, Somewhere More Simple by Marion Molteno.

There are many wonderful memoirs of Cornwall. Last year brought The Great Western Beach by Emma Smith and Terence Frisbee‘s recollections of life as an evacuee in Kisses on a Postcard . Molly Hughes writes of her mother’s life in Cornwall in The Vyvians.  Cornish teacher Anne Treneer has written three volumes of autobiography. Wilkie CollinsRambles Beyond Railways is quite wonderful, and he set his novel the Dead Secret in Cornwall too. And there’s Lindsay Bareham‘s The Fish Course – part recipe book, part memoir of family holidays in Mousehole.

And much more wonderful non-fiction. Letters to Lydia by Barbara Eaton tells of a wonderful 19th century correspondence. Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell: Remembering St Ives is a title that doesn’t need too much explanation. The autors are Marion Dell and Marion Whybrow. The latter is also the author of a novel – Gorsemoor Cottage. To Brave Every Danger by Judith Cook tells the story of Mary Bryant of Foy. It’s an extraordinary tale that has been fictionalised and televised too. 

My next two Cornish read will be A Year at Polverras by Sylvia Ouston, which looks as if it might be Persephone-ish, and Sarah Strick by Randle Hurley –  tales of everyday folk set in my own home town.

There’s much more out there, but that’s it for now. Suggestions, opinons and recommendations are very welcome!

18 responses

  1. Hi Fleur Fisher

    I have been following your excellent blog for a little while but not commented often – something I hope to rectify.

    Wow! What a selection! This is quite inspiring and I have already made a note of a number of books that sound interesting.

    I love Cornwall too and find that reading novels set in places I’ve visited (or hope to visit) really adds to the enjoyment. Cornwall is so rich in this respect.

    Both you and Verity have reminded me that it is time to dive into another Rose Trevelyan mystery… and some du Maurier! I also like the cover of ‘The Friendly Young Ladies’ (a book that is new to me).

    Thank you for such a brilliant post on the subject. You certainly have whet my appetite for some ‘Cornish Reading’ 🙂 Oh, to visit beautiful Cornwall again!

    • Hello Claire. I’m delighted to have met you, and your blog. Increasingly I find myself drawn to books from my own part of the world and it’s lovely to find others interested too.

  2. What a great list. I’ve read several of these and have a few more on my TBR pile. And I have Tales of Terror checked out from the library at the moment. Although I’ve been to England I’ve never been to Cornwall, and someday I would love to visit. Until then I will content myself with reading about it–am bookmarking this post–Thanks!

    • I was charmed but Tales of Terror and I’m sure you will be too. And hopefully you’ll make it to Cornwall one of these days.

  3. Excellent list – we’re going to have some wonderful reading this year. Thanks for putting that together Jane – I’ll mention it when I do my next Cornish blog post…

  4. Well, I read Penmarric last year and I loved it. I read it because I like family sagas, but I never knew I could be so fascinated by Cornish tin mining! So that one I completely recommend.

    • I read Penmarric a long time ago and I loved it too. I haven’t warmed to all of Susan Howatch’s books, but I do think she’s a better writer than she’s given credit for.

  5. Don’t forget Howard Spring – in particular My Son, My Son and All the Day Long – the latter set in a fictionalised Mylor, which is where he lived when he first moved to Cornwall. He moved to Falmouth later, but there is a memorial sundial to him and his wife Marion in Mylor churchyard.

    I try to drop by and pay my respects whenever I’m in Cornwall. If you haven’t come across him you’ve a real treat in store.

    • Thank you – I knew that however long I worked on this post I would forget something obvious. I read Fame is the Spur and another book I forget the title of a while back and enjoyed them very much. Howard Spring is an author who seems to have fallen out of fashion but I will certainly check the library catalogue for copies of his Cornish books – or track down copies some other way.

  6. Hi Fleur Fisher

    I have just posted on Verity’s site after realising that I have a Cornwall-based book in my TBR pile.

    It’s called ‘Manna from Hades’ by Carola Dunn and its sequel, ‘A Colourful Death’, is due out on 8 June 2010. They form part of the Cornish Mystery series and are set in the fictional coastal village of Port Mabyn.

    The author revealed in interviews that the books are set in the Cornwall that she knew in the sixties (the author is now in the US) and that her fictional village is a cross between Port Isaac and Boscastle – both places that I loved when I visted!

    I’m hoping that this will be a good read and thought that you might like to add it to your list.

  7. I never knew that Cornwall was the setting of so many awesome books. I haven’t heard of a good many of them, but I’m going to be furiously adding them to my immense TBR list. It makes me think that I ought to come up with a list of books set in my own homeland.

  8. Pingback: Reading Cornwall « Fleur Fisher reads

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