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Is Cornishness a creation of Daphne du Maurier?

By CG_NeilBason  |  Posted: May 02, 2013

Dr. Pete Woodcock ready to research Daphne du Maurier's role in creating Cornishness

Dr. Pete Woodcock ready to research Daphne du Maurier's role in creating Cornishness

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A Cornish-born politics lecturer at the University of Huddersfield has begun research into the role played by author, Daphne du Maurier, in defining the inauthentic, yet romantic, vision many people hold of Cornwall.

Dr Pete Woodcock, believes, du Maurier's novels, and subsequent films based on them, such as, Rebecca, Frenchman's Creek and Jamaica Inn, have defined the county for readers and moviegoers alike.

Smugglers moving in the shadows, pirates pillaging the seas and wreckers stood upon rugged cliff tops luring ships to their doom, are all images associated with Cornwall, but, Dr Woodcock says they were largely the creation of a London-born writer who fell in love with the county.

He has recently presented  a paper entitled, 'Representations of Cornishness in the novels of Daphne du Maurier', in which he asks the question as to whether Daphne du Maurier's greatest creation was Cornishness itself?

"In her novels, the cultural view of Cornwall that she presents is quite mythical," he said, "she writes a lot about pirates and wreckers and smugglers and all of this has become resonant with Cornwall.  

"But in reality there were no more pirates or wreckers or smugglers in Cornwall than there were in South Wales ... or anywhere with a coast!" 

Dr Woodcock added that Cornishness as an identity was not discovered, but rather it was created, and that Daphne du Maurier, whose work he thoroughly enjoys, played a key role in the process.

"She was a Londoner, but Cornwall became a place of escape for her as a young woman as she was trying to loosen family ties and make a name as a novelist," he said, "she did this in a family house near Fowey and throughout her life saw Cornwall as an escape from London."

Alongside her popular works of fiction, Daphne du Maurier, also wrote some works of non-fiction about Cornwall and contributed to 'The Cornish Nation', the political party newsletter of 'Mebyon Kernow', which campaigns for self-rule.

He added: "The slight irony about Daphne du Maurier is that in her non-fiction works about Cornwall she always talks about the need for authenticity in tourism.  

"She was quite critical of the revival of the Cornish language and Cornish tartan and things like that, believing that Cornish nationalism should look forward not backward.  

"And yet her talk of wreckers, smugglers and pirates has helped build this inauthentic tourist image that she was railing against!"

He said that there are weaknesses in du Maurier's depiction of Cornishness, but that there are also immense strengths.

He said: "Although her view of Cornwall is as a place of escape – from authority from boredom – it is also quite inclusive.  

"There is no doubt that Cornwall is a place that is loved by people who are not Cornish, and that is one of the strengths of Cornwall and Cornishness."

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6 comments

  • Jonny2010  |  May 03 2013, 12:09PM

    "Dr. Pete Woodcock ready to research Daphne du Maurier's role in creating Cornishness" Utter tripe.

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  • Doitdreckley  |  May 03 2013, 11:40AM

    Cornish identity is not based on pirates and wreckers. There is a long history of romanticising Cornwall. Winston Graham did it in much the same way and Poldark as a TV series contributed a lot to this. Big Ger is right (how often do you hear me say that!!) about Doc Martin doing the same thing and there was also that awful 'comedy' that Dawn French was in. Last and not least is Caroline Quentin and the sick inducing documentary that she inflicts on ITV. The amusing thing is all these right on, post punk, leftie comedy types from the metropolis who love the image of Cornwall that they seek to perpetuate. Some genuine work on the real Cornwall of 2013 would not go amiss.

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  • Big_Ger  |  May 02 2013, 10:09PM

    There's me thinking it was Doc martin who did it!

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  • JnoRemick  |  May 02 2013, 8:44PM

    Wrecker: n. One who collects materials washed ashore, or just possibly flotsam, from a wrecked vessel. Wreckers: n. pl., fictional persons who were reputed to lure ships onto the rocky shore for the purposes of looting the wreck. I mean, which vessel steers *towards* an apparently land-based light. Shipwrecks for the Cornish seafaring folk were always terrible, in the exact meaning of that word, and many Cornishmen risked and lost their lives in efforts to relieve shipwrecked mariners.

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  • Lafrowda  |  May 02 2013, 5:02PM

    Rubbish.

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  • chuckjaeger  |  May 02 2013, 4:56PM

    Du Maurier created Cornishness? Complete rubbish. She may well have contributed or added to the mythology but no more. Cornish was well known for Pirates and Wreckers hundreds of years before Du Maurier turned up. Pirates of Penzance was a global success in the late 1800s has this guy just chosen to dismiss this as evidence? Don't recall seeing anything in popular culture about Wreckers of Port Talbot.

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