The friendship between Foy Quiller-Couch, Daphne du Maurier, Clara, Lady Vyvyan and Oenone Rashleigh at first seems surprising given the difference in their ages (Clara Vyvyan was born in 1885; Foy Quiller-Couch 1899; Daphne du Maurier 1907, and Oenone Rashleigh not until 1915). They also had very different backgrounds. Foy Quiller-Couch was the daughter of Cambridge professor and writer Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and lived the quiet life of a Victorian unmarried daughter at home in Fowey, Cornwall. Daphne du Maurier, daughter of actor/manager Sir Gerald du Maurier and actress Muriel Beaumont, came from a sophisticated, theatrical, largely urban and cosmopolitan background. Clara Coltman Rogers - Lady Vyvyan - was born in Queensland, Australia, qualified as a social worker in London and became a travel writer, undertaking intrepid journeys across the globe. Oenone Rashleigh came from a traditional, long-established, land-owning Cornish county family. This study examines the friendship between the four women, why it endured into their old age and what they had in common, and how their lives reflected a struggle for freedom from parental control and the shackles of convention in their childhoods, towards being independent women in a modern world.
Daphne du Maurier first met Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch in Cambridge in 1926 when the actress Viola Tree, who was touring in The Country Wife, invited her to Cambridge where du Maurier wrote in her diary that:
I had a tremendous time . . . above all having tea in Jesus College with Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, the famous "Q", whose home was in Fowey and who had heard that the family had bought the old Swiss Cottage. . . I returned home elated and full of Cambridge, and immediately went down to the Hampstead library to borrow "Q"'s Studies in English Literature. "I hope we get to know him well when we go down to Fowey, but he's probably a very retiring man". Dear Sir Arthur. How he would have chuckled had he seen the entry (du Maurier, D., 2004a, pp. 105-6).
According to Margaret Forster in her biography of Daphne du Maurier it was J.M. Barrie, a great friend of Q and his family and 'Uncle Jim' to the du Maurier children, who first introduced the du Mauriers to Q. Forster writes:
Daphne had met few intellectuals in her life and was from the first greatly in awe of this eminent scholar, who had also written a vast amount of fiction, verse and literary journalism, not to mention having edited in 1900 the first Oxford Book of English Verse. She had read "Q"s Troy Town, a novel about a barely disguised Fowey, and also On the Art of Writing, one of "Q"s influential volumes of lectures. "Q" was a Victorian, strictly conventional, holding the highest possible standards and wanting to see any aspiring writer hold them too. To "Q", language was more important than content and language "should be kept noble". . . "Q" put ideas of excellence into her head which she was almost afraid to think about and made her re-examine what she had already written with some natural anxiety (Forster, 1994, pp. 48-49).
Once the old boathouse at Bodinnick known as 'Swiss Cottage' had been transformed by Daphne du Maurier's mother into a comfortable house and re-named 'Ferryside', the family spent more time there. Daphne had been enchanted by the place from her first sight of it:
Here was the freedom I desired, long sought-for, not yet known. Freedom to write, to walk, to wander, freedom to climb hills, to pull a boat, to be alone. It could not be mere chance that brought us to the ferry, and the bottom of Bodinnick hill, and so to the board upon the gate beyond that said "For Sale". I remembered a line from a forgotten book, where a lover looks for the first time upon his chosen one – "I for this, and this for me" (du Maurier, D., 2004a, pp. 102-103).
After the first family holiday at Ferryside, Daphne was left alone for the first time in her life and relished the freedom to do as she pleased and dress in comfortable old clothes. Very quickly, she got to know people in the village and renewed her acquaintance with Q:
I was careful, though, to wash and change the following Sunday, when invited to tea with the Quiller-Couches at their house, the Haven, in Fowey. I had no desire to cut a shabby figure before the great man and his family. Lady "Q", their daughter Foy, an aunt, an old friend Mr Phelps and a retired parson were there and we all sat down to a big tea in the dining-room. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and liked Foy immensely. She loves the sea just as I do, and there was plenty to talk about. I stayed on after the others had gone. They belong here if anyone does, and are Cornish to the last drop of their blood (du Maurier, D., 2004a, p. 128).
That Sunday tea was the first of many such occasions, and the beginning of a lifelong friendship between Daphne and Foy.
The writer Oriel Malet, (Lady Auriel Vaughan), whose friendship with Daphne du Maurier began in the 1950s, described Q as 'what Katherine Mansfield would have called a Pa-man; kindly, genial, always ready to give advice to young writers' (Malet, O. in du Maurier D., 1992). Daphne and Foy both had close and affectionate relationships with their fathers but both men were, in their different ways, authoritative parents who sought to keep their daughters in a state of innocence and dependence, however indulgent towards them they were otherwise. When she reached young womanhood, however, Daphne found Gerald du Maurier's attitude stifling. As his daughters reached adolescence, he became increasingly jealous and possessive, and was both furious and miserable every time Daphne, especially, was invited out by a young man:
She [Daphne] bitterly resented both her father's desire to know absolutely everything about her private life and also his unpleasant insinuations as to her supposed behaviour. There was nothing amusing or sweet about Gerald's jealousy, which was ugly and ridiculous. Waiting for his daughters to come home he could work himself up into such a lather of rage that he would hurl at them quite shocking accusations which they hardly understood. This was a different father from the one they had always known, the father who had always been such fun and so kind, who had endlessly entertained and educated them with such infinite patience. They hardly recognized him in this man who was now so unreasonable and shouted. Angela, the most innocent of girls, was once accused of being a whore, and when she had pains in her stomach, from what turned out to be appendicitis, was suspected of being pregnant (Forster, 1994, pp. 46-47).
Gerald du Maurier, himself, was unfaithful and sexually profligate; his affairs with young actresses were legion and widely known and Daphne's resentment was partly due to his hypocrisy. Q, by contrast, lived according to an extremely exacting and chivalrous moral code. He was always kind, courteous and gentle towards his wife and daughter but demanded from Foy high standards of behaviour. A.L. Rowse in his biography of Q writes:
Life cannot always have been easy with such a perfectionist, such exacting standards. It must have been inhibiting for Foy, brought up in subjection to them and accepting them – she once mentioned to me the standards expected of her. She never married, but lived at home with her mother, both of them attending upon his every wish and whim – including answering letters (Rowse, 1988, p.223).
Born in 1861, Q was a Victorian, and he retained the patriarchal attitude of his era towards women. Foy was brought up as Q's sisters had been, and as any Victorian girl of her class would have been: expected to live at home with her parents until she left the parental home upon her marriage. Clara Vyvyan, born fourteen years earlier than her friend Foy, in her book Coloured Pebbles, writes of her aunts who were forced to pool their income and live together, in spite of differing characters and habits:
Poverty drove those five women to live huddled together in a small house, girls of their own class did not go out into the world to earn a living. It was not "the thing" for a girl to have a career or even a paid job. "The thing" for which they all waited, was, of course marriage (Vyvyan, 1965, p.116).
As an adolescent Clara Rogers, as she was then, suffered intensely from the constant supervision and scrutiny to which she was subjected at home. She was born in Queensland, Australia, on the family's cattle station but when she was two years old her father retired from active involvement and Clara was brought up at Burncoose Lodge, Gwennap, Cornwall. Her mother was a Williams, and the family owned large estates at Burncoose and elsewhere in Cornwall. Unlike Daphne and Foy's, her parents were distant figures during her childhood, which was mostly spent in the company of her sister and their governess. In her autobiography, Roots and Stars, she recalls:
...walking between a cold governess and a well-behaved sister, on one monotonous walk after another, with only a faint hope that life would one day open out into something different. . . From the age of eight to sixteen the thought of physical freedom, so persistently denied to us by the governess, was my bright particular star (Vyvyan, 1962, p.11)
Clara lived for the school holidays when her brothers came home, and the governess was absent, so the children were allowed to play and roam with unaccustomed freedom. She also achieved escape of a sort when she was sent to school in London for two years at the age of sixteen, and was able to make congenial friends of her own age and broaden her horizons. After school, however, she returned home to the life of an unmarried daughter under the control of her parents: 'It was escaping from the boundaries of happy school life into a freedom that was not freedom' (Vyvyan, 1962).
Clara's elder sister was more suited to the life which Clara found aimless and pointless: 'she attended dairy and cookery classes, reared turkeys and fashioned many of her own clothes'.
Clara sought solitude in long walks but:
...as this would have been regarded as peculiar, unless I had some avowed purpose, I made much of my search for wild flowers. How this pretext served in winter I do not remember, but I think I must have replaced the flowers by birds (Vyvyan, 1962, p.33).
Otherwise, her late teens and early twenties were spent in a round of local social events and dances, visiting relatives, to whom she and her siblings were regularly dispatched, enlivened by travel abroad with the family. In other words, the typical life of a young upper-class girl.
Clara Vyvyan and Oenone Rashleigh in fact came from very similar backgrounds. Both had been born in then British colonies, Clara in Australia and Oenone in India, where her father, William Stuart Rashleigh was at that time a railway engineer. She was five years old when the family returned to Cornwall. Both their families, according to Kevin Cahill in Who Owns Britain (p.231) had been significant landowners in Cornwall for centuries. In the 1872 Return of Owners of Land Jonathan Rashleigh of Menabilly (which Daphne du Maurier eventually made her home) came top of the list with 30,156 acres in Cornwall - more than either the Church of England or the Duchy of Cornwall, the major institutional landowners.
Clara's mother was a Williams and her father Edward Powys Rogers was one of the Coltman Rogers family of Stanage Park, Powys in Wales. The Williams family owned estates at Burncoose, Grampound, Tredea and Scorrier and in 1854 bought Caerhays Castle, a former possession of the Arundells and then the Trevanions.
The Rashleighs were originally merchants from Devon and the Williams made their fortune in the mining and smelting industries. Clara's mother, Charlotte, was born at Truro in 1868. Her grandfather, Humphrey Williams, was described at the time of the 1871 census as a copper merchant and banker and lived at Carnanton House, Mawgan-in Pydar where Charlotte was staying at that time. He kept a large staff which included a butler, coachman, footman, housekeeper, two ladies maids, two housemaids, cook, dairymaid, kitchenmaid, and groom. Charlotte Williams' background explains her obsession, when Clara Vyvyan was growing up, with people's origins. Even after she had left school, Clara's friendships were closely scrutinised and she was only permitted to visit those whom her mother had vetted and approved but her mother's concerns were with their pedigrees rather than their morals.
Clara did not marry until 1929, when she was forty-four and was subject until then to her mother's control, because largely dependent on her for her income. In 1926, when Clara and her friend Gwen Dorrien Smith, both then in their forties, were planning their trip to the Arctic, it was only made possible after Clara's mother's consent had been granted and she allowed Clara to realize a hundred pounds worth of shares from a trust fund to fund the trip (Vyvyan, 1961, p.15). Gwen's parents were both dead and she was her own mistress.
Clara's mother rather despaired of her finding an eligible suitor. Clara wrote:
...the few men in whom I was interested were regarded as freaks because they were not addicted to hunting and shooting. One of them was terribly serious and another wrote fairy- tales with great intensity before he disappeared into a lunatic asylum (Vyvyan, 1962, p.35).
In the second of her autobiographies, Journey up the Years, Clara wrote of her agonies when one of her 'literary' friends was invited to lunch. He arrived early, wheeling a bicycle, not wearing a tie and with the top button of his shirt undone, at a time when dress was far more formal. Clara had a talk with him in private before luncheon, which ranged widely 'among mutual book friends' and touched, amongst other things on the subject of incest:
...as one o'clock drew near, I felt more and more apprehensive, for my instincts told me that neither incest nor Plotinus would be suitable as luncheon-table topics for my mother. Indeed I had a most anxious time during that meal, steering our guest from unsuitable subjects . . . My mother was convinced that I had developed a lamentable habit of "taking up" with peculiar people (Vyvyan, 1966, pp.12-13).
Another such friend was known by Clara as the 'Recluse': 'she fed on fruit and nuts and bread made from stone-ground flour, read books in seven languages, regulated her sleeping hours by the stars and looked rather like a scarecrow' (Vyvyan, 1966, p. 14), so definitely qualified as peculiar according to Clara's mother. However, the 'Recluse' had a saving grace. Clara's mother was 'an ardent gardener' and said of the 'Recluse', 'Your friend is very superlative but she knows her plants'. All her life Clara was to be attracted to independent and eccentric people.
However, by the time Clara was well into her twenties, her mother was induced to loosen the reins. Instead of accompanying the family on another trip to Queensland, Clara was allowed to have her way and join one of her erstwhile schoolfriends working in the slums of London:
I wanted to go to the Women's University Settlement for the student's course of three terms. My mother, however, insisted that I should live in some place recommended by a clergyman and after various enquiries a 'Hostel for Ladies' was found in Pimlico. Then it was decided I should work, to begin with, for the Charity Organization Society. My mother had heard of the C.O.S. as a very respectable corporation that did not dispense money without making adequate enquiries.
She was terrified of independence for her offspring. I always felt that she regarded independence as the first step on the downward path taken by those who became "fallen women". At any rate . . . I had taken the first step towards freedom and my days were no longer aimless (Vyvyan, 1962, p.93).
Later, the family's opposition crumbled and Clara was allowed to join the Women's University Settlement and began a year's training in social work, attending lectures at the London School of Economics under Professor Urwick. Having found in her work for the W.U.S. 'not only happiness but freedom of body, mind and spirit', Clara was horrified to learn that her elder sister was to be married and that she would be expected to take her place as the daughter at home. Money was the issue. Clara had only a small income of her own. However, the Warden of the W.U.S. solved her problems by inventing a small paid job for Clara, which enabled her to continue with her social work.
In daily life at the W.U.S. I found expression for some primal need, expression denied to most girls of my class and generation who were expected to live at home in aimless fashion. They lived in an atmosphere where hobbies and interests were allowed only if they were not pursued with too much enthusiasm, where the satisfaction of creative instincts were not encouraged because artists, actors, and writers were apt to be peculiar people and peculiarity was a vice; as for a vocation, it was "not the thing". The word marriage was not often used but we knew that it would be the only vocation to receive parental approval' (Vyvyan, 1962, p.111).
Everything changed with the death of Clara's younger sister, followed a few months later by the outbreak of the First World War. Clara was in Germany with her family when it became apparent that war was imminent, and there was a mad scramble to get home via Switzerland and France. When they reached home it was to find that her brother, Harry, had already sailed for the Pacific on HMS Monmouth. Ten weeks later, on 1st November 1914, the Monmouth was sunk with all hands at the Battle of Coronel, off the Chilean coast.
Clara attended a course of Red Cross lectures, and then worked in the laundry of an army convalescent home before going to Rouen to do canteen work, as did May Wedderburn Cannan, Bevil Quiller-Couch's fiancée. Bevil was Foy's older brother, Q's only son, who came through the war with distinction, only to succumb to the Spanish 'flu from which he died in 1919. Rouen was used as a supply base and several military hospitals were established there. May Wedderburn Cannan's poem Rouen was included in the Oxford Book of Twentieth Century Verse (1973) by Philip Larkin. It was in Rouen that Clara first met her future husband, Sir Courtenay Vyvyan of Trelowarren:
Twice my friend took me out to lunch with a friend of hers, an elderly Colonel; the first day he gave us an epicurean feast at the hotel where he was quartered and on the second occasion he took us down the river in a steam-boat; the luncheon basket was filled with every luxury. He had an old-world courtesy and treated us both as if we were princesses (Vyvyan, 1962, p.117).
However, it was to be more than ten years before they met again.
Clara had several different postings, including working in Holland under the Society of Friends helping at a camp where Belgians were interned. Her war work was constantly interrupted by various demands from her family to return home, and she was not allowed to accept long-term postings, in spite of being aged nearly thirty at the outbreak of war.
Another form of mental escape for Clara was in reading, although even in this she was subject to parental supervision:
Among other books that I read, instinctively in secret, were the works of Zola and Voltaire. In the winter we were each allowed a bedroom fire once a week, not, of course, for our own warmth and comfort, but in order to air the room. This enabled me to burn La Bête Humaine and also Candide, leaf by leaf, as soon as they were read, lest they should fall under my mother's eye. I had no wish to preserve that Zola for re-perusal but I did regret parting with Candide, for Voltaire had kindled in me a responsive flame. However I cut out the last page that contained the wisdom of Pangloss in a nutshell: "Il faut cultiver nôtre jardin". The page was kept safely in my bible for many years (Vyvyan, 1962, p.39).
All four of the friends read widely and eclectically, but this was because they were largely self-motivated to do so. Oenone Rashleigh, being younger, may have been sent to school at an early age, although the only hint as to her education is contained in the notes she made recalling Walter Frere, Bishop of Truro, who was a much loved visitor in her youth. Oenone recalls that when she was practising her scales before breakfast, the Bishop would come downstairs to encourage her (Cornwall County Archive 1063/14) which seems to indicate that she was educated at home. She certainly learned French, and was an invaluable help in Clara's expeditions. Foy and Daphne, like Clara, had their early education at home from governesses.
Daphne and her sisters went to school in Hampstead briefly – Miss Tullock's of Oak Park Hill – but were removed during the war, mainly because it was mooted that the girls wear a school uniform, to which Daphne's mother objected. Daphne enjoyed her spell at school and entered a class short story competition, in which it was ruled that she had written the best story but with the worst handwriting and spelling, so the prize was awarded to another girl. Daphne was fortunate in that her patchy education was taken in hand by another governess, Miss Waddell, "Tod", who was an inspiring teacher and who later taught Daphne's own children. Tod encouraged Daphne to read widely and at sixteen Daphne was sent to boarding school in Paris, to be "finished" and perfect her French.
Jane Dunn in her biography Daphne du Maurier and her Sisters, writes:
The girls were not educated in science and barely any mathematics, but their French was passable. They were keen readers, could play the piano, and knew how to behave in polite society; like well-bred girls of their time and class they were being schooled to become good wives to well-bred men who were wealthy enough to keep them in style (Dunn, 2013, p.54).
Oriel Malet, who met Foy Quiller-Couch several times whilst staying with Daphne du Maurier, writes:
In spite of being so famous an author and essayist, and Professor of Literature at Cambridge University, "Q" seems to have had some odd ideas on the subject of education. He considered it necessary only for his son, while his daughter Foy, who had even greater intellectual gifts, was never sent to school and left virtually uneducated (Malet, 1992, p.14).
When Daphne du Maurier's daughter, Flavia, was due to sit the common entrance exam for entry to St Mary's School, she did so from home, and Foy was asked by Daphne if she would be the necessary invigilator, as she was a J.P. at the time and considered a suitable person for the task. In her memoir, Flavia Leng, as she became, writes:
Foy Quiller-Couch, the daughter of the writer 'Q', was asked if she would come and oversee while I sat the paper. She was a J P and thought a sensible person for there were strict rules about this. Foy was a good friend of Bing [Daphne] and we had all had a great time with Foy. At one time she had had a pony and jingle and we used to go on outings in this pony cart, and had even harnessed Joey [Flavia's pony] to it.
The day of the exam arrived and Foy and I sat in the playroom, she at one end of the room and I at a desk near the door. There were very strict instructions that on no account must there be any talking. The first paper was English grammar. Tod and I had slogged at this for the last few weeks, having rather neglected the subject of late in favour of English literature. I struggled manfully and was able to finish within the allotted time. Foy then handed me the maths paper. Since the dreaded Miss R, the schoolmistress who had taught us privately during the war, I had developed an absolute blind spot in this subject, and Tod had at first slaved away, trying to din something into me. Alas, it was like hitting a brick wall. She finally gave up the unequal struggle and we did more history instead. The maths paper might as well have been Chinese. I could not make head nor tail of it. Foy, glancing at me from time to time, became agitated that I was not writing at all. I raised my hands in mock despair and she came over and looked at the paper. Her eyebrows shot up and she took the paper over to the window to get a better look. Although the daughter of a very brilliant writer and scholar, Foy had had to teach herself to read and write and was not au fait with the world of mathematics. If the paper was Chinese to me, it was double-Dutch to her. She broke the silence. 'I think there must be some mistake here,' she said.'The questions make no sense at all. I think you should write a short note telling them that the paper is complete nonsense.' So we composed a brief letter to the examiners telling them just that.
Bing and Tod were anxious to know how I had got on, but Foy told me not to say very much, so at lunch I was very quiet. They did demand to look at the questions and I saw Tod's face fall as she studied them. "Well, Flave darling, we can only go on hoping." I was very relieved to hear Bing say that she didn't understand one single word of the maths. "Total blank there." she laughed (Leng, 1994, pp. 175-176).
Flavia didn't get into St Mary's that time although she was accepted at a later date.
It was not true that Foy Quiller-Couch had had to teach herself to read and write, as census records show that a governess was employed for both Bevil, before he went to school aged about thirteen, and Foy who was nine years younger. Q himself said, in Memories and Opinions, that he disliked mathematics referring to arithmetic as 'my life-long abhorrence' (p.12) and he probably didn't consider it necessary for his daughter to be grounded in the subject. As previously stated Q was born in 1861 and so was a mid-Victorian. In his youth, the education of girls was seen as a domestic concern and for girls of a certain class there was a prejudice against sending daughters away to school, although older girls might attend a school for a couple of years at the end of their education, and this attitude persisted into the twentieth century. His daughter, as had his sisters, had the benefit of her father's extensive library and no doubt Q regarded this, plus early teaching from a governess, sufficient for a girl whose place would be at home with her mother until she married. There is no indication that Foy was unhappy with her lot, a reply to a letter written to her by Gerry Hones in 1972, by which time she was living at Lanhydrock, reads: 'My home life at Fowey was so happy that I look back on my connections with "that dearest of small cities", as my father used to call it, with pleasure'.
Q's reputation for being opposed to the education of women was undeserved. Muriel Brittain, when showing the American Helene Hanff, author of 84 Charing Cross Road, round Q's old rooms at Cambridge, hotly refuted the idea, saying:
That's all nonsense, I don't know who started that story! He was as kind and generous to women undergraduates as he was to everyone else (Hanff, 1986, p.107).
Q himself was wryly humorous about the dangers of misrepresentation through giving interviews. In the entry for January in From a Cornish Window, when he had been interviewed by a journalist who did most of the talking himself. Q said:
It amused me, some while after, to read the interview and learn that I had done the talking and uttered a number of trenchant sayings upon female novelists. But the amusement changed to dismay when the ladies began to retort (Quiller-Couch, 1906, p. 17).
And after a spoof article in the Speaker on 'Nooks of Old London: The Westminster Scutorium' had rebounded on him, and complaints from indignant persons who had searched in vain for the mythical 'scutorium' poured in, Q's advice to aspiring journalists in the April section of From a Cornish Window was 'Avoid irony as you would the plague' (Quiller-Couch, 1906, p.105).
Had Foy shown any particular bent for academic life, no doubt Q would have encouraged it as he certainly did her other interests. Although Q was very particular as to punctuality and domestic arrangements, even after the death of both her parents Foy continued to observe the standards Q had set and there is no evidence that she felt any resentment either about Q's exigency or the somewhat restricted life she led. In the 1950s, Oriel Malet was first introduced to Foy by Daphne du Maurier. In Letters from Menabilly, she writes:
One day in Fowey, we ran into a severe, upright figure, wearing a round straw hat and gloves, and clasping an umbrella, which set her immediately apart from the summer holiday crowds in jeans and sandals. "There's Foy Quiller-Couch," Daphne whispered hastily. I could hardly believe it.
We were invited to tea at The Haven; a real Cornish tea, laid in the dining-room round a solid, well-polished mahogany table, and one knew at once that the house had never changed to meet the outside world. Daphne warned me in advance that it was necessary to be on one's best behaviour at the Haven, and almost to curtsey before speaking; to me, Foy's craggy, weatherbeaten face bore a distinct resemblance to the Red Queen's! Unpunctuality had never been condoned at The Haven in "Q's" day, still less in Foy's, who revered her father's memory and kept strictly to all the old ways. Daphne swore that when Foy's nephew [actually her young cousin] came back late for lunch after sailing in the summer holidays, no dish that had been removed from the table was ever allowed to be brought back again.
All went well, however, and I liked Foy. Her dry, abrupt manner hid a kind heart, and I suspect a lonely one.
Gerry Hones, who met Foy when he was a child, in his reminiscences of the Quiller-Couches, said that:
When I was a boy I saw "Miss Foy" as a somewhat formal lady – courteous but always a little "distant", not easy for a youngster to know. I would say that she had little contact with children and did not find it easy to relate to them (Hones, undated, www.arthurquillercouch.com).
That Foy was kind hearted was borne out by Clara Vyvyan in Down the Rhône on Foot. Clara had originally planned this trip with another friend who was unable to go at the last minute. Clara's friends Daphne and Foy came to the rescue. Daphne arranged to accompany her for the first leg of trip and Foy was to join Clara later, bringing Oenone Johnson:
A few days later [after hearing from Daphne] another piece of good fortune befell me. Foy had cut free from her August entanglements and would join me anywhere for a fortnight, bringing Oenone as a third companion. I hardly knew Oenone but Foy informed me she was a "winner".' Had she not travelled in Mexico and Venezuela? Had she not been leader in their jingle pony club, touring Cornwall on two wheels, sleeping out anywhere and everywhere? This was all grand equipment for the Rhône enterprise, so Foy assured me; and her assurances are never doubted. Most important, to my mind, was the fact that being a near friend and neighbour she could play watchdog in the weeks ahead and see that Foy did not get entangled again by sick friends, lonely acquaintances or importunate strangers (Vyvyan, 1955).
After Foy had been obliged to return home, Oenone stayed on with Clara in the Rhône trip as long as she was able and became one of Clara's circle of close friends, joining her on other expeditions. Eleven years later they revisited the glacier in Switzerland which was the source of the Rhône together, but this time with Oenone driving, instead of them being on foot. Oenone was another reader:
To cheer each other Oenone and I began playing at quotations again. "The shades of night were falling fast," I began and Oenone recited the whole of "Excelsior". Then she remarked "I cannot see what flowers are at my feet" and I answered like an echo "Nor what soft incense. Hangs upon the bough" and so on, with scraps from Omar Khayyâm, Shelley, Matthew Arnold and many another that had become wedged in our minds (Vyvyan, 1966, p.161).
The old saying of the man to whom nothing human was alien is only a partial description of Oenone, for her interests did not range only among human beings, they included comets and tadpoles, books, rocks, flowers and Extrasensory Perception (Vyvyan, 1966, p.180).
Foy had known Oenone for years. Oenone's grandfather was Evelyn Rashleigh, a younger son of a previous owner of Menabilly. In the early years of the twentieth century, he and his family lived at Kilmarth, the former dower house, which Daphne du Maurier was to occupy when her lease of Menabilly ran out. Dr Jonathan Rashleigh was the owner of Menabilly when the du Mauriers first bought their house at Bodinnick-'Ferryside'-and Oenone's father, William Stuart Rashleigh was his heir. Dr Rashleigh was well known to Q and his family: they were all involved in local affairs and Dr Rashleigh was one of the vice-presidents of the Fowey Nursing Association; Lady Quiller-Couch was another. In about 1933, when Oenone Rashleigh was about eighteen, living at the family estate at Stoketon, Saltash, she and Foy, with one or two like-minded friends formed the 'Jingle Club'. They explored the countryside during the spring and autumn in 'jingles' – two-wheeled pony and traps – staying at farmhouses. A long article about the 'Jingle Club' appeared in the Western Morning News on 29 December 1938, accompanied by a photo of Foy and Oenone, who was the spokes-person for the interview, Foy demonstrating her normal reticence on the occasion. A photograph in Margaret Forster's biography of Daphne du Maurier shows Foy and three Rashleigh sisters (Oenone, Morwenna and Jennifer) together with Foy's cousin Betty Symondson, Anna Hanson of Tredudwell House, Fowey and another young woman, Jenny Porter, on one of the Jingle Club excursions. The photograph was probably taken by Daphne.
Foy stuck to her 'jingle' throughout her life, refusing to move with the times. In the final chapter of Journey up the Years, Clara Vyvyan sums up her greatest friends. Foy (referred to by her middle name 'Felicia'):
...is still living in a Victorian dream, regretting lost leisure and slow pace, hating mechanical efficiency, driving her pony on main roads regardless of the white line and overtaking traffic (Vyvyan, 1966, p.176).
In a letter from Q to Oenone dated July 1943, in the early years of her first marriage (to Air-Commodore Arthur Forbes-Johnson), he refers to their long acquaintance, addressing her as 'My dear Oenone', and going on to say 'I hope an old friend may use the Christian name by which he must always think of you.'
The letter was to thank her for the gift of a box of Mazzards, a type of wild cherry, once common, particularly in the West Country, but now very rare, and is typical of Q's gentle humour:
To this knighted household they come as a discovery – Lady Q remembering that she had over-eaten them once in her childhood, before I came along to teach her manners, but to me the joy was to recognize the old flavour and be minded of the first week home from school for the summer holidays when the last of the summers crops on sale in Bodmin Market. Foy, I believe, is getting a few grafts (Cornwall Records Office ref: 1063/1)
The history and estates of Oenone Rashleigh's family were to have an irresistible fascination for Daphne and featured largely in her writing. The Quiller-Couches knew everybody and everywhere and she gleaned a great deal of information from those early Sunday suppers at The Haven about local people and places.
Her first Cornish novel, however, was inspired by her boatman's family. In her early days in Cornwall, Daphne was very much attracted to the idea of sculling about in boats and learning to sail. Her father had already bought a motor launch, the Cora Ann, in London and had it sent down to Cornwall and engaged a boatman, Adams, a veteran of Jutland. Gerald's own enthusiasm was short-lived and the Quiller-Couches suggested to Daphne that she should have a sailing-boat instead of a motor-launch. 'In fact, Adams was making enquiries locally and further down the coast, and had heard of a boat known as a quay-punt lying at St Mawes which was for sale. The "Qs" even knew the owner' (Du Maurier, D., 2004a, p.129). Foy Quiller-Couch had sailed from a child with her father and brother and regularly competed in regattas in her boats Jigsaw and Emerald, and in 1926 was the heroine of the dramatic rescue of three mariners in difficulties, which was even reported in the foreign press-A.L. Rowse read about it while he was in Paris. Q was Commodore of the Fowey Yacht Club from 1911 until his death in 1944, when he was succeeded by Daphne's husband: by that time Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Browning.
In the end, the owner of the boat which Daphne wanted decided not to sell but Adams came with an offer from his brother-in-law, Ernest Slade, to build a similar craft at their boatyard for the same price Daphne had offered for the other. It was the Slade family history which inspired her first novel The Loving Spirit. The Slades gave Daphne a box of old papers and letters; Ernest Slade wrote out genealogical details from the family bible and the Slades also offered her the figurehead of the Jane Slade for Ferryside, which had so intrigued her when she first saw the wreck of the old schooner.
Local people took an interest in the project. For Part Three which related to the third generation of the family, Daphne wished for a decent history book for reference:
Word got round through Miss Roberts [with whom Daphne boarded when she was alone at Fowey], and two days later Richard Bunt from Lamellon "up the hill and across the fields" arrived with an armful of volumes, profusely detailed and illustrated.
Q's typist, Mrs Smith, prepared the manuscript for her:
I felt awkward giving it to her, thinking of all the faults and mistakes, the lame style, the somewhat indelicate expressions used from time to time. I shan't look her in the eyes after she has read it (Du Maurier, 2004a, p.179).
Daphne need not have worried. Mrs Smith delivered the first part and told Daphne that she found it so interesting that she could hardly wait to read the second part. It was also The Loving Spirit which was to lead to Daphne meeting her future husband, Major Frederick 'Tommy' (or 'Boy') Browning, who had read and liked the book and wanted to meet the author.
Daphne's obsession with the Rashleigh seat, Menabilly, began from her early days at Ferryside. The roof was just visible amongst the trees on the Gribben peninsula.
Yes, Angela and I were told. That would be Menabilly. Belongs to Dr Rashleigh, but he seldom lives there. A magistrate. Comes down from Devon for Petty Sessions once a month
The Quiller-Couches gave further information: they used to visit it for garden parties in its heyday. And I gleaned snatches of family history. There was the lady in blue who looked, so it was said, from a side window, yet few had seen her face. There was the cavalier found beneath a buttress wall more than a hundred years ago. And there were the original sixteenth-century builders, merchants and traders; the Stuart royalists who suffered for their king; the Tory landowners with their white wigs and their broods of children; the Victorian landowners, with their rare plants and shrubs. I saw them all, in my mind's eye, down to the present owner, who could not love his home; and when I thought of him, it was not of an elderly man, a respectable justice of the peace, but of a small boy orphaned at two years old, coming for his holidays in an Eton collar and tight black suit, watching his old grandfather with nervous, doubtful eyes (Du Maurier, D., 2004a, p.140).
Even before she had seen the house, Daphne's imagination was captured. She and her sister Angela tried in vain to find the house, which was well hidden, and on one occasion got hopelessly lost in the grounds. Angela du Maurier recalled the event in her autobiography It's Only The Sister:
Dusk fell and we realised we were lost in a veritable jungle of tropical trees, shrubs and "bush" . . . We knew that many people said that Menabilly was haunted, and by now I was convinced that local superstition had not lied (Du Maurier, A., 2003, pp.140-41).
And when, on a subsequent occasion they found the house by approaching by car from the carriage drive: 'Curiously, I remember I was not only disappointed but frightened by it' (Du Maurier, A., 2003, pp. 140-141).
However, Daphne was entranced. The house was dilapidated and smothered in ivy and the small-paned windows had been replaced by plate-glass and an ugly wing built on the north side but:
...with all her faults she had a grace and charm that made me hers upon the instant. She was, or so it seemed to me, bathed in a strange mystery. She held a secret – not one, not two, but many – that she withheld from most people but would give to one who loved her well . . . "The place has taken hold of me," I wrote in the diary. "I must go back there next time I come down" (Du Maurier, D., 2004a, p.142)
On a later visit Daphne went alone, peering into the room, once a library but now used for lumber, where a blind had been pulled back:
...in the centre of it stood a great dappled rocking-horse with scarlet nostrils. What little blue-sashed children had once bestrode his back? Where was the laughter gone? Where were the voices that had called along the passages? I could not know that in fourteen years' time, married, with three children, it was their voices I should hear calling through the house, that my own furniture would fill the rooms, and that all this would somehow be a sequel to a novel I should write in 1937-8 and call Rebecca – Menabilly itself fusing with the childhood memory of Milton (Du Maurier, D., 2004a, p.153).
Milton, near Peterborough, was the home of the Fitzwilliams. Daphne had stayed there as a child and the house had made a great impression on her but it was altogether much grander than Menabilly. In The Rebecca Notebook and Other Memories, Daphne recalls living in Alexandria where Tommy Browning had been posted, and being homesick for Cornwall:
I think I put a brave face on the situation and went to the various cocktail parties which we were obliged to attend, but all I really wanted to do was write, and to write a novel set in my beloved Cornwall. This novel would not be a tale of smugglers and wreckers of the nineteenth century, like Jamaica Inn, but would be set in the present day, say the mid- twenties, and it would be about a young wife and her slightly older husband, living in a beautiful house that had been in his family for generations. There were many such houses in Cornwall: my friend Foy Quiller-Couch, daughter of the famous 'Q' with whom I first visited Jamaica Inn, had taken me to some of them. Houses with extensive grounds, with woods, near to the sea . . . my Cornish house would be empty, neglected, its owner absent more like – yes, very like – the Menabilly, near Fowey . . . And surely the Quiller-Couches had told me that the owner had been married first to a very beautiful wife, whom he had divorced, and had married again a much younger woman? (Du Maurier, 2004b, pp. 4-5).
That famous first sentence 'Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again' was written in Eygpt, not Cornwall, but it was the great success of Jamaica Inn, Rebecca and Frenchman's Creek which enabled Daphne to realize a dream and eventually live at Menabilly. Daphne's obsession with the house in the early years led her to visit it whenever she was in Cornwall, even to the extent of climbing in through a broken back window and exploring with a torch:
The Quiller-Couches suggested I should write to the owner of Menabilly, Dr Rashleigh, and ask permission to wander in the grounds, which I did, though I discreetly refrained from climbing in through a back window when permission was granted. In November, Foy Quiller-Couch and I went on another riding expedition, this time to Bodmin moors, putting up at the wayside hostelry, Jamaica Inn. It was my first sight of a place that would grip my imagination almost as much as Menabilly (Du Maurier, 2004a, p.184).
Daphne described her adventure with Foy, quoting from her diary:
In the afternoon we ventured out across the moors . . . desolate, sinister, and foolishly lost our way. To our horror rain and darkness fell upon us, and there we were, exposed to the violence of the night with scarcely a hope of returning. Struck what we thought was a farm, but it was only a derelict barn. I was for staying but Foy said we would catch our death. Blindly, helplessly, we let the reins lie loosely on the necks of the horses, and they led us back in the direction from which we had come, and by a miracle we saw in the distance the light from Jamaica Inn (Du Maurier, 2004a, p.185).
Daphne must have had this expedition in mind when she wrote the opening chapter of Jamaica Inn: Mary Yellan arrives at the inn in darkness in November, in driving wind and rain, although there are no welcoming lights; only her sinister uncle Joss Merlyn with a lantern.
Mary Yellan comes from Helford: a gentle country of 'shining waters. . . green hills, and sloping valleys . . . many trees and . . .lush grass' (Du Maurier, D., 1935, p. 8). It was also where Clara Vyvyan lived with her husband at Trelowarren. Foy and Daphne had made expeditions to the Helford river in a pony and jingle and taken a tent in 1931. Clara showed Daphne Frenchman's Creek, which Daphne later used as the title of her book, published in 1941, the location for which had been partly inspired by Trelowarren. The title was not original:
"Q" had used it many years before in one of his short stories, and graciously gave me permission to use it again, saying, if I remember rightly, that he looked forward to seeing what I had made of it, while adding a laughing though very genuine warning that "no critic would ever forgive me for the success of Rebecca". Truly a prophet! (Du Maurier, 2004a, p.170).
One of the characters in the novel is called Philip Rashleigh, whose ship moored at Fowey is captured by Dona and the French pirate with whom she falls in love.
It was on the Helford River, at Frenchman's Creek, where Major Tommy Browning and Daphne had their honeymoon aboard his boat Ygdrasil in July 1932, after a private wedding at Lanteglos church where Jane Slade, who inspired The Loving Spirit, was buried. At the harbour when they set off: 'The Quiller-Couches, in their rowing boat, hailed us, and presented us with a bottle of their home-brewed sloe gin'.
At the beginning of the Second World War Daphne was at Hythe in Kent, with her husband, when she heard from her sister Angela that there was to be a sale at Menabilly: all the contents sold and the house left to fall to bits. In 1943, living in Cornwall again with her three children, Daphne re-visited Menabilly, which was by that time in a dreadful state:
The house was stripped and bare. Dirty paper on the floor. Great fungus growths from the ceiling. Moisture everywhere. Death and decay. I could scarcely see the soul of her for despair. The mould was in her bones (Du Maurier, 2004b, p. 142).
Without much hope, Daphne instructed her solicitor to write to the owner asking him to let the house (which was entailed and could not be sold) to her for a term of years. To her surprise Dr Rashleigh agreed. Her husband in Tunis 'told his brother officers "I am afraid Daphne has gone mad"'.
He was not the only one who thought so. Daphne took the house, which had no electricity, no water, no heating, and was riddled with dry rot, on a full repairing lease for twenty years, although at a peppercorn rent. As soon as the lease was signed in August 1943, Daphne moved an army of workmen and cleaners into the place.
The history and refurbishment of Menabilly gave Daphne the inspiration for her Civil War novel The King's General. Foy and Daphne had been told of the thrilling story of the skeleton found at Menabilly when William Rashleigh carried out alterations to the building in 1824, by Oenone's Great-Aunt Alice. In a letter to Oenone, Daphne said:
I so remember your great aunt Alice telling Foy and me the story and she was very annoyed with the Rashleigh who discovered the place for bricking it up again but she said it was probably done because of servants' gossip. . .I long to discover the place. I remember her saying there were supposed to be little stairs leading down to the room . . . It surprises me that your grandfather has nothing in his writings about the story, as it seems to be such a well-known family tale, and your great-aunt recounted it in much dramatic fashion, even down to the clothes the cavalier was found in, and the little trencher that was empty on the table in front of him. And how the clothes fluttered to pieces when the air got into the room (Letter ref. 1063/17 Cornwall Records Office).
It was supposed that the cavalier was one of the Grenvilles (who were known to have used the house as a refuge from Parliamentarian troops) who had somehow been forgotten and been unable to escape from the secret room. Daphne asked Oenone to show her father a plan of the buttresses which she had made, one of which was supposed to conceal the entrance, and ask him which he thought it was.
Margaret Forster writes in her biography Daphne du Maurier:
Oenone, who knew her father was, in fact, opposed to the idea, nevertheless helped Daphne as much as possible. She sent her copies of various family letters from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries together with a family tree, copious notes on the different family members, and a résumé of local history in so far as it affected the family. A.L. Rowse who lived nearby, also advised her on which books to consult (he had been introduced to Daphne by the Quiller-Couches two years before and she was greatly impressed) (Forster, 1994, p.190).
Daphne wrote to Oenone when the book was finished:
I return your most helpful note-book with many thanks – I finished the book a week or so ago, and I found I got so interested in the character of Richard Grenville that there is really more about him in the book than the Rashleighs.
I have called it 'The King's General' and you shall have one of the first copies. But owing to paper shortage, it is not likely to be out before the Spring (Ref. 1063/18, Cornwall Records Office).
Martin Shallcross, who became a friend of Daphne's, comments in The Private World of Daphne du Maurier, that:
Publicly, she said many times that she had never seen a ghost; but in private she would confide that the young cavalier stood beside the fireplace in the drawing room and smiled at her. She told people that nothing remained of the seventeenth-century house that Sir Richard Grenville would have known, but in fact the Long Gallery survived as the drawing-room (Shallcross, 1991, p.97).
In My Cousin Rachel, the name of the central character is Philip Ashley rather than Rashleigh but the house with its gardens and path through the woods to the sea was also clearly influenced by Menabilly. The character of Rachel was inspired by a portrait of Rachel Carew, which Daphne had seen hanging in a bedroom at Antony, the home for centuries of the Carews. Cousin Rachel is given the Blue Bedroom and adjoining dressing room by Philip Ashley, which is reminiscent of the guest room and bathroom (once an adjoining room) at Menabilly known as 'Blue Lady' after the story of the lady in blue who was said to be seen looking out of a window there. Oriel Malet slept there:
Alas, I never saw her, although I slept many times in Blue Lady, and always found it a cheerful and welcoming room, with its white painted walls, deep crimson carpet, and chintz curtains . . . All this was friendly enough, but the bathroom which opened out of Blue Lady, and which had once been another bedroom, was another matter. There, even at midday, one sometimes had the distinct impression of being watched (Malet in Du Maurier, D., 1992, p.7).
Daphne managed to renew her lease of Menabilly for a few years, then Oenone's brother Philip Rashleigh finally decided, after much indecision which tried Daphne's patience, that he wanted the house back. Daphne had had her eye on another Rashleigh possession-Kilmarth-for some time. She wrote to Oriel Malet in August 1966:
I'm beginning to be rather torn between both places! It would be fun to have both, and move between the two houses, as my whims increased with my old age (Malet in Du Maurier, D., 1992, p.202).
The previous tenant had been Professor Singer and his wife Dorothea, both medical historians. He was Professor of the History of Science at University College, London and had left some of his equipment at Kilmarth. Daphne told A.L. Rowse that the house had been neglected by the Singers and she was doing it up: 'It was costing the earth' (Rowse, 2003, p. 422). Once again, however, the history of the house and area sparked Daphne's imagination:
I'm getting rather brewified [du Maurier slang for thinking out a story] about Kilmarth in olden days. I've sent for some research books to do with Tywardreath, and I have found a sort of Tell-Him [long-winded] old Research man [Mr Thomas of the Old Cornwall Society] who has suggested other books . . . and then Mr Pascoe the builder found a great well that no-one knew about, in the patio bit at Kilmarth, and I began to get so excited (Du Maurier, D., 1992, p.213).
The result of her 'brewing' and research was The House on the Strand, published in 1969, the year Daphne finally moved into Kilmarth, having completed the building work:
By July, the month The House on the Strand was published, she still felt strange in Kilmarth. It was "not a creepy house" but she felt shivery, even though "I do like it very much". The trouble was that Menabilly haunted her and, when she was down in the little chapel at Kilmarth, she found herself not so much praying as communing with the old house. "It is just like saying good-bye to someone one knows is going to die," she wrote to Foy. "I know this is fanciful, but anyway die as far as I am concerned. And I find myself missing it now the way one misses anyone who has died and whom one loved, but the process of time will adapt one" (Forster, 1994, p.369).
Foy sent Daphne a photo of the Lubbocks, previous occupants of Kilmarth, whom she knew as a child:
There was a little girl with long hair and a serious expression, and two boys in Norfolk jackets looking like E. Nesbit's Bastables, clasping one of the collies. Nothing had changed much, since 1913; there was the front porch, [a later addition which Rowse thought spoiled the classical façade, but which Daphne retained] and the stone steps down to the garden, where the children were seated. Bing [Daphne] dubbed the little girl 'Little Miss Mary,' and insisted that I should write a story around her (Malet, 1992, p.235).
Foy told Daphne all about the Lubbocks and put her in touch with Mary Lubbock, by then Mary Sadler. Mary Sadler had stayed at Kilmarth with her strict grandmother as a child. Foy brought her to lunch with Daphne and the shy little girl of the photo turned out to be a white-haired, beaky nosed elderly lady but the visit was a success, with 'little Miss Mary' exploring and reminiscing. Her collie was called Crib and was buried somewhere in the grounds. There were sixteen dogs buried in the grounds, she said, and there were peacocks called Ruby, Emerald and Jade, and a parrot in the kitchen which screamed 'Bugger!' whenever her grandmother entered the room. She remembered having appendicitis and the doctor coming to operate on her in the room which was now a playroom for Daphne's grandchildren. There was a nurse who rustled her newspaper, making Mary's head ache. Mrs Sadler was staying at Trelowarren with Foy but had a flat in Putney, on the river. Daphne said she looked Peruvian but had been born in San Francisco (Malet, 1992, p.247-8) .
Visiting Menabilly when Daphne's lease was coming to an end and she was in the process of renovating Kilmarth, A.L. Rowse was not impressed:
Daphne was no aesthete, had not much taste . . . no furniture worth noticing . . . with all that money, and all the years there, I'd have made it a treasure house. Daphne had it comfortable and shabby (Rowse, 2003, p.421).
It was what Daphne had wanted, however, not a show place but a family home. A house with a soul. It, and her previous literary successes, also fulfilled what Virginia Woolf said were the two conditions necessary for a woman to become a writer: 'money and a room of one's own.' In 1928, Virginia Woolf delivered a lecture to the female undergraduates of Newnham and Girton Colleges, Cambridge, discussing women writers of fiction and the problems of female inequality in education, income and female suffrage, saying that 'a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction'. Woolf quotes their own Professor of English Literature, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch On The Art of Writing, in which he writes:
...a poor child in England has little more hope than had the son of an Athenian slave to be emancipated into the intellectual freedom of which great writings are born...
Woolf goes on to say that:
...women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time women have had less intellectual freedom than the sons of Athenian slaves. Women, then, have not had a dog's chance of writing poetry. That is why I laid so much stress on money and a room of one's own. However, thanks to the toils of those obscure women in the past of whom I wish we knew more, thanks, curiously enough to two wars, the Crimean which let Florence Nightingale out of her drawing-room, and the European war which opened the doors to the average woman some sixty years later, these evils are in the way to be bettered. Otherwise you would not be here tonight, and your chance of earning five hundred a year [Woolf's own inherited income at the time which gave her financial independence], precarious as I am afraid that still is, would be minute in the extreme (Woolf, 1935, p.161).
Daphne had become the main wage-earner in her marriage and this gave her the opportunity to dictate her own working conditions to a certain extent. She had her 'routes' as she referred to her daily routine: a late breakfast in bed, bath and then down to her hut in the garden to write undisturbed by children, callers or housekeeping worries. She worried about how things would be when Tommy got back after the war and how he would react to having his own separate bedroom. After the war, Tommy Browning became Comptoller of Princess Elizabeth's household, living in London during the week and spending weekends in Cornwall, while Daphne was based at Menabilly with occasional forays to London. It was Daphne who paid Tommy's debts and his extravagances in the way of new boats, but she worried about the effect on their relationship; married women in the fifties were still expected to give up their careers and just become wives and mothers. It was hard for Daphne to shake off the old ideas even though she did not, at bottom, agree with them:
I mean, really, women should not have careers. It's people like me who have careers who really have bitched up the old relationship between men and women. Women ought to be soft and gentle and dependent (Forster, 1994, p.235).
People warned her that if she left Tommy on his own in London, he would be bound to turn to someone else and have an affair, but she defended her own career:
..her career was not only as important to her as Tommy's was to him, but right from the beginning of their marriage it had been financially far, far more lucrative . . . To write she had to have peace and to have peace she had to be at Menabilly (Forster, 1994, p.239).
Tommy's career meant that Daphne was occasionally forced to accompany him to official functions, which she loathed, and even, alarmingly, to entertain royalty at Menabilly.
In 1929, Clara Rogers married Sir Courtenay Vyvyan, in spite of some opposition from her family because he was considerably older: of her father's generation. At forty-four she was old enough to know her own mind and the marriage was a very happy one. Although she still went on short trips, Clara's marriage put paid to her wanderings but she was not discontented. She and her husband had a mutual interest in restoring the gardens at Trelowarren. Sir Courtenay had inherited an estate which had been dilapidated by Sir Richard Vyvyan, the 8th Baronet, and was mortgaged to the hilt. When Clara first lived at Trelowarren, the house of fifty-one rooms had seven indoor servants, four gardeners, two woodmen, two roadmenders, an estate mason and estate carpenter, not to mention those employed at the Home Farm, lodgekeepers and the agent. However:
The Vyvyans had been poor ever since C.'s great-uncle, Sir Richard had spent money like water and had mortgaged property on lives... Gradually we tackled together those enormous mortgages, reducing expenses and selling possessions. We dismissed the chauffer and thereafter I drove the car; we sold farms; we sold land; we sold books and china from the attics where they had gathered dust for many years and certain collector's volumes from the library; we sold some of the pictures and some of the silver and we sold by auction seventy or eighty beautiful copper cooking utensils. Little by little the mortgages were reduced and to watch those figures going down afforded us a thrill as deep as any thrill felt by a man making money on the Stock Exchange (Vyvyan, 1996, pp.26&28).
Their main interests were the garden, and the birds for whom it was a sanctuary:
We worked in the wild garden day after day, felling the intrusive laurels, opening up new glades, planting new trees and shrubs, pruning the more rampant ones (Vyvyan, 1996, p.19).
They were helped by friends and:
Quite naturally a newly-opened glade would acquire the name of the person who helped to clear it . . .There was The Quillets also, a glade opened up by the Quiller-Couch family and famous for a mammoth bonfire that emitted many sparks, one of which landed on Lady Q's felt hat and burnt a hole there large as an old-fashioned five-shilling piece (Vyvyan, 1996, p.23).
The 'Quiet Years' as Clara called them, ended brutally in 1939 with the outbreak of war:
What could we do in our remote corner to 'help on the war'? Only one small thing and then another. We grew more fruit and vegetables, not only to pay off our own mortgage debts, but in order to produce more food for the nation and then, in that season when we produced half a ton of artichokes, the farmers would not accept them even for their pigs. We started a fund for Finland and raised £2,000 in the county . . . We tried to welcome the guests who were billeted on us and to make them feel happy in their new surroundings (Vyvyan, 1996, pp 74-75).
In November 1941, Sir Courtenay Vyvyan died. After dealing with his estate, Clara went to London in May 1942 with an introduction to Lady Reading, and was sent to Bristol as Regional Clothing Officer. Trelowarren was requisitioned by the army, who destroyed in a few weeks what it had taken ten years to accomplish. By the time Clara had been given notice of the projected invasion and managed to get to Cornwall, the damage was done and in spite of there being adequate land on the margins of the garden, the army had already dug up the established gardens and laid pipes everywhere. Clara took the Major round, explaining to him how long some of the remaining plants had taken to establish, their rarity and, more importantly, their commercial value. The army were not given access to the kitchen garden which provided Clara with a small income as an established market garden, and the Major agreed to fence off the beech grove where Sir Courtenay's ashes were scattered.
Oenone Rashleigh married in 1940 Arthur Forbes Johnson, who was in the RAF: a Flight Lieutenant, then Group Captain and finally Air Commodore. Their son, Christopher, was born in 1941.
Daphne was at Hythe with her husband at the outbreak of war and in 1940 was expecting her third child. The profits from Daphne's booklet Come Wind, Come Weather, a series of short, uplifting, true-life accounts of various British heroes and heroines, went to the Soldiers, Sailors and Air Force Association. Tommy became commander of the 128th Hampshire brigade, stationed in Hertfordshire and Daphne and her family stayed with the Puxleys at Langley End, a delightful Lutyens house. Daphne thought it not fair to them to give birth while in their home, so rented another house, Cloud's Hill, nearby. Her longed-for son, Christian 'Kits', was born in November. Her tenancy at Cloud's Hill ended in January 1941 and she accepted with gratitude the Puxley's offer to put her up at Langley End again. Daphne was trying to write Frenchman's Creek as well as help look after her new baby and two small girls when the nanny and children were all ill. Daphne herself succumbed to pneumonia. While she was recovering, and finishing Frenchman's Creek, she became infatuated with her host, Christopher Puxley, and was forced to leave Langley End when his wife discovered their involvement. She went to Fowey, in spite of the dangers. Ferryside had been requisitioned for naval headquarters, so Daphne rented number 8 Readymoney Cove, originally the stables and coach-house for Point Neptune House, another former Rashleigh property. It was then that she heard of the possibility of acquiring Menabilly.
As an important deep-water harbour, the quiet town of Fowey was transformed during the war by fortifications: pillboxes, including one on The Esplanade, where Q's house The Haven was situated; 'dragon's teeth' tank traps; gun-emplacements; and military personnel from all services, including the Americans. The railway line to Fowey from Lostwithiel and Par was closed to civilians.
Q continued to teach at Cambridge although to much depleted classes. He had a narrow escape during the summer holidays at Fowey in August 1940 when:
...the scoundrel dropped four heavy bombs on me the other day as I was working in my little orchard . . . although I felt no ill effects at the time of my little shock the explosions – which were really terrific – have played a bit on the aural nerves, so that I find myself jumping at any bang of a door. I must cure myself of this but it's abominably difficult to sit down to work (Rowse, 1988, pp.216-217).
In 1943, Q wrote that:
I have been shamefully idle in writing – and in everything except in bodily toil, helping the war effort as far as an old man may, with bill hook, saw and other implements, in clearing land and storing timber (Rowse, 1988, p.220).
Q went back to Cambridge for the last time in January 1944, when he was already suffering from problems with his jaw caused by a lifetime of smoking. He fell in the street in Fowey trying to avoid an army lorry, and on 12th May after a short illness:
...when Fowey and the neighbourhood for miles round, were packed with troops, and the harbour and its inlets with ships – all waiting for the signal to invade France – he died (Rowse, 1988, p.224).
Foy's mother died in 1948, and Foy stayed on at The Haven alone until 1955 when she moved to a flat at Trelowarren. Clara by that time was living in rooms in another wing of the house. She had transformed the opposite wing into flats to boost her income. Foy lived in one and Mrs Hanson, the mother of Foy's friend Anna who had died in 1940, in another. Mrs Hanson was a widow whose son was killed in the war, and Foy looked after her.
After the war, Clara was busy repairing the damage to the gardens caused by the army, with the help of friends, but then resumed her travels. She was consumed by a desire to follow the course of the Rhône from its source in a glacier in Switzerland to its delta in the south of France. Daphne, Foy and Oenone were to be her 'Good Companions'.
Daphne was apprehensive about the trip but, as always, was motivated by her writing and the need for ideas, a stimulus to the imagination, and research. She wrote to Oriel Malet:
I saw Clara Vyvyan and Foy but I was boiling up for my cold, and it was hard to whip up enthusiasm for the Glacier. She counts on me to go, though, and I feel it would be good for me, though I'm not really mad on the idea. But it's a way of looking at mountains even if I don't climb them, and I'm sure I must get that out of my system, the feeling of being near mountains . . . But now I think I shan't get my Monte Verità story right until I have been out there. There are twenty pages to do and it seems Fate I should go out, and then write the last twenty pages afterwards (Du Maurier, 1992).
Monte Verità was the first story in the collection called The Apple Tree, published in 1952. Daphne went on to say of Clara that:
She is prepared to sleep in a haystack but I don't think I am. You know my awful ritual of creaming my face, and my hair in pins, and breakfast in bed! Obviously I must rid myself of these foibles. How ease of life does creep into one's bones! Of course, nothing matters as long as one feels well. But to be stricken with a pain – on a haystack – or even just a cold, like I have now, how horrid! (Du Maurier, D., 1992, p.29).
Daphne was kind enough not to let her apprehensions be seen by Clara, however:
...spurred on by Foy . . . Daphne was willing and enthusiastic, she had thirteen days to spare from June 20th, she would start with me from the glacier.
Clara was well aware of Daphne's penchant for luxury:
...she liked to sleep with a Magnolia bud in a vase six inches from her pillow, was accustomed to hot baths morning and evening, to late rising, to the best food and drink. Moreover, being a writer she was very much at the mercy of her own moods but she had the supreme virtue of a travelling companion, detachment. Further we were usually moved to laughter by the same situations in life and fiction and she viewed the journey with that mixture of gusto and serious intent which marks the true adventurer (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.17).
Having made up her mind, Daphne threw herself into the preparations, sending for large scale maps of the Swiss route and taking them over to The Haven where Clara was staying with Foy. It was arranged that Clara would start by train and Daphne, who had limited time, would fly over. They met at a hotel near the source of the Rhône: Daphne had already explored and as Clara arrived 'there was Daphne, leaning over a balcony edged with brilliant flowers, shrill with excitement, telling me of her adventures in a single breath' (Vyvyan,1955a, p.25).
Daphne had not mastered, as Clara had, the trick of travelling light. Her rucksack was, as the horrified Clara described it 'heavy as a bullion-laden portmanteau' with an assortment of clothing, cosmetics, first aid equipment, as well as a basket of fruit, cake and a carton of liqueur chocolates. Daphne seemed to cope better than the much older Clara, however, with the weight of the packs and the heat: 'Daphne strode ahead and I came slowly after, limp as a jelly' (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.28).
Clara was determined to walk the whole of the main route (although was persuaded to take buses to explore side valleys) but Daphne on occasions accepted a lift from chance acquaintances or took buses and trains. One time, they separated and took different tracks, thinking they would converge, but Clara found herself beside the 'unfordable torrent' after about two hours of scrambling amongst fir trees and loose soil:
Suddenly I saw a figure in white shorts coming through the trees and there was Daphne with a breathless story of how some peasants had waved her back towards the gorge as they murmured "Englische Dame" and how she had "come over all girl-guideish' and had sought for my crêpe sole tracks in the depth of the gorge then pictured me, dashed by the torrent into small pieces, swirling down to the Matter Visp and then to the Rhône and how she wondered if I would have rejoiced over such fitting water-burial and how she had negotiated those something something hayfields twice and she was now ravenous (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.39).
Daphne's stay came to an end all too soon for Clara:
Black Monday came too soon and I stood below the train at 9.30 in the morning and said good-bye to Daphne with a sinking heart. I think we were both people who had become shy of new intimacies, she perhaps because, being a writer, she must guard her own particular genius as her chosen companion; I because I have learned to be afraid of what human beings can do to you, once you let them within your guard. But now together we had forged a link of shared experience, a link which can sometimes withstand all the tests of friendship, time and change and separation (Vyvyan, 1955a, p. 43).
Clara was on her own for the next leg of the journey, until Foy and Oenone could join her, and disaster befell her when she was bitten on the leg by a dog. Two weeks in hospital followed and Clara contacted a friend of a friend of Daphne's whose name she had been given to help her with formalities. She wrote to Daphne saying she had had a spot of bother (knowing Daphne would probably hear something from her Zurich friends) and that she had used her name to get her out of it and that she would give Foy all the details.
Foy and Oenone arrived by train at Martigny 'when the train drew in and I saw Foy's face at the window and Oenone smiling beside her, a great burden of utter loneliness seemed to fall off me' (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.68).
Daphne had told Foy about Clara having 'a bit of trouble' and Foy arrived wearing a large ring with five sapphires looking incongruous on her 'horny, sea-chapped, earth-stained hands':
...handling oars and spade and pick-axe as she does in her everyday occupations, she is not leading a life suitable for the wearing of rings and I exclaimed with surprise "Surely that's something new?"
"Oh yes," she said, rather sheepishly. "When Daphne mentioned your spot of trouble I thought you must be short of money."
It appeared that she had then ransacked the family jewels bequeathed to her by her mother and had thought these sapphires would be good value at a pawn-shop. I laughed until I choked but in my innermost heart I was touched to the core. I knew she had come out with the set purpose of helping me on what might be a difficult part of the Rhône journey between Geneva and Lyon and that she was determined to make the money last out for herself and Oenone as long as possible (Vyvyan, 1955a, pp.70-71).
Foy was in fact determined to husband their resources so that Oenone would be able to stay on with Clara for another ten days after Foy herself was obliged to return home. When she left she gave Oenone all her foreign currency apart from the bare minimum necessary for her journey and also her mountain boots: Oenone's footwear having proved inadequate for extensive walking she had been obliged to borrow Foy's boots while Foy wore her own stout walking shoes. At the end of Oenone's ten days, Clara was left alone, having accomplished the most difficult part of the route but still with more than half the distance to walk.
Two years later:
It was in the middle of a civilised luncheon-party that I heard the strange magnetic words which set my mind on fire with new plans for travel: "Yes, you can ride up Mt Olympus on a donkey" ' (Vyvan, 1955b, p.11).
These words begin the book Temples and Flowers which Clara wrote after her trip to Greece with Daphne. After the luncheon party, at which she discussed Greece with the fellow guest who had uttered the above words, Clara wrote to Daphne 'Greece in the early spring? What about it?' (Vyvyan, 1955b, p.13).
Daphne wrote back:
This is very extraordinary. For the past ten days or more I have been haunted by a longing for Greece, so much so that I sent to the London Library and am surrounded by books about the gods, and a fascinating treatise on psychology and mythology, how the two are intermixed, and fundamental in our unconscious, plus another book on sailing round the Greek Islands, which filled me with desire. Sun-drenched grapes to be plucked by ruined temples, beds in monasteries, as you say, donkeys (flea-ridden but who cares) and Apollo and Aphrodite on every hillside (Vyvyan, 1955b, p.14).
In Greece, they found that Mount Olympus would be covered in snow at that time of year so fixed on Delphi and then the Pindus range. Daphne was determined to visit the spot where Pythia the oracle used to sit and leave offerings both there and to Apollo. Clara was interested in the flowers but Daphne only cared for what was beautiful, not rare. She did find a Daphne: pure white with a wonderful scent, of which she managed to get a root, which they nursed all the way home. Exploring, while Clara rested in a clearing, Daphne came back triumphant having found 'a wonderful summit on the roof of the world' which she was sure was the hill of Zeus, 'And look, there are gentians up there . . ." Gentians!" I said, and I leapt to my feet but when I looked at what she had brought me I saw that it was a pale mauve Crocus (Vyvyan, 1955b, p.149).
Clara dedicated her book to 'My Good Companion Daphne' and paid tribute to her in the last paragraph:
Perhaps I owe most of all to Daphne, for it was impelled by her enthusiasm that she and I together waited on the ancient gods. Together we learned anew that to give up everyday comforts for a while was to spell endowment with new riches and escape into ancient freedom (Vyvyan, 1955b, p.193).
Both books were published in 1955 and Daphne was touched by the dedications: Temples and Flowers to her and Down the Rhône on Foot to Foy, Daphne and Oenone. A.L. Rowse was enthusiastic:
One day I read Clara Vyvyan's new book about walking the length of the Rhône. I can't see that the book isn't as good as Travels with a Donkey. Her Cornish girl-friends come very well out of it: Daphne du Maurier, spirited and mettlesome; Oenone Johnson, very feminine and fragile -seeming, blown along like a leaf yet daunted by nothing. It is the spirit of these two very feminine ones I fell for. (– If I had been exposed to girls like this when younger, I'd have fallen.) I knew before that Foy and Clara were staunch. Excellent book, full of knowledge of flowers, plants, birds I wish I had (Rowse, 2003, p. 227).
Several biographies have been written about Daphne du Maurier but it is through Clara Vyvyan's books that the characters of the other three friends emerge.
Clara's early writing was part of the need to escape from the confines of her youth and a way of obtaining some financial independence. She was thrilled when her first book Cornish Silhouettes, a series of vignettes of local characters, was accepted, but also felt exposed:
...in the dreams there had been none of the unpleasant reactions inseparable from seeing your own intimate thoughts fossilized in cold print and now become the property of strangers . . . Sometimes, even after the lapse of many months I would re-read a passage and would feel a cold shiver running down my spine as if I had undressed in public (Vyvyan, 1962, pp. 171-172).
Her wanderings were also an expression of the need for freedom which was both a physical need and a spiritual quest which lasted her whole life:
...there were moments when the longing to be up and away into unknown country would almost amount to physical distress . . .a longing which I always expressed, in my own thoughts by the single word "escape" (Vyvyan, 1962, p. 66).
Clara came closest to feeling that connection of oneness with the universe – which she sought and had occasionally obtained glimpses of when watching the stars, or in remote, long-inhabited places in Cornwall when she was conscious of a spiritual link to all those who had gone before – in Greece with Oenone, when they watched the sunrise on Ithaca:
There was no apparent change in the earth or sea or sky but I was suddenly aware of another dimension beyond Time, beyond Space, for there was depth in that golden bar; and background. There was something behind it, beyond and below, but imminent; a whole world unknown to mortal men; some Thing or Presence, perhaps, for which I had been seeking all my life . . . I had been behind the scenes in this pageant of the Earth . . . and had felt that unity of light and darkness, activity and repose, birth which is but an end and death which is but a beginning (Vyvyan, 1962, pp. 181-183).
Clara's spirituality was akin to that of the 17th century poet and theologian Thomas Traherne:
You never Enjoy the World aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your Veins, till you are Clothed with the Heavens, and Crowned with the Stars: and perceiv your self to be the Sole Heir of the whole World (Traherne, 2002, p.4).
Daphne, when Clara was describing her experience on Ithaca, said 'that I must have been given a glimpse of some cosmic reality that is indescribable' (Vyvyan, 1962, p. 183). Neither Clara nor Daphne had much time for conventional religion but Daphne did have a deeply spiritual side. She was attracted to churches for their atmosphere and made a little chapel at Kilmarth where she could meditate.
Foy and Oenone seemed to be much more practical, down-to-earth and rooted in the everyday, although Oenone had a restless, seeking side to her nature. Clara described her as ' a reincarnation of Browning's 'Pauline. " She is made up of an intensest life . . . a principle of restlessness which would be all, have, see, know, taste, feel all' (Vyvyan, 1966, pp.179-180).
All four were brought up in comparative comfort and privilege, used to households with servants, but all showed a stoicism in the face of physical discomforts which they encountered on their journeys: dirty lodgings, poor food, lack of washing facilities and horrible, primitive sanitation. In fact, by the time of the Rhône journey they had all experienced the privations of the Second World War and had all had early childhoods in well-regulated nurseries where they were conditioned to accept their lot, eat what they were given however unpalatable to them, and not 'make a fuss'.
Daphne had an ability to retreat into her own thoughts and detach herself from her surroundings. Clara could not bear being shut in. In Roots and Stars she refers to the misery of travelling on board ship in an inside cabin with no porthole. In their Greek trip, she and Daphne stayed one night in a wooden building where there was a cafe and a couple of adjoining rooms to let. Daphne took the inside room which was pitch black and had a window which wouldn't open, neither of which bothered Daphne but which troubled Clara. Clara's room had a door opening onto a balcony which she left open, in spite of the cold, but her room turned out to be an antechamber through which, during the night – Clara and Daphne having retired early – various men tiptoed to get to the balcony and to a sort of dormitory beyond. Poor Clara hardly got a wink. The Greek habit of eating salt cheese for breakfast was anathema to them. After her disturbed night Clara:
...felt that I would willingly barter one of the few days in Greece that remained to us for a very hot bath, well-scented, and a large cup of white coffee with toast, butter and marmalade (Vyvyan, 1955b, p.163).
Oenone suffered from claustrophobia but gritted her teeth and gallantly accompanied Clara into a grotto in France, while Foy declined and sat outside looking after their stuff.
In spite of Daphne's opinion that Clara would sleep in a haystack, Clara confessed an inability to ignore bodily discomforts:
...never when sleeping out did I achieve that complete forgetfulness of the body proper to anchorites, ascetics, explorers and all who turn their back on the easy way of living in order to hitch their wagon to a star.
Eventually I found I could attain forgetfulness of the body in quite another way; this was by the rhythm of walking (Vyvyan, 1962, p.63).
Oenone and Foy had been used to sleeping out and sharing rooms in their Jingle Club Days. An entry in Oenone's diary from the second day of the Rhône walk which Clara was finally allowed to see reads:
My shoulder's ache from the pack and my feet are blistering and sweat trickles down my back but it's a wonderful life of freedom (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.74).
Another characteristic which they shared and which was perhaps due to a confidence which they acquired from their social position, was a lack of self-consciousness as to personal appearance and others' opinions. At home in Fowey, when in the town, Foy dressed formally in a coat and skirt, hat and gloves and even Daphne admitted that in the early years she herself had changed into a skirt to go into Fowey, although she preferred her slacks. In the Jingle Club days, Oenone wore jodhpurs but Foy wore a coat and skirt and her usual eccentric headgear. Flavia Leng in her memoir of Daphne remembered Foy in her market garden (Q's 'farm') as being 'dark, rather gypsy-like in appearance, often dressed in exotic-coloured stockings and an old-fashioned sun-bonnet in summer' (Leng, 1994, p.50). Q himself was known for being an eccentric dresser with a penchant for bright colours:
When he arrived in Cambridge as professor, A.C. Benson (who had wanted the job) remarked in his Diary that Q. dressed like a "racing tout" (Rowse, 2003, p.13).
Clara describes Foy and Oenone on their arrival at Martigny:
Foy was dressed in a crimson corduroy skirt, a butcher blue blouse; a pale green linen hat of the floppy variety worn by fat babies on beaches; and heavy greased boots with yellow laces. She wore also a leather belt from which hung an enormous clasp knife more suited to a butcher than to a woman on holiday. She carried over one arm a navy-blue zip garment, a kind of battle-dress short coat which was, I think, of American origin. Her boatman-gardener always supplied her with kitchen utensils, firewood and sundry treasures, including once a whole new door for the cellar, all cast up by the sea on her beach or caught floating on the tide and on one occasion he had rescued this garment from the waves with his boat-hook. It had been well-salted on its precarious journey but Foy had boiled and then adopted it and now, whenever she felt cold, it had a place of honour on her person.
Oenone was a complete contrast in her light shoes that were little more than bedroom slippers, a Mexican yellow skirt shaped like a bell and a sky-blue jumper. She had an exquisite head of black hair with gold lights at the tips and the figure of a sylph and her feet seemed never to touch the ground when she walked, so that her progress down the main street of Martigny was like that of a blown leaf or a ballet-dancer, while the heavily booted Foy, going clump, clump, kept pace with her (Vyvyan, 1955a, pp. 68-69).
Foy and Oenone showed themselves to be practical and resourceful:
Our money was slipping away too fast and we made up our minds to live off the country between breakfast and supper; all that Martigny valley is one vast orchard and garden, so our prospects were good. Oenone and I had taken the precaution of stealing five tomatoes from a field near Saillon, but from this moment Foy [the Justice of the Peace!] became, without a word spoken by any, Scavenger-in-Chief (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.73).
Foy was a rather reticent character, although at ease with people she knew well. Daphne was friendly but inclined to be impatient with the type of people she called 'Tell-Hims' – those inclined to tell long, boring anecdotes. Clara was interested in others and liked hearing their stories but the people she found difficult to connect with were the 'haus-frau' types, whose only topics of conversation were cooking and babies. In Arctic Adventure, Clara says that she and friend and artist Gwen Dorrien-Smith were quite at home in the company of the rough menfolk and their yarns but quickly ran out of things to say to the women. Clara had had a similar experience visiting her brother on the remote cattle station in Australia, when she was left with only the company of the poor lonely woman who kept the house in solitude until the men came in, her nearest neighbours being miles and miles away. The hours passed slowly for Clara with long agonising silences during which she could think of nothing more to say, once they had exhausted the domestic topics.
Oenone had the knack of making friends:
She had a very gentle, almost whispering manner but she was ready with her French and always willing to seek information, lodgings or fruit. She was well-travelled enough to have learnt the way to acquire what she wanted but she went through life insinuating rather than pushing herself into desirable places; she was like a happy little breeze, caressing all that it met and leaving only pleasant feelings in its wake (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.74).
At Montalieu, in France:
Oenone spent hours bathing in the Rhône and making friends with her companions . . . [she] introduced me to her chief friend, a little hairdresser who, after she had bathed and dressed and gathered up her things to depart, suddenly whipped a comb out of his pocket and ran it through her hair with a pleasant smile and a "Ça va Mieux" (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.124).
Oenone decided to save the steamer fare to Geneva and hitch hike:
"Beware of fat Frenchmen," I said, and told her the tale of my Victorian mother, writing home after a journey through France in ripe middle age. "I was not at all pleased," she wrote, "when I found there was a fat Frenchman in the upper berth of my compartment. Nor did I undress." Foy, with a sudden relapse into John Bullishness, went further and said that Oenone must on no account get into a French car. She must choose a Swiss if she could not find an English one (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.83).
In fact, Oenone arrived in Geneva riding pillion on a motorbike belonging to a young Swiss named Samuel. 'She had treated him to wine and coffees on the road . . . and they had exchanged addresses' (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.86).
One of the reasons for the lasting nature of the friendship between the four women was that it was based on equality: none of them were clingy or needy, and were willing to let the others follow their own inclinations, and yet were ready to provide help and support when it was needed.
Foy's friendship with Daphne nearly foundered early on when Q read Daphne's second and third novels I'll Never be Young Again and The Progress of Julius. He was horrified. A.L. Rowse when visiting Daphne at Menabilly in the sixties wrote:
Daphne told me again the story of Q summoning her to his presence after her second book, about a young man and woman, living together in Paris. Q was most upset. Daphne, aged twenty-two, sat trembling on the edge of her chair. "But Daphne, people don't say such things." A book no-one would notice compared with what they say now. "People don't do such things. " "But Sir Arthur, protested Daphne, who knew, "They do." The old boy couldn't face this. "All I can say is if that is the case I can't have my daughter introduce you to her friends, Lady Vyvyan," and so on. The attitude of that Lesbian circle towards sex would have been an eye-opener to dear Q (Rowse, 2003, p.421).
One of the auction lots of Foy Quiller-Couch's papers, which were sold in 2016, was a fragment in Foy's handwriting marked 'copy of a letter from Father':
I am disturbed over what I hear about Daphne's book. That imitative indecency is actually a throw back to bad breeding. I am going to ask that you stop it instantly if or whenever she starts that kind of thing in private talk. I think of my dear Cannan a man's man if ever there was one and how when old Wardell offered once to lend me a dirty book he took me aside and said don't let him. Promise – it isn't your sort of book and you wouldn't like it. I was over 40 at that time. Surely if a man can be so delicate for his friend. And the worst of that writing and talk is that even to read or listen coarsens the feelings not to mention good natural manners (Lot 303 7th May 2016 www.auction-net.co.uk).
'Oh! Foy, don't get hot about my books! They aren't written for effect I promise you. And no one will ever discover me in them – none of that intimate personal business. But one's got to get rid of the poisons, and the restlessness, and the nice things one's felt, and the nasty things too – and it's the only way for me, it's like being sick. And one can't write 'prettily', when one writes about a French Jew who sells cheese... Anyway, you needn't read that one, and Mrs Smith will just think "What odd people Miss du Maurier knows," – she won't realise that somewhere inside me is the Jew himself. [The Progress of Julius] But 'I'll Never be Young Again' is just the story of a restless boy, and no one will know how much of it is me. I'm writing all this to you because I'm not with you, and if I was with you we'd be cutting wood and not talking at all, which comes to the same thing. You know all my dull dreary mind by now.
I would rather you knew that I had done things you would shiver at, and had lived erotically from time to time, than you should think I was just a silly girl with a silly smutty mind. I haven't a smutty mind, Foy, I've just done things, that's all – and the memories and re-actions work in one. That is, I think, why different generations are leagues apart, and can never get together...Oh! I'm not ashamed of my life, its civilization I'm ashamed of, because it's made ugliness, and meanness, and evil-thinking, because it's made people think so smuttily and narrowly instead of being natural and not thinking. Good God – animals don't think, or birds… (Letters from Foy Quiller-Couch's papers, www.bonhams.com/auction/20139/lot/206).
Q was not the only person to be shocked by I'll Never be Young Again. Angela du Maurier remembered that it:
...shocked a great many members of our father's club ("for a young girl to be so outspoken and knowledgeable in the matter of sex" . . . that was the type of criticism this charming novel in the Hemingway style evoked). Curiously enough Daphne's third book The Progress of Julius is singularly badly remembered and that indeed was a brilliant affair (Du Maurier, A., 2003, p.166).
Q wouldn't have either book in the house.
Rowse referred to 'that Lesbian circle'. Daphne had various crushes on women but she describes her relationships with Fernande Yvon the directrice of the finishing school Daphne attended in Paris, and with whom she kept up a friendship all her life, and Ellen Doubleday, the wife of Nelson Doubleday, her American publishers, as more an attempt to establish the kind of loving intimacy which she had not had from her own mother who was cold and distant, except to the baby of the family, Jeanne. Her play Mother - 'about a middle-aged women whose son-in-law falls in love with her, was really about the playwright herself and Ellen Doubleday' (Forster, 1994, pp. 228-229). In Florida with Gertrude Lawrence, however, she did have a brief sexual encounter. Her letter to Ellen Doubleday at the time said:
No regrets. It was such fun, and so happy, and so entrancing. Never sordid. . . once you have loved a person physically it makes the strangest bond (Jane Dunn, 2013, p. 289).
Jane Dunn explains that Daphne:
...recognised that the women who had obsessed her in life were psychically tied to her search for a mother-substitute. . . Daphne was remarkably insightful about her own creative impulses and the problems they could cause in her life. She gave perhaps the best explanation to Foy Quiller-Couch, some years later, of the transformations she wrought on the characters of Christopher Puxley, Ellen, and later Gertrude Lawrence:
"The attributes of the living become mingled with the people we create. And then you project on to these 'pegs' attributes that are imaginary, so that the living person, when encountered, is no longer the person he or she once was, but becomes invested with the fictitious attributes of the story. This can be vexing and sometimes a bit frightening."
This explained her adamant rejection of any sexual stereotyping of her impulses. Cornwall had always attracted artists and more than its fair share of people who felt that they did not easily fit in with the mainstream of society. Daphne looked at Jeanne's and Angela's friends, some of whom were lesbian, and distanced herself from them, her obsession with particular women springing, she believed, from a completely different source (Dunn, 2013, p.279).
Daphne was probably the most sexually experienced of the four friends: before her marriage to Tommy Browning she had had a relationship with the director Carol Reed and during the war an affair with 'Christopher' [Henry] Puxley. Clara Vyvyan was also probably attracted to other women. Angela du Maurier had a relationship with Anne Treffry of Place, in Fowey, for years, which was 'rocked some nine years in by another redoubtable Cornish grandee'. This was Clara who stayed with Anne Treffry at Place, 'conceiving a fearful passion for her':
Angela was distraught and sought Daphne's shoulder to cry on. Anne was light-hearted and amused, behaving in an irritating rather laughing way', as Daphne reported to Ellen. In distress, Angela accused Anne of encouraging Lady Vyvyan, something Anne denied and casually tossed aside.
Daphne seems to have been the confidante for both sides of the jealous triangle, for not only did Angela ask her advice but Lady Vyvyan unburdened herself to her on a long walk on the cliffs. Lady Vyvyan, who was well into her sixties by then, felt she had 'treasure of riches' to offer Anne, whom she thought had 'un-plumbed depths.' Daphne was highly amused and attempted to dampen LadyVyvyan's enthusiasm, for, as she commented to Ellen, if [Lady V] tries to plumb them there'll be murder from Angela (Dunn, 2013, p. 295).
One of Clara's letters to Oenone, held in the Cornish Records Office, is written on a recycled envelope once belonging to Anne Treffry, whose address at Place is typed on it (1063/6 dated 24.2.1965).
Both Clara and Daphne were impulsive in the matter of new friendships and Clara felt that Daphne understood her better than anyone. American fan Leonore and her Hungarian husband Rudi came to Cornwall and met Clara. They stayed three days and then Clara accepted an invitation to go and stay with them in California, to the consternation of some of her friends who protested that she hardly knew the woman. Clara wrote:
Our friendship was not based on any sudden attraction to each other, it was formed by an affinity of mind . . . As we fingered through my bookshelves we were sharing personal friendships about which we seldom spoke when we were with other people... There was one friend who regarded this leap in the dark with a due measure of detachment. This was Daphne. She understood instinctively how a mental sympathy, a spiritual sympathy, call it what you will, might outweigh other considerations, might overcome all differences and difficulties.
Daphne wrote to Clara, saying:
Be sure and take notes on the ship. Keep a rough diary from the very first day. You will make a book. The title will be "Nothing Venture" (Vyvyan, 1967, pp.11-13).
Oenone's relationships perhaps reflected her restless nature. She was married young, at twenty-four, and later divorced from her first husband. She married again in 1969 to Bryan Bevan and, in 1979, to Michael Richardson. She also, it appears, had a series of short-term jobs. On the 1939 register she was described as a shorthand typist, but Clara mentions in correspondence Oenone's jobs in nursing and even as a 'nippy' in a café. When she and Clara revisited Switzerland eleven years after the Rhône trip, Oenone was then teaching at a school in Montreux.
Rowse describes Foy as:
...a not fully developed human being, something constricted, inhibited. I told Daphne Foy's last words to me a day or two before "one has such standards to live up to". Really rather absurd, from a woman nearing seventy (Rowse, 2003, p. 421).
Whether it was personal choice or lack of opportunity that caused Foy to remain single is not clear.
She belonged to that generation of women reaching maturity just after the First World War when the young male population had been decimated in the trenches. She was nine years younger than her brother and always known by him and her father as 'the Babe': in letters from Q he addresses her as 'Dearest Babe'. She was a much loved and petted younger sister and must have suffered a great deal from Bevil's death in 1919, and probably more so because of her parents' grief. Q was deeply affected and tended to cling to May Cannan, Bevil's fiancée. He thought she understood his grief more than anyone, which may have been unintentionally hurtful to Lady Q and Foy, but Q may have felt a need to protect them from the worst of his grief. Foy treated May like a sister, riding Bevil's horses with her and taking a trip down the Warwickshire Avon in her company. They too had a lifelong friendship.
Snippets in Down the Rhône on Foot give clues as to her character: for example, she was reserved with strangers and disliked physical contact with them. Clara Vyvyan recounts their trip on the terrifying 'téléférique' railway, crushed into an open-sided wagon above an abyss where they were forced into close proximity with the other passengers:
Foy, who is not at all promiscuous-minded, supported two strangers on various parts of her anatomy (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.71).
Later on she wrote of her:
Foy is not happy in the haunts of men. Give her a horse, a boat, or a pony-jingle and she has her own heaven on earth, but crowds and man-made 'sights' are anathema to her (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.76).
Like Q, Foy was 'hypersensitive to sound' (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.75). In the tourist office at Geneva:
Foy, who cannot bear raised voices or any, loud continuous noise, collapsed into a chair and began to study rainbow-coloured folders (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.89).
In the matter of heat she was a salamander and while Oenone and I were dripping with the sweat pouring off eyebrows, nose and chin, she would murmur with contentment: "It's never too hot for me.".' (Vyvyan, 1955a,pp. 94-95)
With Foy's departure we felt as if some vital force had been taken from us. It was characteristic of her that, although she only spent two weeks in Switzerland and France and only nine days actually walking down the Rhone, she threw herself whole-heartedly into my obsession about walking every step from glacier to delta and furthered my progress as ardently as if she herself were doing the walk for a wager (Vyvyan, 1955a, p.104).
Foy could appear severe. Oriel Malet recounts that when she and Flavia, Daphne's younger daughter, were drying themselves in the sun in a secluded spot after bathing:
We opened our eyes to find an upright figure beneath a red umbrella, staring at us with stony disapproval. It was Foy Quiller-Couch, come unexpectedly to call on Daphne. Seated upon a rock, her hat, gloves and parasol firmly anchored, she gazed pointedly out to sea while we scrambled ourselves into decency, but then unbent enough to share our picnic tea, becoming at once exceedingly good company (Du Maurier, D., 1992, p.20).
Her severe aspect was partly due to her weather-beaten appearance. Her complexion had suffered from years of exposure to sea air and she had been hardened by physical work, not only sailing but also from working the piece of land at Polruan which Q called 'the farm' and which Foy ran as a market garden. Clara referred to her in Journey Up the Years, as being 'able to wield a pick-axe with the force of a man' (Vyvyan, 1966,p.176).
Foy's severe aspect must have helped her in her work on the bench as a Justice of the Peace. She was appointed in 1941 and sat on the bench at Tywardreath where Q was still Chairman. Throughout her life she was involved in local affairs, assisting her parents in fundraising and organizing events when she was a young girl, and then on her own account. Before the National Health Service provided free health care, during the 1920s it was Foy who organized the sale of roses on Alexandra Rose Day to raise funds for the Fowey Nursing Association.
When Sir Courtenay Vyvyan was alive, Trelowarren was the centre for local activities in that area:
...the village neighbours came to us on many occasions. In summer there were rallies in the Pleasure Grounds and fêtes and flower-shows in the stable-yard, all of these with a brass band in attendance and the largest field of the Home Farm provided a camping-ground for Boy Scouts [the Baden-Powells were old friends of Sir Courtenay]. In winter once a fortnight there was a performance in the Great Office adjoining the house, a place that could seat two hundred people. In this room there were entertainments grave and gay, dances, concerts, plays and lectures. Once a year, under a full moon, the gardeners, farm-hands, carpenters, masons, woodmen and road-menders, would assemble in the Chapel Court for the 'Crying of the Neck', and then, after singing the Harvest Hymn, we would repair to the Great Office for supper. Sometimes we had a guest of honour . . . once our guest was Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, beloved of all Cornishmen (Vyvyan, 1966, pp.26-27).
Sir Courtenay treasured Q's reply to the invitation:
"Regatta's being over," wrote the great Cornishman from his home in Fowey, "and myself at last out loose after being dragged at the festive chariot's tail, I can sit down to write a few letters, and this, the first, is to thank you for yours and for so kindly fixing up a date to which we – all three of us – shall look forward. I once heard the neck cried years ago near Trelowarren. We, of a "reading party" (alleged) at Cadgwith were returning home from a picnic party near Helford, and our hired bus drew up and we watched from the top of it. I can see that sunrise yet and the long shadows of the wagons and the men running. It will be great if the gods repeat anything like that; but you at any rate are providing a better seat than the top of a Helston omnibus" (Vyvyan, 1956, p.148).
Several of Clara's books: Cornish Silhouettes, Echoes in Cornwall, Gwendra Cove, and The Helford River contain vignettes of Cornish life and characters. All four friends had a deep attachment to Cornwall and were concerned about the effect on the landscape and life of increasing tourism and influx of newcomers. At a personal level, the summer brought the inevitable self-invited visitors. Clara wrote:
Those of us who were born and reared in Cornwall have come to regard a certain measure of peace and privacy as our birthright but now we accept the fact that regularly from June to October we must forgo that birthright. Every friendly acquaintance that we have made in the course of many travels seems to be drawn down to Cornwall as if by a magnet during those few months . . . With regard to the occupation, or amusements, of guests who stay longer than three days, I regret to say that I have gained a reputation for getting work out of everyone. My friend Felicia's [Foy] methods, however, are far better than mine, for they include housework while I limit myself to the garden (Vyvyan, 1965, pp. 135-138).
In From a Cornish Window, Q talked about the various articles which had appeared in the Cornish Magazine on the subject of 'How to Develop Cornwall as a Holiday Resort':
"How to bedevil it" was, I fear, our name in the editorial office. I temporised, therefore, with we who inhabit her wish (and not altogether from mercenary motives) to see her something better than a museum of a dead past. I temporised therefore with those who suggested that Cornwall might yet enrich herself by turning her natural beauty to account . . .My Punishment – though I helped not to erect them – hideous hotels thrust themselves insistently on my sight as I walk our magnificent northern cliffs (Quiller-Couch, 1906, p.249).
Daphne discusses the same problem in the final chapter of Vanishing Cornwall, published in 1967, for which her son took the photographs (and in the bibliography of which appear books by Q's grandfather and Q's sisters). She writes of the necessity of striking a balance between the need to preserve Cornwall's beauties and to provide jobs. On the one hand were the speculators, who would kill the goose that laid the golden eggs by destroying everything that was attractive about Cornwall for financial gain, while on the other, the preservers: 'not always the indigenous' but artists, writers and the retired elderly, and at the extreme right Mebyon Kernow 'who would put the people into black kilts, speaking the old Cornish language, with a Parliament west of the Tamar'. Daphne points out that:
...the Cornish people . . . are in the main indifferent to mushroom growth and change... the hard times of former years, when so many of their forebears were forced to emigrate, are not forgotten (Du Maurier, D., 1972, pp.199-200).
Q and Foy were both supporters of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, set up in 1926 by Sir Patrick Abercrombie to campaign against urban sprawl and ribbon development. They were also members of the Old Cornwall Society, for those interested in the history of Cornwall. In 1964 Foy sponsored the re-publication of E.W. Rashleigh's (Oenone's grandfather) A Short History of the Town and Borough of Fowey, originally published in 1887.
Foy was President of the Fowey branch in September 1960 when she unveiled the plaque given by the society at the Tristan Stone at Four Turnings. The plaque explained the significance of the stone. Daphne, with her typical frivolity, wrote to Foy that she and Tommy had speculated on the number of motorists who would crash whilst trying to read the plaque. The report of the occasion in the Cornish Guardian, mentioned the link between the Long or Tristan Stone and the nearby hill fort, Castledore.
Q's last and unfinished novel Castle Dor, begun in 1925, was a modern version of the Tristan and Iseult legend. In 1959, Foy paid Daphne the compliment of asking her if she would finish the novel. Daphne was flattered and honoured but worried that she would not do it justice. A formal contract was drawn up between them to deal with royalties and the project was the subject of a good deal of correspondence concerning problems of historical detail and logistics. Rowse thought Daphne had done a good job: it was not evident where the original text ended and Daphne's began. Daphne later included a chapter on the legend in Vanishing Cornwall.
Foy also did a great deal of work in fund raising for the National Trust. Anna Hanson of Tredudwell Manor, pictured in the photograph of the Jingle Club mentioned earlier, was a great-niece of Octavia Hill, one of the founders of the National Trust. In 1935, Foy was secretary and Anna Hanson treasurer of a committee led by Mrs J. de Cressy Treffry to raise funds to preserve Lantivet Bay. The Western Morning News on 13 December, 1935, reported:
A Scheme is being put forward by an influential committee for securing the preservation of 50 acres of picturesque Cornish coastline at Lantivet Bay, between Polperro and Fowey.
If the land is to be bought for the nation it is estimated that a sum of at least £550 will be required, and for this purpose a public appeal is to be launched. If this piece of beautiful coastal scenery, which is so typical of the Cornwall South Coast, is to be preserved, immediate action is necessary, otherwise it is likely that it will be sold for building sites.
Foy interested Daphne du Maurier in the project and she donated some of the royalties from Jamaica Inn to the cause. It was Sir Courtenay Vyvyan who gave the famous Logan Rock (rocking stone) at Treen near Land's End to the National Trust.
In the 1975 New Year Honours Foy Quiller-Couch was made an MBE for services to the National Trust. In 1971, Foy had left the damp and cold Trelowarren which was affecting her health, and moved to a flat at the top of Lanhydrock House, Bodmin, her addresses in the local telephone directory in 1975, being given as 'The Haven, Esplanade, Fowey, 3353 and Tregegals, Lanhydrock House, Lanhydrock, Bodmin, 3482'.
Daphne visited Lanhydrock with her daughter Tess and grandchildren at Easter, 1972. Lanhydrock was: 'all open now and lovely, the National Trust have done it well. (Foy was away but her quarters at the back looked a bit cramped)' (Du Maurier, D., 1992, p.257).
Clara's eyesight deteriorated gradually and she came to rely more and more on her friends. Oriel Malet says:
But for the loyalty of old friends like Foy Quiller-Couch, who came to share her solitude until she, in turn, grew too old, her last years would have been sad indeed (Du Maurier, D., 2003, p.31).
Oenone wrote to Clara from Africa in 1964 where she was staying with her son and his family. Thanking her for the 'lovely Africa letters', Clara wrote back to welcome Oenone home, telling her that the specialist had said the problem with her eyes was due to hardening of the arteries and there was not much that could be done about it. Oenone helped Clara prepare her manuscripts. A letter from Clara to Oenone written in February 1965 reads:
If you could come down Sat 6th I would bless you. I've written another short chapter penultimate on 'Domestic Revolution' and will call the last two chapters 'Then' and 'Now' and hope to type this new chapter. There will be really very little to add but it would be a great relief if you clip and number the pages for me as I am always very clumsy at punching holes and just can't do it now. Foy will be home I hope so spare us as many days as you can. Dunlevy [a companion?] will be safely away over the weekend and Monday I hope anyway. I am being awful to her and I just long to relax each evening but she's like a lump of suet on my palate. That dear Hester came yesterday and was most cheering. I think she's written to you asking if you could possibly call for 3 wireless sets on appro. I want to get one with the third programme with Jean's money. It would mean coming Saturday lunch I expect as the shops would be shut Saturday after 3. The old Vyvyans want us to lunch there Monday or Tuesday so you would get one good meal I no [sic] what Foy would give us otherwise not a De Luxe visit!! But hot water and roaring fires will be my only De Luxe effort. I shall try and keep Dunlevy away until at least Tues or Wed and there are no urgent jobs so you and Foy could go off on the Spree. Evening would see the book through. I do hope you can come (Cornwall Records Office, Ref: 1063/6).
When Clara made her trip to California, Foy went with her to London and saw to getting all her luggage registered at Liverpool Street station through to Tilbury Docks, from where she was departing on the S.S. Oronsay. Clara was being met by her American friends but found the voyage difficult. 'At home in the garden I was hardly aware of my blindness' but now every object more than two yards away was blurred and she had the greatest difficulty recognizing people who had introduced themselves, relying more on the recognition of gait and outline than facial detail. Clara developed pneumonia while she was in America. A letter from her hosts reached Foy at Trelowarren and she and Clara's young cousin, Jonet, decided that Jonet would go and collect the frail Clara from California. It would have been much quicker to fly home but Clara was advised against it. She was by then in her eighties. Nothing Venture was published in 1967. Clara died at Trelowarren in 1976 aged 91.
Foy Quiller-Couch was still active in the National Trust well into her seventies but her final years saw a decline into senile dementia. She went into a nursing home in 1982 and she was later admitted to St Lawrence's Hospital, Bodmin, where she died on 25 February 1986, aged 86.
Daphne's husband died in 1965, aged 68, when she was still living at Menabilly. Daphne herself lived until 1989 when she was 82 and could have lived much longer had she not apparently decided to take control and stop eating. She had had a poor memory for names and dates for a few years and became very anxious about losing her mind, probably thinking of Foy's sad end. Just before her death she asked to be taken to visit Menabilly, and Ferryside, where her sister Angela still lived. Margaret Forster comments:
She had been in control right up until the end and control was what so much of her life had been about. Strong, determined, she liked to dictate the terms in every aspect of her life (Forster, 1994, p.414).
Oenone lived until 2015, when she was almost a hundred.
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