I recently came across an article with a list of “best pirate books” and this one, by Daphne du Maurier, was included. Even though I’ve read several of her books (years ago Rebecca and, more recently, The House on the Strand) I had never encountered this particular du Maurier book. In the mood for something completely different than the other novels I’ve read recently, I decided to give it a go.
Lady Dona St. Columb lives a life of leisure in Restoration-era London with her husband, Harry, and their two small children. While Harry fills his time with card playing and hard drinking, the jaded Dona chafes under the societal constraints imposed upon her as a wife and mother. One night she joins with friends to play an unkind prank on an elderly woman. As she explained to Harry, ” the ridiculous prank on the countess was only a thwarted, bastard idea of fun, a betrayal of her real mood; that in reality it was escape she wanted, escape from her own self, from the life they led together; that she had reached a crisis in her particular span of time and existence, and must travel through that crisis, alone.” Soon she’s off to Cornwall with the children, leaving Harry behind in London.
When she arrives at the country estate Navron, she finds a new kind of freedom, romping and playing with the children, getting dirty and enjoying the outdoors. One day while exploring the nearby creek, she comes upon a ship at anchor in a secluded cove. She has discovered the hiding place of La Mouette, the pirate ship of the frenchman, Jean-Benoit Aubery, who has been terrorizing the coast of Cornwall. Befriending the ragtag group of pirates, she is drawn into their world and is soon falling for the frenchman himself.
Will Dona choose freedom, excitement and romance, or will she do the “right” thing and return to her children, husband and family responsibilites? We are kept wondering til the end.
Reading a classic such as this one is always a pleasure on several different levels. There is the pure enjoyment of a story that has stood the test of time, but adding to the experience is knowing that this book was written nearly 70 years ago as du Maurier lived alone in Cornwall while her husband was away during World War II, a time when women were just beginning to gain new freedom and independence. It has been said that she may have written this particular book to explore her own fantasies of escape from a life of children and a chilly marriage to a distant husband. Whatever the motivation, this book is filled with du Maurier’s beautiful, evocotive writing which lifts it head and shoulders above a typical pirate romance.