‘Treveryan’ by Angela du Maurier ****

It perhaps goes without saying that Angela du Maurier was the elder sister of the far more successful novelist Daphne.  Angela was, however, rather a prolific author in her own right; she simply did not enjoy a similar level of fame.  Sadly, the majority of her novels appear to be out of print, and I have found them quite difficult to get hold of in the past.

715js5yk3ulOf Treveryan, a novel which one can compare at length to Daphne’s sweepingly Gothic masterpiece Rebecca, Sally Beauman writes that it is a ‘strange and fascinating novel’, with a ‘sure’ narrative grasp.  First published in 1942, and dedicated to Daphne, it is perhaps the novel which Angela is best known for.  Here, ‘we enter a house and landscape familiar to any reader who has dreamed of Manderley.  But Angela du Maurier… explores this territory with candour and sensitivity all her own.’  This novel is one of ‘strong women and weak men, of an abiding love that breaks taboos and dare not be declared.’

Treveryan begins in rather an enticing manner: ‘Unlike the ghost of Hamlet there is no prison-house to forbid me.  A tale – queer, old-fashioned, unsatisfactory little word for what may be bleak tragedy.’  This character, an unnamed woman who recounts the relationship with her godfather, continues in similar fashion, bringing herself into the narrative as she goes.  She describes her situation, and its effects upon her, as follows: ‘I was an only child living in the depths of the country, with few companions of my own age.  Therefore very early in life books became my friends, and perhaps for that reason led me to weave romances where none existed, and visualize drama into often enough drab lives.  Probably most children have some character, culled from legend, fiction, or real life whom they admire or, at any rate, in whom they are interested above others.  Oswald Martineau, my godfather, was such to me.’

Martineau tells his goddaughter stories about the Treveryan family, which he was intimately connected with.  In this manner, du Maurier focuses on the generation who grew up during the 1860s and 1870s or thereabouts, siblings Veryan, Bethel, and Lerryn.  It is possible on some levels to read Daphne into the character of Bethel; she is headstrong, wishes she were a boy as Daphne famously did, and is the third and middle child of three.

Not all is at it seems at the big house, however.  At a coming out ball held for Bethel, a guest remarks: “You know there always has been a mystery about the place [Treveryan].  And about the family.  Something rather horrible I believe.”  The children’s mother seems ultimately repulsed by them, and their father has passed away in mysterious circumstances, of a disease which they are not aware for many years.  This family secret prevents the three from living their own lives in the way they wish to.

Treveryan is set in rural Cornwall, just like Rebecca is.  Treveryan is a stately home which has been owned by the Treveryan family from the ‘early days of the Reformation’.  Du Maurier describes the house and its generations of inhabitants with such beautiful imagery: ‘For generations and centuries their own people had breathed the air they now breathed, walked through the grounds, climbed the giant oaks in the park, fed deer, watched the wild swans yearly come, rest beside the shores of the lake, and depart.  Their ancestors had been born, had lived and died in the rooms which they had known completely and intimately since their own births.’

Treveryan entranced and entrapped me.  The novel is a beguiling one, and whilst it has a lot of elements in common with Daphne du Maurier’s fiction, Angela has a way of telling a story which is all her own.  The control which she has over the plot is not quite as taut, and there are a couple of points at which there is little storyline; the novel feels meandering as a result.  Treveryan is a little slow in places, but after feeling largely indifferent to the first quarter of the book, it picked up greatly.  There are a couple of surprises along the way, and I felt entertained, particularly as the story reached its end.

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