Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

frenchmans-creek Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca has been one of my favourite books since I first read it as a teenager, but it’s only relatively recently that I started to explore the rest of her work. Since 2010, I have now read several of her short story collections and one of her non-fiction books, as well as working through almost all of her novels, saving Frenchman’s Creek until near the end (as it sounded like one that I would particularly enjoy and I wanted to have something to look forward to).

Set in the 17th century, Frenchman’s Creek is the story of Dona St Columb who, at the beginning of the novel, is growing disillusioned with her marriage and bored with life in London. To alleviate her boredom, she has been joining her husband Harry and his friends in some increasingly wild escapades, but as the mother of two young children she has started to feel ashamed of her behaviour. Unable to bear it any longer, she decides that what she needs is to spend some time away from her husband and London society – and so she takes the children and heads for Navron, Harry’s estate in Cornwall.

On arriving at the house, Dona is surprised to find that only one servant is present; his name is William, a quiet but perceptive man with whom Dona forms an immediate bond. Despite signs that suggest someone has been sleeping in her bedroom while the house stood empty, she soon begins to feel relaxed and refreshed in the peaceful surroundings of Navron. Her new neighbours, however, seem to be less at ease and it’s not long before Dona hears tales of a French pirate who is said to be terrorising the coast of Cornwall. On a walk through the woods one day, she discovers a ship resting in a creek and suddenly everything makes sense.

The Frenchman (who, you will have guessed, is the owner of the ship), dispels all of Dona’s – and probably the reader’s – preconceived ideas of what a pirate should be. Polite, cultured and intelligent, he couldn’t be more different from Harry and his friends, and it’s no surprise that Dona falls in love with him. I couldn’t quite believe that a man like the Frenchman would have chosen to be a pirate (the reasons he gives for his way of life didn’t seem very convincing) but I thought he was an intriguing character and I enjoyed watching Dona’s relationship with him develop. And yet I didn’t become fully engaged with the story until halfway through, when Dona and the Frenchman embark on an adventure together and the consequences of this threaten to bring their happiness to an end. From this point on, I found the book unputdownable, right through to its poignant ending.

Du Maurier’s writing is beautifully atmospheric and evocative, more so than almost any other author I can think of. The description of Dona’s first walk along the banks of the creek, where it widens into a pool and she comes upon the pirate ship for the first time, is so vivid I could nearly see the scene laid out in front of me. The whole book has a dreamy, almost hypnotic feel. Although we are told once or twice that our hero’s name is Jean-Benoit Aubéry, he is referred to throughout the novel as simply the Frenchman – it’s little things like these which really add to the air of mystery and haziness.

Although I did enjoy this book very much, particularly the second half, it couldn’t quite equal my top four du Mauriers, Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat and The House on the Strand. I’m planning a re-read of Rebecca soon and then I would like to read Castle Dor, the only du Maurier novel I still haven’t read.

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37 thoughts on “Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier”

    1. This would be a great addition to your 1941 list! Thanks for sharing your Castle Dor review. It sounds as though the rough beginning was probably because that was the part Arthur Quiller Couch wrote? I’m looking forward to reading it myself. 🙂

  1. This is not one of my favorite Du Mauriers either. When I was young, I thought it was romantic, but it really isn’t. The last time I read it I was struck by how little she seems to care for her children. I think, based on a biography and autobiography that it in fact reflects her relationship with her own children.

    1. I think I would probably have found it more romantic when I was younger too. I also noticed that Dona didn’t seem to have much affection for her children.

  2. Interestingly, The Castle D’or the only one I haven’t read either. not even sure where I could get it.

  3. But Daphne Du M. is one of two authors I’d love to emulate – along with Winston Graham.

    1. I like what I’ve read by Winston Graham so far, which isn’t very much. You’ve reminded me that I really need to continue with the Poldark series!

  4. I too love Rebecca but haven’t till recently read Maurier’s other novels. I am pleased you enjoyed this one so much – I have copies of this, My Cousin Rachel and The House on the Strand on my to-be-read 🙂

    1. You’re lucky to have so many great du Maurier novels still to look forward to. My Cousin Rachel and The House on the Strand are two of my favourites. 🙂

  5. I’m planning to read Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel this upcoming May, if not sooner. By the way, I just finished Conclave by Robert Harris, and I really liked it. That ending…!

    1. I love both Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel! I’m pleased to hear you’re planning to read them soon and I hope you’ll love them too. I haven’t had a chance to read Conclave yet, but I’m hoping to have time for it in March. Looking forward to it!

  6. I thought I had read this one back on the year dot, but now realise that I didn’t. Have you read The King’s General? I really enjoyed that one although Rebecca will always be my favourite.

    1. Yes, I loved The King’s General too – my favourite Du Maurier by a street. Unlike Frenchman’s Creek, it’s solidly routed in reality, although it’s a romantic and poignant story, and it’s one of the books that set me on the path to studying the English Civil War.

  7. I’ve read most of Du Maurier’s books – Rebecca several times. I loved Frenchman’s Creek many years ago but when I started to re-read it recently I couldn’t get into it. I see you found the second half unputdownable, maybe I should have carried on reading. Rebecca is my favourite, but I also loved My Cousin Rachel, The Scapegoat and The King’s General – and also Mary Anne. I have read Castle Dor, but can’t remember much about it. Luckily I wrote about when I read it in 2009 so it jogged my memory – I wrote it was interesting because of its joint authorship and its retelling of the legend of the tragic lovers Tristan and Isolde. It’ just a short post if you’re interested see here – http://www.booksplease.org/2009/01/16/castle-dor/

    1. Sorry you couldn’t get into this on your recent re-read. I thought the first half was a bit slow but it really picked up in the middle, so it might have been worth you persevering. I love all the other books you’ve mentioned, apart from Mary Anne, which I found slightly disappointing. Thanks for sharing your Castle Dor post. It does sound interesting.

  8. I’m re-reading Rebecca at the moment after many years, and had completely forgotten how evocative her descriptive writing is. As you say, she creates scenes that you can actually see. No wonder so many of her books and stories were made into films.

    1. It’s been a long time since I last read Rebecca, so I’m looking forward to my re-read. I think du Maurier really excels at describing scenes and creating atmosphere.

  9. I’ve come late to Du Maurier, and I regret to say that I’ve temporarily stalled on the first title I picked up, Castle Dore, though it’s fair to say that it’s probably the Arthur Quiller-Couch first half that has slowed me down. Still, it’s still by the bedside for I’m ready for it again! Then it’s definitely Rebecca, which is on my TBR shelf (or should it be ‘shelves’?).

    1. Rebecca is one of my favourite books, so I hope you enjoy it. I’m sorry to hear about your experience with Castle Dor – although I haven’t read it yet myself, it wouldn’t have been my recommendation as a first introduction to du Maurier’s work. It does sound interesting, though!

  10. IIRC, this is the one of hers which I was reading on public transit when I came across a surprisingly racy scene which made me blush and desperately wish that the car wasn’t so crowded at that very moment. Or, perhaps I used to blush more easily?

  11. I’ll have to re-read Frenchman’s Creek as I don’t remember it at all which is understandable as I read it years ago. Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Jamaica Inn ( the first du Maurier novel I read) and The King’s General are my favourites.

  12. I recently brought my first Daphne du Maurier which was The House on the Strand. It’s the first one of her novels that has really appealed to me. For some reason I have never really been drawn to pick up Rebecca. If I enjoy The House on the Strand I might pick up My Cousin Rachel or The Frenchman’s Creek in the future. Brilliant review by the way! 🙂

    1. The House on the Strand is one of my favourites, so I hope you enjoy it. I’ve found that du Maurier is a surprisingly diverse author – she wrote gothic suspense, historical fiction, time travel and family sagas, as well as short stories and biographies, so there should be something for everyone!

  13. I enjoyed reminiscing about Frenchman’s Creek as I read your review, Helen. I think My Cousin Rachel remains my favourite Du Maurier of those I’ve read but it’s a close call. I’m about to start The Loving Spirit: the intention being to read through her novels and short stories chronologically. And probably very slowly – fitting them in between the many other books I tell myself I’m going to tackle this year!

    1. I loved My Cousin Rachel, but not quite as much as Rebecca. Reading through du Maurier’s work chronologically sounds like an interesting idea – I wish I had done that myself.

  14. I read Frenchman’s Creek a couple of times as a teenager and thought it was very romantic. I need to reread it again now as an adult! I’ve read many of her novels, but still have The Scapegoat and The House on the Strand still on my shelf. I really need to read them – I see they made your top four.

    1. I did like this book, but I think I would have enjoyed it even more if I’d read it when I was a teenager. The Scapegoat and The House on the Strand are very different, but I loved them both. I hope you enjoy them!

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