Monday, March 28, 2022

14. The King's General by Daphne du Maurier

I am really getting back into the history these days. I found this on a free shelf somewhere and kind of took it because it is a beautiful first edition hardcover (though missing the slip case), kind of because it's du Maurier whom I am discovering and partly because it takes place in the British civil war of which I wanted to learn more.

At first, I was bewildered by the context and all the characters.  The opening chapter had me quite discouraged.  Fortunately, it was deliberate, one of those openings where the character gives hints of the conclusion because they are now looking back on their past.  Once the main narrative begins, du Maurier sets the stage with skill so that the reader internalizes the characters and their relations to each other.  It takes place in Cornwall in the early middle of the 17th century.  Honor Harris is the youngest daughter of a less arisocratic family.  The antagonists at first seem to be their neighbour the Grenvilles, in the form of their beautiful avaricious daughter who weds Honor's oldest brother and then ruins and discards him.  Things get complicated and romantic fast though when the youngest Grenville with the terrible reputation (debt and a lack of honour), Richard, woos our protagonist.  On their weddding day, she is crippled in a riding accident brought on by his sister (who could have prevented the accident).

One of the main things I enjoyed about this book is that while there is much danger and threat and bad behaviour, throughout the entire story Richard and Honor's love is true.  He is a ruthless, irresponsible bastard who is also an incredibly skilled soldier and competent general.  He's a real dick, but in a cool ass way and you can't help but respect him for his constance.  It makes for a subversion of the genre, as despite her crippled and childless state, he truly loves her.  And despite his rash and cruel behaviour, she still loves him. It's a good romance.

I read that there were criticisms of the book at the time it came out in that it portrayed the language and behaviours of the people in a contemporary way.  I have no way of knowing if this nerdy criticism is accurate or not, but at least the geography and politics are descriptive and accurate to paint a strong picture of what the civil war was like for the people who lived through it.  The afterword reveals that the locations and the secret chamber were actually real, which is super cool.  du Maurier's pedigree is bonkers.  She basically leased and restored this sick castle because the family that owned it resided in some other manor.  Nobless oblige indeed!  Really enjoyable read.

What's crazy is that du Maurier was rumoured to have had a lesbian affair with Doubleday's wife!


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