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Review: Castle Dor, by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and Daphne Du Maurier


Pages: 274
Original date of publication: 1961
My copy: 2004 (Virago Modern Classics)
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: The Strand, NYC, July 2011

Castle Dor was the last unfinished work of the critic Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch and finished (at his daughter’s request) by Daphne Du Maurier after his death. The novel is a modern retelling of the Tristan and Isolde myth, re-set to Cornwall of the 1840s. Linnet Lewarne is a young woman married to an innkeeper; she strikes up a relationship with a Briton onion seller named Amyot Trestane. Although not written from the first person point of view, the center viewpoint is that of the village doctor, who recognizes how history is repeating itself, literally.

Du Maurier did a fairly good job of finishing the novel—you can’t tell where Quiller-Couch’s writing leaves off and Du Maurier’s begins. She later wrote that she could never hope to imitate Quiller-Couch’s style of writing, but that she tried to adopt his “modd;” still, this wasn’t one of the best books that she’s put her pen to. Because the story is told from an “outside” point of view, we don’t really get that of the main two characters, so it’s hard to assess their motives.

In fact, the main character of the book is Doctor Carfax, who, as Du Maurier put it, serves as a kind of Prospero, helping move the events of the novel along while not really being a part of them. One gets the sense that all of these characters are involved in something much larger than themselves, something much beyond their control, and there’s a fairly wonderful kind of atmosphere to that effect. Although I had some reservations about this novel, it’s interesting to see how two writers—one a critic of literature, the other considered a “romance” novelist—coincide, and how they were able to create one cohesive novel.


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