Bleak House Book Club #4 April: Frenchman's Creek

Dona St Columb is twenty-nine years old and a pampered darling of the Restoration court as well as a wife, and mother to two small children. Boredom and a lack of purpose leads her to swap her privileged, fashionable life in London for the seclusion of her husband’s Cornish estate. At Navron she finds the adventure and romance she’s been yearning for.

The Captain’s Cabin at the Burgh Island Hotel, taken on our Devon Experience in March.

After February’s mammoth literary adventure, The Sea, The Sea, it was nice to back in the realm of books that have fewer than two hundred pages. We chose Daphne du Maurier’s classic Frenchman’s Creek and discussed it over afternoon tea at book club member Helen’s house in Clapham on a sunny Sunday in May.

It’s a brilliant unexpected upside to the book club that we all get to nose around each other’s houses – a guided tour is always insisted upon. I find living in London that everyone resides in such disparate areas that one tends to meet in the centre and so it’s been really lovely exploring different areas and meeting at each others’ houses.

What We Thought

Frenchman’s Creek is the first book we’ve all managed to finish (more or less anyway as Emma was a few pages away and I finished on the tube on the way to Helen’s but still…) and this says something about the readability of the book. It was an enjoyable romp through Seventeenth century Cornwall. The Helford estuary is atmospherically described and so accurate, and as with Rebecca I could picture the landscape perfectly.

Dona is an interesting character. We were surprised by her ambivalence to her children, she clearly loved them but seemed rather unattached to them. However she was only 29 and clearly felt very trapped by the confines of her life and I suppose in that time wealthy parents did see less of their children because of having nannies. I did have to keep reminding myself as we discussed the clothes, societal constructs and expectation of Dona’s life, that this book wasn’t actually written in the seventeenth century, but in 1941. 

I personally found the book a little lacking in depth and found myself wishing it had been longer and more detailed, especially around her relationship with the Frenchman as they seemed curiously lacking in chemistry.

I liked the ending of the book, it felt right. Frenchman’s Creek doesn’t have the intrigue and creepiness that makes Rebecca so enthralling but I really enjoyed reading it. Oddly Frenchman’s Creek is the second book in a row in our book club that tells the story of someone who takes a sabbatical from the glitter and glamour of London in search of solitude by the sea. A theme very much close to my heart with my Bleak House Experiences.

Have you read the book? What did you think? 

How to join the book club

The online Bleak House Book Club is open to everyone. Every month or so we hold a meeting for the in-person book club and then discuss the book here on my blog so that anyone can join in, no matter where you live.

You can share your thoughts by commenting here or by posting a photo of the book your instagram account. If you post on your account or stories, do tag @bleakhouse.london and use the hashtag #bleakhousebookclub as I’d love to join the conversation.

The next book… 

Book #5 (May) is Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith, for discussion at the beginning of July. I hope you join us in reading and discussing it.

Comments

Frenchman’s Creek is one of my favorites. It is a romance that doesn’t require a happily ever after. Miss Du Maurier does a magnificent job in her physical descriptions of Cornwall, the estates, the ships, the clothing. Donna’s character is very believable as a wealthy woman who doesn’t fit into the norm. I could go on and on but I do think the book was a terrific choice to get a feel for Cornwall’s history.

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