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Book Title: The House on the Strand|
The author of the book: Daphne du Maurier
Edition: Virago Press Ltd
Date of issue: May 1st 2003
ISBN 13: 9781844080427
City - Country: No data
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Reader ratings: 4.7
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 29.88 MB
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Quite a few of Daphne du Maurier's novels and short stories have been made into films, and this is how many people have come to discover her work. The House on the Strand is one of her lesser-known novels; the penultimate novel by Daphne du Maurier from 1969. It is an unusual work about time travel and mind-expanding drugs; themes which could be thought of as apposite for the time.
The author thrusts us straight into the action with a beautifully written and vividly descriptive episode. The viewpoint character, Dick, is in the middle of a "trip" (to use the popular vernacular of that period.) After a few pages it becomes evident that Dick has been transported back to 14th Century Cornwall, where the people and events are far more exciting than Dick's life in the present. The reader quickly perceives that this novel is going to alternate between these two contrasting scenarios.
A nice touch in this novel is that for most of the time it is not clear whether this is due to artificially heightened perception - mental time travel - or an actual dislocation in time. Neither Dick nor his friend Professor Magnus Lane, who has formulated the drug, are sure. And the reader has an extra level of doubt because Dick feels trapped in his life. He has recently resigned from a stressful job, he feels he is being pushed to accept another similar job, and his marriage is turning sour. Naturally this colourful fantasy life seems far more attractive than his real one, which is humdrum and stressful by turns. So which is more "real"?
It is typical of Daphne du Maurier to make the more sympathetic main character male. She famously claimed that she wished she were a man, and certainly her portrayals of male characters are almost always more fully rounded. His wife, Vita, comes across as a rather unpleasant and very brittle upper-class American; a shallow depiction of a shallow character. Her friends who visit are equally unlikeable through Dick's eyes, although they and the children are not nearly so well fleshed out.
By contrast we get a strong sense of the earlier historical characters, and du Mauriers's love of history, and of her beloved Cornwall, is given full rein here. We follow a swashbuckling tale of intrigues, feuds and dastardly deeds through Dick's eyes with his experimental drug-taking. The locations are unpredictable, as is the duration of each episode; there are jumps in time although they do occur chronologically. There is a family tree and a map, for readers who want to become equally involved. Each episode described is quite lengthy, so that these historical chronicles take up quite a large proportion of the novel.
As Dick becomes more enmeshed in the events of the 14th Century, and more fixated on knowing what will happen, he begins to (view spoiler)[develop loyalties, and to confuse the two worlds. The "fantasy" world begins to seem far more real to him, although he also begins to realise that each time he "travels" he is not only ill afterwards, but in danger too. With help from historical records produced by Magnus, he identifies some of the locations and realises that whenever he regains consciousness he could be anywhere, and therefore at mortal risk.
The pace steps up nicely with the imminent arrival of Magnus, and the reader has been well prepared for a tragedy about two thirds of the way through leaving the main character completely isolated. Nobody save Dick would be able to understand what was happening or why. Dick himself is becoming increasingly confused, and his loyalties and perceptions of reality alter as he becomes more addicted to the experience. He says, about the 20th Century world with his wife, "I felt revolted by the puppet world in which I found myself, and desired no part of it, neither now, nor tomorrow, nor at any time." And then there is a further crisis as Dick in his confusion tries to actually kill his wife in this world, mistaking her for the power-crazy cruel Joanna in the fantasy world. He is mortified by this act, summoning help immediately, yet he still yearns for the other, more exciting world of the past. "I had lost not only Magnus but the other world. It lay here, all around me, but out of reach. The people of that world would travel on in time without me, and I must keep to my own course, fulfilling God only knew what monotonous day by day. The link between the centuries had gone." (hide spoiler)]
At this point, towards the end of the story, du Maurier brings forward a minor character whom we have already briefly met; (view spoiler)[a Doctor Powell, who seems to have some expertise in psychoanalysis. He wheedles the true story from Dick - plus other deeply hidden issues from Dick's past - over the course of 5 days as Dick is recovering. He also discovers both that the drug is a very strong hallucinogen and that it can cause paralysis. He offers a very plausible explanation to both Dick and the reader; it is a flight of fancy, an exciting antidote to the stresses and difficulties of Dick's present life. The unknown factor remains as it is an untried drug. What effect it can have, or latent knowledge it could unlock in the brain is still uncharted territory. Dick swears that he has given the last of it to the doctor. The reader, of course, knows that there is still one dose left in the handle of the walking stick (but it is unclear whether Dick remembers this at this stage in his confused state.) (hide spoiler)]
The stage is clearly set for three alternative endings. (view spoiler)[Will Dick now fully recover and make amends with his wife? There have been signs in the latter part of the novel that there is some reconciliation. Will he succumb to the paralysis we have been warned is a serious side-effect of the drug? Will he spontaneously find himself back in the 14th Century, as once happened before without further doses? (hide spoiler)]
Daphne du Maurier has always excelled at story-telling. One of her biographers has indicated that her early efforts were appallingly misspelt and amateurish, necessitating a lot of assistance by editors. Some of the descriptive passages in the early novels are certainly rather hackneyed, and the dialogue clunky. Nevertheless she was driven to write, and dedicated herself to writing page-turners, often with a great element of suspense. She incorporated some marvellously sinister characters and often included aspects of the paranormal. The author resented her rather unfair reputation as a "romantic novelist", a reputation which perhaps was due in part to Hollywood, considering herself to be far more than that.
In "The House on the Strand" the author has incorporated her deep love of Cornwall, of its history, of its sea-faring - even down to details such as making the children in the story enjoy the sailing pursuits she herself excelled at and loved so much. We feel involved with the characters and there is a great sense of place, an especial challenge since this has to define both of the worlds the main character inhabits. She is at the height of her game. It is a well-structured piece where the tension mounts nicely throughout in both aspects of the story. The mystery of what will happen next in the world of the past, where the facts learned from ancient records are invariably discovered after Dick's experience, is cleverly mirrored by the mystery of what the various forms of the drug will do next, and how much of Dick's experience is due to imagination, wish-fulfillment or some latent common memory in the human brain.
To have developed and honed her skills to this mastery from such a dubious start is indeed quite an achievement. It makes for a riveting read.
The House on the Strand is called "Kilmarth", and this is heavily based on the house where Daphne du Maurier spent the final years of her life, after having been forced to leave her beloved "Menabilly" in 1967. She has even given it the same name. In her imagination she filled the old basement with embryos in jars and other strange objects, and made the house rise above the foundations of Roger Kylmerth's fourteenth century dwelling.
Here's an extract from an interview in 1977. She always maintained that for the period of the book she "got into" the viewpoint character. Many of her novels have finished with an unanswered question. Perhaps many of her ambiguities result from that. It is Daphne du Maurier's own view of the ending,
(view spoiler)[ "What about the hero of The House on the Strand? What did it mean when he dropped the telephone at the end of the book? I don't really know, but I rather think he was going to be paralysed for life. Don’t you?" (hide spoiler)]
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Read information about the authorIf Daphne du Maurier had written only Rebecca, she would still be one of the great shapers of popular culture and the modern imagination. Few writers have created more magical and mysterious places than Jamaica Inn and Manderley, buildings invested with a rich character that gives them a memorable life of their own.
In many ways the life of Daphne du Maurier resembles a fairy tale. Born into a family with a rich artistic and historical background, the daughter of a famous actor-manager, she was indulged as a child and grew up enjoying enormous freedom from financial and parental restraint. She spent her youth sailing boats, travelling on the Continent with friends, and writing stories. A prestigious publishing house accepted her first novel when she was in her early twenties, and its publication brought her not only fame but the attentions of a handsome soldier, Major (later Lieutenant-General Sir) Frederick Browning, whom she married.
Her subsequent novels became bestsellers, earning her enormous wealth and fame. While Alfred Hitchcock's film based upon her novel proceeded to make her one of the best-known authors in the world, she enjoyed the life of a fairy princess in a mansion in Cornwall called Menabilly, which served as the model for Manderley in Rebecca.
Daphne du Maurier was obsessed with the past. She intensively researched the lives of Francis and Anthony Bacon, the history of Cornwall, the Regency period, and nineteenth-century France and England, Above all, however, she was obsessed with her own family history, which she chronicled in 'Gerald: a Portrait', a biography of her father; 'The du Mauriers', a study of her family which focused on her grandfather, George du Maurier, the novelist and illustrator for Punch; 'The Glassblowers', a novel based upon the lives of her du Maurier ancestors; and 'Growing Pains', an autobiography that ignores nearly 50 years of her life in favour of the joyful and more romantic period of her youth. Daphne du Maurier can best be understood in terms of her remarkable and paradoxical family, the ghosts which haunted her life and fiction.
While contemporary writers were dealing critically with such subjects as the war, alienation, religion, poverty, Marxism, psychology and art, and experimenting with new techniques such as the stream of consciousness, du Maurier produced 'old-fashioned' novels with straightforward narratives that appealed to a popular audience's love or fantasy, adventure, sexuality and mystery. At an early age, she recognised that her readership was comprised principally of women, and she cultivated their loyal following through several decades by embodying their desires and dreams in her novels and short stories.
In some of her novels, however, she went beyond the technique of the formulaic romance to achieve a powerful psychological realism reflecting her intense feelings about her father, and to a lesser degree, her mother. This vision, which underlies 'Julius', 'Rebecca' and 'The Parasites', is that of an author overwhelmed by the memory of her father's commanding presence. In 'Julius' and 'The Parasites,' for example, she introduces the image of a domineering but deadly father and the daring subject of incest.
In 'Rebecca', on the other hand, du Maurier fuses psychological realism with a sophisticated version of the Cinderella story. The nameless heroine has been saved from a life of drudgery by marrying a handsome, wealthy aristocrat, but unlike the Prince in Cinderella, Maxim de Winter is old enough to be the narrator's father. The narrator thus must do battle with The Other Woman - the dead Rebecca and her witch-like surrogate, Mrs Danvers - to win the love of her husband and father-figure.
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