A couple weeks back I experienced the writing of Daphne du Maurier for the first time. Taking a chance, I dove blindly into her novel Rebecca, and was confronted with a book that I could not put down. Manderley has haunted my thoughts since: the mysteriousness of the setting and the characters who dwell within. Ready for another fix I picked up The King’s General, published nearly a decade after Rebecca in 1946.
Set in Menabilly (the real life estate pictured above, and the same Manderley of Rebecca), the book is told form the perspective of Honor Harris, a woman who at eighteen was crippled from the waist down in a riding accident. The book details the Royalist perspective of the English Civil War that ravaged the country in the 1640’s, and a certain Sir Richard Grenvile, the King’s General in the West.
While the book was incomparable to Rebecca, it did have some of the same underpinnings: a mysterious manor, a doomed romance, and a disadvantaged female protagonist. The dialogue was also lively, notably the razor sharp ripostes between Miss Harris and Gartred, Richard’s sister. It is a romance, but not the usual sort with weak knees and a love that sweeps you off your feet. Rather the characters are complex, with their own faults and shortcomings, and rather than flaws being swept under the rug it is a central theme to the story. There is a cool logic to the relationship between Honor and Richard, not a weak kneed, doe eyed love that is so often the hallmark of the genre.
“We change from the awakening questing creatures we were once, afire with wonder, and expectancy, and doubt, to persons of opinion and authority, our habits formed, our characters moulded in a pattern”
The King’s General was an introduction for me into the English Civil War, a time period that is not part of the American history curriculum, and what was notable to me was how well du Maurier researched the events of the war. Such thorough research was an exception in the 1940’s, when authors often took artistic license and rearranged historical events to suit the plot line. The inspiration of the book was drawn from an incident when one of the Rashleighs found a skeleton in Cavalier uniform buried on the Menabilly grounds, and it gives a sense of connection and depth to the story.
Though it certainly is no Rebecca, The King’s General is a book that is strong on its own. It speaks to the adroit talent of du Maurier that she was able to write two very different books, and the themes of family and purpose will give you a moment to pause.