Lady Dona St. Columb, a spoiled aristocrat, has become bored with her life in London society so she takes her children to Navron, her husband’s country home in Cornwall. When Dona arrives she finds the house in a rundown state with only one servant, William, in attendance, and Dona forms an unlikely acquaintance with the mysterious man who soon becomes her ally. While Dona tries to shun visits from her neighbours, she soon learns they have fallen victim to a French pirate who seems to be hiding somewhere in the area.
Not long after, Dona spots William talking to a stranger at the edge of the woods and her curiosity is aroused enough to go exploring on her own. Dona soon discovers the secret cove where the pirate ship is being repaired but she is captured before she can make her escape. When Dona is brought before the Frenchman, she is astounded to find him charming and handsome, the total opposite to what she has been led to believe, and more to the point, he knows all about Dona’s life. Dona continues to meet with the pirate with William’s help, eventually joining him on one of his adventures where she realises she has fallen in love with him. However, Dona’s romantic idyll is soon shattered when she returns to Navron to find her husband, Harry, has arrived from London.
Harry and his neighbours have made plans to capture the Frenchman that very evening but Dona sends William to warn him and the pirates soon take Navron instead. The Frenchman pretends not to know Dona but her secret is soon discovered by her erstwhile lover, Rockingham, and the evening ends in bloodshed with the pirate being taken prisoner. Dona sends Harry and the children away to London while she helps the Frenchman escape, but as they reach the creek, Dona realises she has too many responsibilities and the Frenchman leaves alone.
So far, Frenchman’s Creek is my least favourite du Maurier novel and I’m afraid I found most of it rather tedious. The story gets off to a very slow start as du Maurier begins with lengthy descriptions of Cornwall but the passages were mind numbingly dull to read. Normally, I love du Maurier’s settings as they create the tone for the story, so I guess the tedium should’ve been a warning that this book was going to be a hard read for me.
When du Maurier wrote Frenchman’s Creek, she was feeling trapped by her own life, and she intended the book to be a romantic adventure. The problem is the romance elements of the book are a complete dud as the couple’s relationship is entirely without passion, in fact Dona’s interactions with William have more spark to them. While I realise the Frenchman is supposed to be an enigmatic figure, he just did not seem fleshed out enough to me and I never got a sense of who he was supposed to be.
The book is more successful in exploring the constraints society places on women, all of which is expressed by Dona’s increasing dissatisfaction with her life. Dona attempts to escape her suffocating lifestyle, as she no longer loves her irritating husband and is tired of the games people play in society. Dona escapes to Navron with her children in an attempt to find out who she really is beneath the aristocratic trappings but ultimately discovers that she cannot ever be free of her responsibilities which is rather depressing.