As an avaricious reader of books, and quite long in the tooth age wise, of all the wonderful books read to date, there are four that I treasure. Namely that of War & Peace (Tolstoy), The Magus (Fowles) and The Green Mantle (Delderfield). All the former were penned by men, and I learned much from a man’s perspective of love and how men view women.
But the fourth book is Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek. It is the one book she laid claim to as a romantic novel.
In a personal sense, I am of mind her writing is romantic in itself, albeit most of her books have a dark side. To give a brief summary of Frenchman’s Creek, let us imagine the glorious spectacle that was the court of Charles II (the Merry Monarch).
Amidst the glittering array of Charles' courtiers, hell-rakes and courtesans abound, and unseemly amours cause marital strife, while common whores share the King’s bedchamber. But one young wife has had enough of lies, deceits and court politics. She takes flight with her children and retreats to her husband’s remote Cornish estate. Expecting peace and tranquillity, trouble of a very different kind exists in the waters off the Cornish coast. Subsequently, Dona – Lady St. Columb – has no idea that far more excitement and daring than experienced at court is about to turn her world upside down and inside out. Had a soothsayer told her she would fall in love with a French pirate captain, she would have laughed at such a silly notion. But Captain Jean Benoit Aubrey is not your average pirate. He’s well-educated, well-read, and Dona falls deeply, madly in love with him. She indulges in dangerous and daring escapades with her lover captain. But all good things must come to an end, and the end in this novel is not always as many readers expect. Without doubt, Frenchman’s Creek is a clean novel sex-wise and reader imagination fills in the gaps. Some people love Frenchman’s Creek, while others hate it.
But you see, in the same way, the heroine dared to break with convention, so does the author. Daphne du Maurier, who gives us a thrill-packed action romance and then steals an HEA right from under the reader. But could she have done otherwise? A sacrificial choice must be made by Dona, Lady St. Columb. She must choose between true love or that of her children and husband. What one has to remember is that in the 17th century women risked everything for love outside of marriage, where men risked nothing. Perhaps the emotions are so strong in this novel because it reflects in part a decisive moment in the author’s life: though that is a story in itself.
In the same way Daphne broke with convention and her novels daringly ventured to the darker side of life and emotions, she also highlights the dangers of illicit affairs and the subsequent fallout. I too throw romance novel conventions to the wind as an author. Perhaps I outgrew the typical romance novel formula at a young age because they all followed the expected norm of hero meets heroine, they fall in love, conflict arises, and ends with a fairy tale HEA. Of course authors did and still do strive for originality by leading their characters along differing paths, differing situations, and differing places, but the heroine always ends up with the expected hero. But perfect fairy tale romances sell, don't they? Whereas shock plots upset readers. Well yes, but Daphne's novels pushed boundaries, not in sexual matters per se, she was cleverer than that by setting precedence for huge emotional flash points, and I really love it when I encounter novels where the author has thrown the fairy tale plot to the wind, picked up the broken pieces and rearranges them to beget an unusual plot, a daring plot to test the mettle of the characters. That's precisely what Daphne du Maurier does in Frenchman's Creek.
Whether sacrifice entails convention and the safety of what is, or the thrill of the unknown, Lady St Columb is faced with a crucial heartrending choice. She must choose between the love of her life, or her husband and children... Her final choice for many readers is the right one, for others not so. But you see, it's not really a Happy Ever After, it is compromise and sacrifice and the what-if will haunt her, perhaps to her dying days. Similarly in Daphne's novel The King's General, tragedy, selfish need, and a what-if abound!
It is the what-if factor that fascinates me, and writing romance for me is a roller-coaster ride with no guaranteed HEA. Characters can be fickle, arrogant, and they don't do as expected. They sometimes rebel, or unexpected events occur and cause trauma. Some heroine's stand and fight for what they want whilst others turn away and take flight. Similarly a hero may want and as good as takes what he wants, with permission of sorts, whilst another hero may be confronted with walls at every turn and he has to climb them and jump through fired hoops to gain what he wants. But what of the hero who gained what he wanted and loses it and is left with the dilemma of What did I do Wrong? Could you as an author write a tragic love story which is just as much a romance as the standardised romantic novel? I have, and I even penned an erotic novel in which the heroine learns the difference between lust that is only skin deep, and that of true love. But, I am a rebel at heart.
If I've intrigued you with writing unconventional romance novels, as well as steamy romances and you'd like to see a list of my books, please browse the "my books at Amazon" feature on the bar top of this page.