Thursday, September 13, 2012

Forgotten Book: The King's General by Daphne du Maurier

A middle-aged Honor Harris is visited by two young men of her acquaintance who appraise her of various happenings around the world even as the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, rules over England. Then one of them asks about the mysterious disappearance of Dick Grenvile and this question sets Honor reminiscencing about the past.







I had no more visitors that night. But as the shadows lengthened and the owls began to hoot down in the warren I found my thoughts returning to that idiot Uncle John, shut up  in the chamber there, year after year, from the first building of the house, a prisoner of the mind, as I was of the body.


Honor Harris' path first crosses with the Grenviles when her eldest brother Kit marries Gartred Grenvile. The ten-year old, badly-pampered Honor is put-off by the amount of attention been showered on Gartred [who is one of those women who can have men making fools of themselves over them] and there is antipathy right from the beginning between the two of them. Kit's early death leaves Gartred a widow but not before she has sown seeds of discord among the family members. Honor grows up to be a spirited lady and then her path crosses with another Grenvile, Gartred's brother Richard. Swept off her feet by his manliness and manner, Honor runs away from her home to be married to him when her family arranges her marriage with somebody else. However, disaster strikes on the day of the wedding. While out falconing with, Richard and Gartred (since remarried), Honor's horse falls down a chasm and she loses the use of her legs . Physically challenged but mentally as alert and spirited as before, Honor becomes the domineering matriarch of her family, a role that she both cultivates and enjoys. Years pass, and England witnesses a civil-war with the Parliamentarians on the one side and the Royalists on the others. Honor's brothers are in the Royalist camp and as the enemy approaches she goes to stay with her elder sister Mary at the latter's home, Menabilly. Mary had married the widower Jonathan Rashleigh, a little late in her life, and now with the war in progress, there are ugly rumours circulating about her husband. The room that Honor is given falls in the western wing of the house and has a strange little room next to it. As Honor discovers later, the room was the one in which the mentally-challenged brother of Jonathan used to stay. The death of  father and this elder brother, ostensibly due to small-pox, followed so close upon one another that people suspect something fishy as the entire property passed on to Jonathan. Honor's god-child, Joan says that once she had heard footsteps in that room: "Soft footsteps....like someone who walks with slippered soles for fear he may be heard".

One night, Honor herself hears those footsteps, and peeping through a hole that she had specifically got made for that very purpose Honor sees a man in a riding cloak sitting at a table with his back to her. She is perplexed since the entrance to the room is always locked. When her brother-in-law returns, he is not very pleased to see her having been accommodated in that part of the house and that night Honor hears muffled noises and when she wakes up in the morning, the crack through which she could peer into the other room has been covered. What could be the mystery of the room? Could it be that the brother is still alive and kept in captivity?

Meanwhile, Honor's life too has taken another turn with the re-entry of Richard (since married and separated from his wife) in it. As a commander of one of the units of the King Charles I's army, Richard has become notorious both for his valour and cruelty which has won him the moniker of Skellum. As the Parliamentarians advance, Richard sends his young son, Dick (whom he frequently calls whelp) to Menabilly. However, the Parliamentarians advance and come to threshold of Menabilly. Unable to think of any other way, to save Dick from the enemy forces, Honor hides the young boy in the secret room. Honor might save him from the Parliamentarians but would she be able to save Dick from his own aunt Gartred, who has too taken refuge in the same house like a bad omen and has her own agenda in mind? Would Gartred have any qualms in handing over an unloved nephew to the enemy forces to feather her own nest? A physically challenged woman, and a mentally sharp woman with too many secrets between them match wits while a young boy's life hangs in balance... 

Before reading this book, I always thought of the English civil-war as a palace-coup with the Round-Heads marching into the palace and taking Charles I captive. The battle that followed, I thought, was mere perfunctory. I had no idea that it dragged on for so long and that it divided not only the whole country but even families as brothers turned against brothers, neighbours turned spies, and friends turned foes. I was also horrified to read that after the restoration, Charles II had the graves of the regicides dug open and their bodies put to display. God, the inhumanity!!

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Opening Lines: SEPTEMBER 1653. The last of summer. The first chill winds of autumn.

Title: The King's General

Author: Daphne du Maurier

Publication Details: NY: Cardinal Pocket Books, 1957

First Published: 1946

Other Books read of the same author: Jamaica Inn, My Cousin Rachel, Rebecca

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The book might be available in libraries. It had been sitting on my shelf for so long that I have quite forgotten how I came about it.

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Submitted for the Birth Year Honor Challenge



Also submitted for the Back to the Classics, British Books, A Classic Challenge, Find the Cover, Mount TBr, Mystery and Suspense, TBR Pile, Unread Book, Vintage Mystery

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Entry for Friday's Forgotten Book. Posting it a little early as I'd hardly have any time tomorrow.

6 comments:

  1. Before I began blogging, I hadn't even heard of Daphne du Maurier. I have yet to read anything by her but several of her books have caught my attention that I do hope to read one of these days. This sounds like another good one of hers!

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  2. Oh you must read du Maurier. She has the talent of writing a gripping plot and some memorable characters. Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel are a must-read.

    Thanks for visiting.

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  3. I have read the other three you mention (all terrific) and her short stories but not this one.

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    1. Welcome Patti

      This one is not as good as Rebecca or My Cousin Rachel but is an engaging read on its own.

      Some of her short stories (like The Birds) are marvelous.

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  4. Like Patti, I've read several other Daphne du Maurier books over the years, but not this one. Of course the one I remember most is REBECCA. Thanks for a good overview of this one, Neer. VERY interesting.

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    1. Thank You so much Yvette. This is high praise indeed from somebody whose review of The Woman in White is one of the best reviews ever written.

      Do read the book. You'll enjoy Honor.

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