The trouble with having an obsession with someone is that you can be blind to their faults. So it is with me and Daphne.
‘The Loving Spirit‘ was du Maurier’s first novel, written when she was just 22 and living in Fowey, Cornwall. It is a family saga, charting the fortunes of the Coombes, beginning with the matriarch, Janet. Janet has a longing to be free and at one with the sea and the wind, borne by the power of the loving spirit. She finds a partner in Thomas, who provides for her and her children, but it is not until her son, Joseph, is born, that Janet meets her true soulmate. She promises never to leave him and he, in turn, embodies her in a schooner named in her honour.
A wild sailor, driven by impulse rather than reason, Captain Joe places his hopes of succession in his eldest son, Christopher. But when Christopher fails to fulfil his father’s ambitions for him, Joseph sinks into a deep depression, exacerbated by the failing eyesight which forces him to abandon his sea-faring life. Whilst the family boat-building business is driven to the wall by recession and the financial shenanigans of Joe’s Uncle Philip, it seems as if the family’s fortunes are dashed. But hope for the family’s salvation appears in Jennifer, Christopher’s daughter. She also is driven by the loving spirit.
Despite the author’s obvious careful research into the family history of the Slades (upon which the Coombe family is based), the more contemporary the plot becomes, the more credible the descriptions. The novel is naive at best and the influences of the Brontes evident. There is a lot of wildness, tumult, roaring and plunging, resulting in a melodramatic tone to the whole work. It is nevertheless a remarkable achievement for the extremely young Daphne du Maurier who, as we know, went on to even greater things. Like ‘Rebecca‘, ‘My Cousin Rachel‘ and ‘Jamaica Inn‘.
My copy of ‘The Loving Spirit‘ is old, with slightly blurry font and brown-edged pages. I loved re-reading it. Although I realise it’s not a great book overall, as part of a body of work by an author I love, it is nevertheless important. All those churning seas and screaming gulls have a special place in my bookish affections.