The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier

Ali’s Daphne du Maurier reading week is well underway and I’m enjoying reading all the contributions.  I have chosen to read the first of Daphne’s novels, The Loving Spirit, one that I’ve been promising myself for a long time.  And alongside it I’ve read three other books:

Reading Daphne by Ella Westland

Jane Slade of Polruan by Helen Doe

Myself When Young by DDM


Each of the three feed into the novel and together the quartet have provided a rich  and rewarding experience.  This post is about the novel itself and the writing of it.  I hope to write at least one more post taken from the quartet before the end of the week. 



The Loving Spirit is Daphne du Maurier’s first novel, published in 1931 when she was not yet 25 years old.  It is a family saga: spanning four generations from mother to son to son to daughter, beginning on the wedding day of Janet Coombe in 1830 and ending a century later, a few years after the wedding of Janet’s great-granddaughter.

The inspiration for the plot came from the figurehead Daphne discovered on a decaying ship, lying abandoned a short distance from the holiday home purchased in 1926 by Daphne’s parents.  Daphne fell in love with the house, refurbished and renamed Ferryside by the family, but above all else she fell in love with its location.  While the rest of the family used Ferryside for high days and holidays, Daphne spent as much time as she could there.  She adored the sea, the countryside, the freedom.  She learned to row, to sail and to fish and she explored widely.  It was the beginning of her love affair with Cornwall and the ideal place in which she could write without interruption.



The figurehead that captured Daphne’s imagination came from the ship The Jane Slade and was modelled on Jane Slade herself, the astute and talented matriarch of a family of local boat-builders who built and launched the schooner, The Jane Slade in 1870.  Early in her time at Ferryside, Daphne came to know Harry Adams, a Cornishman who taught her many of the skills she acquired in her new environment and for whom she had great regard.  Harry Adams was able to tell her the origins of The Jane Slade and the enigmatic figurehead: he was married to Dora, granddaughter of Jane, who was born just a few months before Jane died in 1885.

The Jane Slade

Her imagination fired by Harry’s tales and by the box of Slade correspondence he was able to show her, Daphne began writing on October 3rd 1929.  She claims to have written part one of the book in a fortnight; part two was completed by November 3rd.  The second half of the book took a little longer and proved more difficult to write, but the book was finished by the end of March 1930.  Daphne’s recollections on the writing of this book are one of my favourite parts of Myself When Young.  She reveals her doubts and crises of confidence; she talks about her uncertainty with her characters, particularly with Jennifer the great-granddaughter, whose personality and trajectory develop quite differently to how Daphne had expected.  “This must surely mean I had no control over my characters,” Daphne writes, looking back.  (Myself When Young. P 178)  That would suggest that in her subsequent books, she felt that she had more control over her characters.  Interesting; I know many writers talk about their characters evolving in ways they had not anticipated and see this as a positive.  It would seem that Daphne saw it as a sign of weakness.

The four sections of The Loving Spirit focus on a character from each of the generations of the fictional family.  Jane Slade became Janet Coombe and her son did indeed become master of the ship that bore her name.  But beyond that, the great majority of the story, and all of the remaining characters do not mirror the story of the Slades but stem from Daphne’s imagination.  The Coombe’s were a family of boat-builders who lived in Plyn, Daphne’s fictional equivalent of Polruan¹ (blended with aspects of Fowey² – small coastal towns which face each other across the mouth of the River Fowey in S-E Cornwall).  Janet is wild and rebellious and wished more than anything she had been born a boy and could go to sea.  The story opens on her wedding day to Thomas, her dependable and hard-working cousin.  She loves Thomas and does her best to be a good wife to him and a good mother to their children but she never loses her restless yearning for the sea.

Part two, tells of her son, Joseph, who as the first master of The Janet Coombe fulfils Janet’s dreams.  Joseph’s son, Christopher, fears the sea and in part three, despite wanting to meet his father’s expectations and follow in his footsteps, Christopher finds life at sea too challenging.  Exiled for some years in London, he marries and has two sons of his own and later, when he is able to return to Plyn to live, a daughter, Jennifer.  Christopher dies unexpectedly.  His sons already grown, his London-born widow gathers her young daughter and returns to her mother’s home where Jennifer is raised.  But Jennifer’s love of Plyn never leaves her.  In part four she grows up, flees London as soon as she can, returns to Plyn and reacquaints herself with her father’s family, including John, her cousin.  The book ends as it began, with young cousins, very much in love.  There is a  further cyclical twist which bookends the novel: Janet looks forward as she stands with Thomas on her wedding day, and muses on the generations that will come after them.  Jennifer, on her wedding anniversary to John, reflects with him on the generations that came before.  Du Maurier’s ‘loving spirit’ is the thread which continually weaves through the lives of the family.

Daphne had the title for the book from the beginning: an extract from Emily Brontë’s poem is on the title page.  She describes how she settled down to begin the book:

“… went across, the first morning, October 3rd, to the desk in my old bedroom, wrapped a rug around my knees, spread out sheets of paper, and filling my fountain pen, wrote in capital letters: ‘THE LOVING SPIRIT’.  Beneath it the lines from Emily Brontë’s poem:

Alas – the countless links are strong

That bind us to our clay,

The loving spirit lingers long

And would not pass away

(Myself When Young p.169)

What a wonderful image of young Daphne, enthused and eager, picking up her pen.  A fountain pen, no less!  The original manuscript was approximately 200,000 words, all handwritten in ink.  This from the diary she was writing in 1929 from which she quotes in Myself When Young:

“Such a step as this, as I took up my pen.  It went fairly well and smoothly, though the writing of it is an entirely fresh style for me.  There were no dire pauses and lapses of thoughts, but a book of this sort mustn’t rattle ahead.  Weather right for starting too.  A terrible wild day, with a howling sou’westerly wind and slashing rain.  It doesn’t matter a pin to me because it’s all in tune with my writing.  In fact it’s a good thing, because I wasn’t tempted to be out all the while.”

(Myself When Young P.169)

Daphne loved to row across the estuary from Ferryside

She offers a further sentence from the diary which I found telling:

“I don’t think it’s scrappy or carelessly done, at least I hope not.  Anyway, I felt it all, which was of supreme importance.”

(Daphne’s emphasis on the word ‘felt’, Myself When Young p.170)

I can imagine her ardour, her intense desire to communicate in a way that enabled her audience to feel the story as she did.  Whether she succeeded is for each reader to judge for themselves but the classic du Maurier is evident in this first book.  It’s not as accomplished as her later books; but the skills are there, along with some of the themes she will return to in future works.

Following in the footsteps of the Brontës, Daphne weaves strands of otherworldliness into the first half of the book.  The Brontë influence is strong in this scene, which takes place on Christmas Eve:

“She wrapped her shawl about her shoulders and leant from the window.  A faint film of snow still lay upon the ground.

The moon was high in the sky, and there was no sound but the moan of the still water lapping the rocks beyond the harbour.  Suddenly she knew that she must go to the cliffs, and follow the call of her heart.

She hid the key of the door in her bodice and left the house.  It seemed to her that there were wings to her body that bore her swiftly away from home and the sleeping children, away up the steep, narrow street of Plyn, to the white-frosted hills and the silent sky.

She leant against the Castle ruins with the sea at her feet and the light of the moon at her face.  Then she closed her eyes, and the jumbled thoughts fled from her mind, her tired body seemed to slip away from her, and she was possessed with the clarity of the moon itself.  When she opened her eyes for a moment there was a mist about her, and when it dissolved she saw kneeling beside the cliff with his head bowed in his hands, the figure of a man”

(The Loving Spirit p. 32)

As with the Brontës’ work, the landscape plays a central role.  Cornwall is offered in all its dramatic beauty and capricious moods.  Already, in this the first of her novels, Daphne begins playing with timeslip and exploring dark, intense relationships between men and women.  In Janet she creates a female character who mirrors some of what Daphne felt herself growing up: a strong and vivid inner life; the desire for freedom and lack of constraints; the need to be outside and be physically active; a love of the sea; a sense of being an outsider; a wish to have been born a man.

The Loving Spirit is a book of two halves.  Daphne acknowledged that she found the second half more difficult.  It focuses on the everyday; it tells a straightforward story; there is less of the supernatural.  I preferred the second half.  Parts one and two are melodramatic and at times over-written and I did not like Joseph, Janet’s son, at all, whilst I felt sympathy for Christopher and Jennifer, the protagonists of the second half.

That said, I certainly enjoyed the book.  Mostly, it doesn’t have the intense page turning quality of her other books – the tension in Rebecca, for example – and although the Cornish vernacular that Daphne attributes to her characters is not difficult to read, it perhaps detracts from the seamless flow of the sentences which is something I’ve always admired in her writing.  There are several dramatic events on the seas but it’s a scene in a burning house which had my blood racing because here I saw what was to come with her writing.  It’s not an echo of Manderley’s fate, but Daphne’s ability and intensity is clearly evident and it seemed to me that she had suddenly taken a grip and found her confidence.

Daphne came from a very privileged family with many literary contacts and she seemed to have no problem in finding a publisher for this book.  It’s tempting to think that’s to do with who she knew rather than the quality of the book itself.  But in this first novel I think Daphne was already showing the qualities that were to truly shine a few books later and I’d like to think that her publisher recognised her talents.  She received an advance of £67 for the book, ‘..the largest cheque I had ever received’ and some strong reviews in the press:

‘The narrative flows smoothly and easily, while in the figures of Janet, Joseph, Christopher and Jennifer the wild, eerie spirit that urges them all beyond prudence and obedience is represented in episodes and descriptions of considerable power.’

(The Times Literary Supplement)

The Loving Spirit is definitely worth reading but is perhaps not the place to start.  I am glad to have read du Maurier’s more famous and more accomplished books first.  Having seen where she would go, I found easier to appreciate where she began.

(Read as part of Daphne du Maurier Week and also for The Classics Club)

¹ Polruan pronounced Pol-ROO-an (emphasis on the middle syllable)

² Fowey pronounced to rhyme with joy

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43 thoughts on “The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier”

  1. Thanks for this, Sandra. I’ve often thought I’d like to do a deep study of Daphne and her works, but, you know: So many books, so little time. I hope you’ll continue your study so that I can read more such informative posts.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I understand only too well, Mary. I have a particular affinity with Daphne, partly because I live locally in S-E Cornwall but it was there before that. She’s something of an enigma. Thank you for the encouragement – I hope to do more but we shall see. Life does have a habit of getting in the way!

      (On another note: I have tried more than once to comment on your posts on your blog but can’t get past the spam filter. Ay least I assume that’s the problem. I’ll keep trying!)


  2. Lovely review, I’m impressed that you managed to read the others books alongside too. What a lovely lot of Daphne inspired reading The Loving Spirit and Myself when Young both immediately appeal to me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve wanted to read these 4 books together for a long time, so thank you, Ali, for giving me the spur to finally do it.

      Myself When Young is a lovely read – and quite short. Daphne’s early life is covered many times over of course, in various genres, but I found MWY more immediate and easier to absorb than for example, Forster’s biography – good though that is. I’m sure you would enjoy it.


  3. You really sell Daphne Du Maurier’s writing here. I must admit, I wasn’t familiar with her work before reading this fascinating insight. I love the way you connect with and explore her prose. The idea of losing control over the development of a character is a really appealing idea and I’ve always been compelled by the romantic style of the Bronte’s in terms of nature being a real driving force in the narrative and thematic development.
    I’m hooked and will have to investigate further!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve been fascinated by DDM for years, both with her books and as a person. She’s often pigeonholed as a romance writer but the great majority of her short stories are very dark; and several of her novels slip into the realms of sci-fi or fantasy. She’s a great storyteller and a craftswoman; every sentence is well-constructed. If you do give her a try I hope you enjoy!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a lovely post, Sandra. I read The Loving Spirit a few years ago and enjoyed it, particularly Jennifer’s section, but I wasn’t aware of the interesting background to the novel that you’ve written about here. I haven’t read Myself When Young yet, but I will eventually!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, I liked Jennifer’s section best too, Helen. Myself When Young is worth a read. I’m very grateful to Ali for organising this week. It finally nudged me into reading the 4 books together which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.


  5. I haven’t read her first novel, how interesting to read the other books alongside. There must always have been girls who wanted to be out and about having adventures and some Victorian ladies did go exploring all round the world, so I guess it’s not just modern women who can go sailing round the world. Is Ferryside still a private house, still in the family I wonder?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, Janet; plenty of women who forged their own paths – as did Daphne in many ways. Ferryside remains in the family – now owned and used by her son, Kits. Hopefully I’ll post more about it before the week is out.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a fabulous review, Sandra – now I have yet another DdM title on my TBR list! I was also interested in your mention of Myself When Young. I have been thinking that I would like to read more about DdM and her life so will check this out too. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. DDM wrote relatively little about her own life although there are plenty of books written about her. MWY was written to describe how she became a published writer so focuses on her childhood and adolescence and finishes with her marriage, not long after The Loving Spirit was published. I found it a lovely read: very accessible. Hopefully I’ll post more on it in the next few days. Hopefully! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  7. A beautiful post Sandra and dual reading of the novel and her book about writing the novel, thank you for sharing this and reading so broadly to bring us such an insight into Daphne Du Maurier’s world and her own little corner of Cornwall. I just love this little piece you highlight from her memoir, it so resonates:

    Alas – the countless links are strong
    That bind us to our clay,
    The loving spirit lingers long
    And would not pass away.

    Really enjoying reading the Daphne Du Maurier reviews and appreciating her work beyond ‘Rebecca’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Claire; there’s a lot more to DDM than Rebecca 🙂 I’m so pleased that Ali set up the reading week. It finally encouraged me to tackle the 4 books together, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I think I’ve mentioned to you before that we’ve been to Fowey and Polruan and done the Hall Walk and the walk near Menabilly. It made my previous rating of Rebecca and House on the Strand all that much more meaningful, and I came back and read both again. Now, after your review, I want to read these other books, too. And come back to Cornwall!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Hall Walk is lovely 🙂 And you will have seen the site of the decaying Jane Slade whilst walking; she was lying near Pont which the walk passes through. I love matching locations and books; it really adds something to the experience of both. I need to get back to Polruan now and walk those narrow streets again with The Loving Spirit in my head 🙂


  9. I have had the chance to read Daphne du Maurier. But your account of how she came about to write the saga of four generations has stoked my curiosity. Thanks for the fascinating post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am always interested in what lies behind an author’s writing, Uma: the inspiration, the choices… Daphne du Maurier lived just a few miles from where I live now so she is of particular interest to me 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a great post! I love the idea of her sitting down to write with her fountain pen and a storm blowing outside. Don’t you just hate people who have their first book published before they’re 25 though? 😉 I’ve read very few of her novels, though I’m a fan of her short story writing. Perhaps I won’t make this one my next read, but like you I do like to go back to an author’s origins eventually and see how it all began…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is hard not to think that she had it easy 😀 Frankly, I can’t write a single legible word with a fountain pen so she gets credit for that alone! And after that first success, she certainly didn’t rest on her laurels 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What a marvellous review of a book which I’d almost forgotten about,Sandra, reminding me of all those wonderful facets of DDM’s writing which I so admire and which have become an unconscious benchmark for everything I’ve read since I first met her books in the 60s. “Loving Spirit ” was not the first one I read, but it was the first one of her’s I read in situ, whilst on holiday in Polruan, and you reminded me of a mizzly Cornish morning in late October for the walk to follow in DDM’s footsteps: the first of many short breaks on the trail of her inspirations. One of the advantages of age is the opportunity I had of seeing these enchanting places half a century ago,before she was fully appreciated and commercialised as an author. Her sense of place , and ability to portray it, was outstanding, and I was drawn to her, partly I think, because she epitomised that sense of freedom which women in general were beginning to look for, and which I desperately wanted:” to be free, to fly”- I think she wrote in one of her novels .She spoke for many of us :I didn’t want to BE a boy, but I wanted to be able to be LIKE a boy. So many of her heroines were the same.

    You have inspired me to ferret out my copy and give it a deserved re read. Thank you. xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pat, I was thinking of you whilst writing this; we share the joy of DDM’s craftmanship and you are right, I also use her writing as a benchmark. She sets the bar high. I’m envious of those past trips you made; sometimes I get a whistful sense of how life would have been at some point in the past. With DDM, the black and white photo of her rowing (I’ll be using it in another post soon) epitomises her world then. It is still here – just!

      (Looking forward to the missive – no rush 🙂 xx)


      1. I did start Castle Dor but don’t think I got past the Quiller-Couch section; but I have got Rebecca to read this summer, and some time (maybe October) I may even tackle George Du Maurier’s Trilby

        Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you for your thoughtful review Sandra. Even though I have not (yet) read any du Maurier I found it very interesting. The Bronte sisters were inspirational to many young women and to many writers – I wonder if they continue to be so?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think they continue to exert an influence, Carol, though I’m hard-pressed to offer examples. They continue to be discussed widely: perhaps rather too much in a feminist context now which detracts from discussion of their actual output. Personally, I struggled with Wuthering Heights but loved Jane Eyre – and Anne Bronte remains my favourite of the three 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes it would be interesting to know how much they are still actually read. I liked both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights when I was young, and also read some of Emily Bronte’s poetry. I have not read any of Anne’s work, but perhaps I should revisit the Brontes. I do have a soft spot for 19th century English fiction.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I would agree with your assessment, Jane. Although The Loving Spirit will always mean a lot to me because it’s my part of Cornwall – and because Daphne opens the book with Janet staring at a particular view which I have always loved. (Hoping to get that into a final post but we’ll see 🙂 )

      Liked by 1 person

  13. I like to read some authors in chronological order, but it can backfire if their earlier works are not as strong as subsequent more famous books. Sounds like starting with the popular, best known Du Maurier stories is the best way to go after all – thankfully, as this is how I’ve progressed too 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Absolutely, Brona. I’m glad I started with the ‘big’ novels. Once we’ve got confidence in a writer, having read some established works, it’s easier to forgive any weaknesses in those early pieces 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As I wrote that, I thought it was the wrong way round. Though not entirely. I meant you’d got to grips with who she was and how she ticked – got under the bonnet as it were. There we are. Another cliché to the rescue

        Liked by 1 person

  14. What a comprehensive review. I’d pretty much forgotten this one, but reading your summary and comments reminded me of a long teenage afternoon. I think I remember loving it so much that I read it again before returning it to the library. I wonder if I’d be as impressed if I read it now…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wonder, Cath! I imagine not. For me, the youth of the writer is evident in her prose; I can imagine reading this as a teen and feeling absolutely breathless! But a special one for me regardless 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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