Castle Dor: Historical Fiction Challenge


“It is a curious coincidence that no poet, or shall we call him investigator, has ever lived to conclude this particular story. His work has always been finished by another.”

So says Doctor Carfax in Castle Dor. The words have an eerie quality when we learn that Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch died before completing his book which was later finished by Daphne du Maurier. The legend of Tristan and Iseult is one that has haunted poets and novelists alike with more than one version still extant. Castle Dor deals with the same legend set in 19th century Cornwall.

The legend
Tristan, a young knight and nephew to King Mark, brings home the Irish Princess Iseult who is to marry his uncle. The young couple accidentally (or intentionally in some versions) ingest a love potion meant for King Mark and Princess Iseult. They fall madly in love and pursue an adulterous relationship, hiding and scheming behind the King’s back. They are betrayed by Iseult’s maid and the King, intent on revenge, kills young Tristan with a poisonous arrow. In some versions he forgives the couple as long as Tristan agrees to leave. In this version, Tristan marries Iseult of the White Hands(namesake of Princess Isuelt), sister to Sir Kahedin, and leaves returning the Princess to her King.

Castle Dor is very detailed in the various versions of the story. We are introduced to Doctor Carfax and Monsieur Ledru who pursue the true origins behind the legend of Tristan and Iseult.  They believe that the place they have come to, known in the novel as ‘Troy’, is the actual setting of the star crossed lovers’ story. Their investigation reawakens the legend into the lives of Linnet Lewarne and Amyot Trestane. Recently married Linnet Lewarne hates her old husband. Descended from royalty her beauty and poise is matched by no other. Amyot, a Breton onion seller from aboard a ship, comes to Linnet’s inn. Even before they meet, Linnet is drawn to him by the sound of his voice. From that moment onward, their lives are connected and as Doctor Carfax realizes, they relive the original legend to the letter. He tries desperately to avert the end.

Linnet Lewarne is the reincarnation of the Irish Princess Iseult. The potion in the original legend is supposed to free the lovers from responsibility for their actions (such actions a noble knight would never dream of doing). But in the novel, although we have a certain drink, brewed and drunk by Linnet and Amyot, it is hard to absolve them of all responsibility. Linnet seems cold, harsh and cruel both to her husband and to all others who have done her no harm. Amyot on the other hand seems genuinely in love while not forgetting his duties to others. While in the beginning of the story I had some sympathy for Linnet, as the novel progressed, I found myself unable to like her.

Daphne du Maurier was the perfect author to finish the novel. Her love of old legends and stories, and the whole atmosphere created by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch suited her own style. In fact, I couldn’t see where the seam came in; where Sir Arthur left off and Daphne began. The story was executed flawlessly.

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