My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Spanning the years from 1830 to 1930, “The Loving Spirit” portrays the life of a shipbuilding family in Cornwall. Janet Coombe has longings to sail the sea and be a man, but settles down in marraige to Thomas, and raises six children. Her favorite, son Joseph, becomes another main character in the book. Janet passes down to Joseph (and subsequent generations) her restlessness, love of the sea, and yearnings for fulfillment.
I really enjoyed the descriptions of Cornwall. However, unlike the novel “Rebecca”, whose main character almost immediately caught my sympathy (who does *not* love an underdog?) I never found a character I totally engaged with.
As Joseph matures, his protagonist in this novel becomes one of his own family. The reader can pretty much foretell the tragedy that is going to befall Joseph, as the author describes the deterioration of the relationship between Joseph and his brother Philip. This dichotomy is further passed down to Joseph’s son Christopher, and ultimately granddaughter Jennifer, with regrettable results.
After coming across a wreck of a schooner, Du Maurier began to research letters and documents of the Slade family and even visited the graveyard that contained their headstones. Basing her novel then on the Slade family (and particularly Jane Slade who in “The Loving Spirit” becomes Janet Coombe,) this is Daphne du Maurier’s debut novel, written at age 22.
According to this (not-very-complimentary) review, one can actually still view the figurehead of the ship that is written about in “The Loving Spirit.”
I learned a lot about the background of this novel here:
Daphne made an ambitious attempt at this generational saga set in Cornwall (one of my most favorite places!) Other reviewers have mentioned the borderline-strange bond between Joseph and his mother Jane… but when I read this article I understood more of du Maurier’s motivation behind the book.
Here are some photos of the settings in Cornwall in some of Du Maurier’s novels.
I have two issues with this book. The first is that the dead can influence us; speak to us; nudge us to take action (and this circumstance does take place often, it seems, in the literary world!) For the purposes of literature and creative imagination, this creative device is sometimes successful, sometimes not (and may depend upon the reader’s willingness to suspend belief for the sake of being caught up in the story). After all, throughout history man in his curiosity about the unseen world loves to explore the ‘other side’, especially in the arts and particularly in literature! However, in this case, “The Loving Spirit”, or the way that Janet is able to influence further generations to take action, simply didn’t work for me.
The second issue I had was the desire for revenge against Philip. Philip certainly was not ‘nice’ to Joseph…but Joseph wasn’t really that nice, either! Jennifer’s desire for revenge is portrayed as ‘normal’ and Philip’s demise supposedly is justice. I take comfort that only God can truly mete out true justice!
Anyone who has read Daphne du Maurier before knows that her writing can explore the darker side of human nature (perhaps because her own life seemed so unhappy). However, as a first novel, “The Loving Spirit” was a pleasant surprise for me. It was enjoyable and (for a DuMaurier novel), even a bit sentimental, and in my estimation, a pretty good attempt at breaking into the world of writing!
“The sea and the earth were dear to Christopher because he had discovered them so late, and because he had once known the lesser things, tawdry and valueless.
And side by side with this love for them grew his love for humanity, a great tenderness for simple people whose lives were unswept by restlessness and fever, who lived for their women and their children, for their little joys and sorrows, who worked daily through the long years at the tasks their forefathers had done, who climbed on Sundays the path across the fields to worship their God in Lanoc Church.
Christopher talked with them, and moved amongst them, he saw the beauty of the old people and the tenderness of children, he listened to their calm minds, he sorrowed at their partings and rejoiced at their laughter, he perceived the strength and kindliness of men, the instinct and loveliness of women. He knew that until now he had lived without wisdom, without truth, but from henceforth he would dwell for ever in the high places amongst the very humble, the very lowly that he had been born only to come to this understanding, to give help to those who called unto him, to love with them, suffer with them, to go his way asking for no reward, no ultimate thanksgiving, only to gladden his heart with the light that shone upon the faces of these people.”