Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Musings on Tristan, Iseult, Cornwall and Castle D'Or

A couple of weeks ago, after a long Sunday walk, we sat with a cup of tea and turned on the television... there is something so wonderfully indulgent in the feeling of turning on television in the day time.

PBS was showing the recent high-definition broadcast of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde from the Met, with Deborah Voigt and Robert Dean Smith as the lovers. We saw the last act. It was - as always - monumental and heartbreakingly intimate all at once. In that great, wonderful music, the agony and ecstacy of love is so beautifully expressed. It got me thinking and remembering, and, in particular, a novel called Castle d'Or.

I do know when I wasn't yet aware of the legend of the Cornish knight Tristan and the Irish Princess Iseult and that was well BC... Before-Cornwall. We moved to Cornwall when I was nine, after years in the Middle East, and the wild lushness of that part of the country seized me in its spell. I loved the tales I was told about the smugglers that had made use of the complex, cliffy shorelines; and the grim reports of the dreadful deaths of escaped convicts from Dartmoor prison, who - in the night - would get caught up in the bogs and mires of that land! And of course, the story of Tristan and Iseult.

I was hooked on Cornwall from day one, and when we left, just 18 months later, I was grief-stricken, as only a self-interested 10-year-old can be. (It must be said I had a rather melancholy and romantic view of all things; my teacher had recently commented that I had a morbid imagination. This was in reaction to my recent composition exercise. I had based it on the film Mrs. Miniver, 1942. I had no concept of plagiarism, but I wasn't too young to appreciate a mawkish plot line.)

From Cornwall I took with me my first kiss, my first "marriage" (complicated story), my first heart-break, and an ever-lasting obsession with the moors, the cliffy shores and the undulating mystery and rough legends of Cornwall.

Post-Cornwall, in my teens, I finally read for myself the 12th-century Romance of Tristan by the Norman poet, Béroul. Then I experienced a wonderful performance of Tristan und Isolde at L'Opéra de Montréal. Then came the discovery of the Pre-Raphaelites and their love of the Arthurian legends, Tristan and Iseult and other star-crossed lovers.

I also discovered the novels of Daphne du Maurier, many of which were set in Cornwall, and every decade or so I turn to them again. And so I read Frenchman's Creek, Jamaica Inn, and yearned once more for that landscape. One day, in a second-hand bookstore, I was delighted to find Castle d'Or. This novel was begun by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, the Cornish writer and literary critic, but not finished before his death. His only child, a daughter named Foy, asked Daphne du Maurier (a family friend) to complete the story, and so she did. The result is a haunting and unforgettable tale of the legend of Tristan and Iseult, as experienced centuries later in an irrevocable reincarnation of the characters. What can I say? Romantics everywhere: I recommend this to you!

Picture: Tristan and Isolde Sharing the Love Potion (J. W. Waterhouse, 1916).

6 comments:

willow said...

Sigh. Cornwall sounds so romantic. I will visit there one day.

Bill Stankus said...

Me thinks it's time to find a real estate agent!

Rosezilla said...

I wandered over to your blog, and I'm glad I did. I think I was here once before. Anyway, thanks for the tip on the book, it sounds like it's time for a trip to the library!

Blog Princess G said...

Willow, it's my spiritual home. I lived there for only 18 months, but it had quite an impact.

Bill: Indeed!

Rosezilla: Thanks for visiting. If you read Castle d'Or, let me know what you think, please. I've never met anyone else who's read it!

Rosezilla said...

I'm hoping to go the library next week, hopefully they'll have it. If not, I might be able to order it. I read a book you might like, called "Chataine's Guardian." It's by Robin Hardy. It might be kind of hard to find, but so worth it! It's part of a trilogy, and they are all good, but this one is the best one, I think.(I think she has a website).

Blog Princess G said...

Rosezilla: Thank you for the suggestion. I'm going to look it up. :)