Confronted with accent and dialect when I open a novel may well be the quickest way to make me put it back on the shelf. I did this with Adam Bede countless times before I got a grip and within a matter of pages I was immersed and helplessly hooked into George Eliot's rural world. Likewise I struggle slightly with Wuthering Heights because of it.
The Colour Purple comes to mind as a modern-day equivalent, where would that book be without it? Then perhaps a lesser known book , Marriage by Susan Ferrier. It's possible to emerge the other end of that as a passable Scot, and read aloud you will convince all around you of your acquired ancestry. I have a delectable old edition of Susan Ferrier's book along with a matching volume of her letters picked up as cheap as chips in a second hand bookshop but both inscribed by Humbert Wolfe, October 27th 1929
Having tried my hand with a mere morsel of Brin Swll speak a while ago, it's actually very difficult to do but, when written with an unforced ease and proficiency, accent and dialect the very things that pitch a narrative into the precise territory an author wants it to go; to my mind 50% of the time and place location dilemma is sorted if this all sits comfortably as I read.
If dialect well-done is half the work completed then descriptive sense of place must fulfill the rest, so how does Daphne fare on both counts?
Daphne was legendary for her mastery of the opening and closing lines of her books and when you consider that The Loving Spirit was her first published attempt at fiction in 1931 this all surely bodes well for the future.
'Janet Coombe stood on the hill above Plyn, looking down upon the harbour. Although the sun was already high in the heavens, the little town was still wrapped in an early morning mist. It clung to Plyn like a thin pale blanket, lending to the place a faint whisper of unreality as if the whole had been blessed by ghostly fingers. The tide was ebbing, the quiet waters escaped silently from the harbour and became one with the sea, unruffled and undisturbed.No straggling cloud, no hollow wind broke the calm beauty of the still white sky.'
That feels like a perfect Cornish morning to me and the conversation which follows as Thomas proposes to Janet sets the scene firmly. Daphne had clearly listened carefully because it's littered with West Country-isms
"Where you'm been"..."Where are you to?" the latter an expression used to ask where someone is and heard daily around here. The vernacular sits comfortably within the whole and I was completely at ease and convinced as I read.
Nothing jarred and slowly I also sensed something else, perhaps Daphne's search was on for a style of her own and she explores a great many in this book. In many ways it reads like a potted legacy of all that's gone before, not only George Eliot's Adam Bede and all things Bronte-esque for the dialect and there are definite nods towards Wuthering Heights in the plot. As Michele Roberts elaborates in yet another excellent Virago introduction, Daphne takes up the permission of the gothic to go where angels fear to tread as she endeavours to
'reveal some of the bad things that go on in seemingly respectable houses.'
When the action moves to London there are clear elements of Dickens and then the most Flaubertian - Madame Bovary hansom cab drive around Regent's Park, it's all a wonderful literary rattle bag to tempt in a Daphne devotee like me.
The book itself is based on the real life of Jane Slade of the Slade ship-building family of Polruan which all adds grist to the narrative mill and I have been reading Jane Doe's book on her family alongside The Loving Spirit and to great atmospheric effect. The carved figurehead of Jane Slade which guided the ship bearing her name across the oceans of the world, and features so strongly in Daphne's book as Janet Coombe, now resides proudly on the wall of Ferryside at Bodinnick, where Daphne wrote the book between October 1929 and January 1930, and is clearly visible to all who use the little ferry across the River Fowey there.
The Loving Spirit has most certainly continued to cast the Daphne spell on me, every one I read becoming a favourite until the next one that is.