Tuesday, 3 June 2008

In the Round Room at Port Eliot



As you can tell, I cannot get this house out of my head. This is the Round Room where we did the evening event on Saturday -- I was in conversation with Catherine St Germans, the current chateleine of Port Eliot, and Dr Jessica Gardner, the chief archivist of the du Maurier archive at Exeter University. Jessica brought some pieces from the archive with her, which were exhibited in the Round Room -- and very evocative they were too, including a haunting picture of Daphne with her father Gerald. She is on the cusp of womanhood, and gazing fixedly into middle distance, while he is staring at her, and clasping her hand, as if he were her lover, rather than her father. There were also wonderful pictures of the Lost Boys -- the five Llewelyn Davies brothers -- and the opening pages of the Rebecca manuscript, and Symington's letters to Daphne, which I draw on in my novel.
All of which inspired a conversation that ranged from ghosts to literary possession to the power of handwriting and ink to summon up the dead; appropriate subjects, given the backdrop, though backdrop isn't quite the right word to describe the powerfully striking murals of Robert Lenkiewicz, that fill the walls of the Round Room. His work took 20 years, and still remains uncompleted (though its unfinished white spaces seem to me to add to its eerie, uncanny quality). It depicts 'The Condition of Man', and the best person to describe it is Lord St Germans, who commissioned this vast piece: 'on one half of the wall (the wall opposite the fireplace, the west wall) there is a presentation of loneliness, unrequited love, corruption, insanity, death, decay, destruction and general mayhem. While on the east wall there is an interpretation of harmony, proportion, love, friendship, hope, passion, and Truth and Beauty. Slyly included over the entire painting are veiled references to deeper, darker and more dangerous obsessions, which further the conundrum of this work that Robert referred to as 'The Riddle Mural'."
Can you imagine anything more tantalisingly mysterious? And I'm certain that Daphne herself would have been intrigued by the riddle, and its suggestive hints...
All in all, the perfect room for a conversation about the dark side of du Maurier....

19 comments:

Gondal-girl said...

sounds as Daphne and the house are haunting you Justine, perhaps this material is not finished with you yet....

divine pictures again. Bucketing in Sydney

Gondal-girl said...

can't stop thinking about Port Eliott either, so I clicked on your pictures and was glad to see they could be enlarged, and to my surprise ( maybe I am seeing things with my back pain anti-inflamatories...highly likely) and at the risk of sounding like a nut job ( which I hope highly un-likely) ... but on the first photo there is head painted on the mural to the left near the stags, that looks exactly like the photo I just put on my blog, of Emily Bronte's bust, complete with break.....am I imagining this?

oxford-reader said...

Thank you for putting up these pictures - now I can look at them to my heart's content and be reminded of the macabre beauty. I keep finding more that I like about the mural each time I look.

Also - hope the three events that you've added links to go well. They look like they are set in some beautiful places, although none as atmospheric as Port Eliot of course!

Justine Picardie said...

One more coincidence for you: the Round Room was designed by Sir John Soane... and I see from your blog that you have just referred to him. Or maybe that reference was already inspired by Port Eliot?

Justine Picardie said...

Oxford Reader -- you're right, I've got some lovely venues coming up, which I'm really looking forward to.

Gondal-girl said...

Hi Justine - no did not know room was designed by Soane, I was just talking about grouping busts together like in his house in London...eerie

Justine Picardie said...

The workings of the uncanny are truly mysterious...

galant said...

Thank you so much for posting those lovely photos of the Round Room. Chris and I were sorry not to have been able to attend on Saturday, either for the garden party of for the evening event, but so glad all went well!
Very best wishes,
Margaret Powling

Justine Picardie said...

Thanks, Margaret. Glad you like the pictures. And if you get a chance, perhaps you should try to get back to Port Eliot before it closes for another year -- it's open until June 10th, I think. And the grounds are looking glorious -- the rhododendrons are spectacular.

bookhound said...

Justine
I am sorry we did not meet up on Saturday evening. Dovegrey and I had "left the building" before we knew it. Ten years ago, at a small life class I drew Lenkiewicz's daughter.
She then arranged for a few of us to visit her father in his darkened studio on Plymouth's Barbican. He sat in long coat and scarf for nearly two hours, perched on a small stool, and kept us mesmerized with his tales.At first glance the studio seemed alive with freshly painted sketches, paint hardly dry.
The reallity of it all was a room, designed from top to bottom as one of his canvases might have been. Every easel,brush, the hundreds of sketches, rags and pages of notes
carefully placed to guide your mind in the way he wanted to guide you.
It was magical, just like the dining room at Port Eliot, stage managed to fire the imagination.
Sadly one of our little group fell for the illusion and picked up a small painting that looked discarded in the corner. Could I have this as a reminder of my visit she asked. Yes for £2500 replied the artist.
With my very best wishes.

Justine Picardie said...

Bookhound -- how lovely to hear from you, and I was so sorry not to meet you on Saturday evening. If I'd known you'd been ushered out the front door, I'd have found a way to come round and get you back in myself! Oh well... I'm sure we'll meet at Dartington.
I LOVED this story about RL. It makes perfect sense of the white spaces left on the walls of the Round Room -- planned, presumably, to draw us further into the mystery. I'd love to hear more about him when we meet. By the way, is it your sketch of Saturday evening that is on the dgr blog?

bookhound said...

It is
I thought it best to cast a few shadows rather than offend three beautiful ladies.
I hope you didn't mind.

oxford-reader said...

I think it's a wonderful sketch - it captures such a lot of the atmosphere of that evening...

Justine Picardie said...

I love the sketch. It's so atmospheric. Did you by any chance do a ghostly one of the basement of Port Eliot?

bookhound said...

I have a rough sketch of the old hopusekeeper wrapped in her shawl answering the telephone..
"Yes Mrs Danvers..of course Mrs Danvers...your tray will be right up. As she put the phone down she muttered "Eileen! Eileen! where is that girl...."
It needs a bit more work I think.

Justine Picardie said...

Would you email me the sketch? Dgr has my email address. I'd love to see it... Shame there weren't any photos from the basement. Too dark down there!

Henri Llewelyn Davies said...

Justine and gondal-girl have discussed coincidences amongst the first comments above: at the same time as your moving post went up, Justine - mentioning the power of handwriting and ink to summon up the dead - I was unknowingly and synchronistically putting one up about Llewelyn Davies family members' handwriting - on the flyleaf of an old book, etc.

Justine Picardie said...

That is the kind of synchronicity that Jung would have approved of. Loved your post on the subject, by the way...

Carmina said...

I know why you can't get this house out of your head, I can't get the same house out of my head either after I read your post. It reminded of the house of one of my uncles, Sildenafil , which was very similar to this one