Monday, 2 June 2008

Port Eliot: a house of secrets and magic, and a very elegant dog...




I've always loved Oriel Malet's description of her visit to Menabilly -- which is why I used it as an epigraph to 'Daphne', and included it in the readings last weekend -- and it seems to me to be evocative of Port Eliot, as well:
"... one of those houses, in which layers of time seemed to have worn thin in places, so that the past now and then showed through. There were rooms in which a lot seemed to have been going on before you entered them, and would probably do so again once you, the intruder, had left... There, even at midday, one sometimes had the distinct impression of being watched. In winter, I always tried to spend as little time as possible getting ready for bed, although the watchers were in no sense malevolent; they were just there."
But there is a difference between Menabilly and Port Eliot, in that the latter feels a more benign place. True, one feels the veil between the living and the dead to be gossamer-fine in Port Eliot, and you cannot walk along its many corridors or staircases without sensing all those who have walked there before. But it is a kindly house; and as its current chatelaine, Catherine St Germans, said to me at the weekend, 'it always seems to offer its help whenever I need it'. Listening to Catherine and her husband, Lord St Germans, talk about Port Eliot, I was reminded of Daphne du Maurier's description of her first encounter with Menabilly:
"... she had a grace and charm that made me hers upon the instant. She was, or so it seemed to me, bathed in a strange mystery. She held a secret -- not one, not two, but many -- that she withheld from most people but would give to one who loved her well.
One family only had lived within her walls. One family who had given her life. They had been born there, they had loved, they had quarreled, they had suffered, they had died. And out of these emotions she had woven a personality for herself, she had become what their thoughts and desires had made her.
And now the story was ended. She lay there in her last sleep..."
But of course, just as Menabilly's story had not ended -- for du Maurier brought her to life again, and it is a house now inhabited by a new generation of the Rashleigh family -- Port Eliot is entirely alive. It welcomes visitors, as well as the family who have always lived there, and remains a home, rather than a airless museum. Thus its current inhabitants include Roo (who you can see in the picture above), a whippet who trots through the rooms and out into the gardens, and down to the estuary, gathering speed, breaking into a run, swifter than the passage of the years...

12 comments:

oxford-reader said...

I think there were definite wrinkles in time at Port Eliot. Other, older, worlds were very close at hand.
Love the picture of Roo - homes like that aren't complete without at least one dog pacing the halls.

Justine Picardie said...

I couldn't agree more.

Gondal-girl said...

makes the two bedroom inner city flat look positively cramped! -Port Eliot looks like a great house to mooch about in and re-imagine everthing- lovely photos, love all the soft colours. The house as a character is a beautiful metaphor ( that is why they get burned down in Jane Eyre and Rebecca I suppose). It is true from my experience that some houses 'watchers' are more kindly than others

Justine Picardie said...

I like your point about the house as metaphor -- hence the contrast between the houses where Cathy Earnshaw lives in 'Wuthering Heights'.

oxford-reader said...

I found the perfect thing from 'Growing Pains' which shows Daphne feeling the pull of Cornwall as much as we did.
She is about to leave Fowey and writes 'I go over the whole place before we leave - visit every corner of the garden and gaze for a long while at the sea. I tell them all that I shall be back soon and they understand. It all belongs to me now. One last trip in Cora Ann down-harbour before we go. Then the train....Oh God, to exchange this for dreary bloody London....'

To which I might add 'sopping wet Oxford' I think I just saw the ark float by.

Justine Picardie said...

Pouring with rain in London, too!

Henri Llewelyn Davies said...

Photographs to die for and, like you say, a kind as well as stunningly beautiful house - with a warm glow coming off the elegant pictures. Though that photo with the staircase shows an area that seems to me to have a bit of a sharper 'edge' in its vibe - wonder what's happened there over the years...

dovegreyreader said...

Beautiful pictures Justine and I was stopped by a steward on that staircase who wanted to make sure I'd seen the picture of Oliver Cromwell just up and around there a bit.Love the dog, love it all and so wonderful to think how this house may have lodged in Daphne's imagination as the blueprint for Manderley.

Justine Picardie said...

Now I'm feeling intrigued about that turn in the stairs... I didn't see Oliver Cromwell, but maybe he was witness to something? Henri -- please let us know!

Gondal-girl said...

do tell Henri - the more I look the more I see, is this the power of suggestion/ my imagination? I once walked into a house for sale that had been built 1850's which is early for Australia and to be left standing. It had not been renovated much except for the basics, and the first thing that slapped me in the face about the place, was that, I had a wierd sense of a mother in black dress holding a sick child, needless to say, didn't put an offer in.

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Arleen said...

What a great set of pictures, the one with the dog, really provides a perfect perspective on the look of the house.



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