Hungry Hill by Daphne Du Maurier

I love Daphne Du Maurier. Who hasn’t read and been completely transfixed by Rebecca? I loved Rebecca and My Cousin Rachel so much I was scared for a long time to read another one of her books in case they fell short of the standard they had set and disappointed me. So it’s been a good few years since I dabbled in a Du Maurier and well goodness me have I been missing out!

Verity’s posts on Du Maurier’s prolific output and recent reissuing by Virago encouraged me to finally dig out and read my copy of Hungry Hill, which is a lovely first American edition that I picked up for a $1 at a sale in a library called Gaylord Memorial in South Hadley, Massachusetts, two years ago exactly. There is a picture of the libary below. I am ashamed to admit I still can’t write the name ‘Gaylord Memorial Library’ without stifling a chuckle. It’s the same when I see Cockfosters on the front of a Piccadilly Line tube. There is clearly a small part of me that will forever be 13.

But onwards! To Hungry Hill. It is a multi generational saga of an Irish family, the Brodricks, and their rise and fall from the early 1800s to the 1920s. I believe I am right in saying that it’s the only one of Du Maurier’s novels that isn’t set in Cornwall (please do jump in and correct me if I’m wrong!), but it does have Cornish people in it, so she doesn’t forget about the land of cream tea completely. The title comes from the name of the hill that dominates the landscape around the Brodricks’ home, Clonmere Castle, and the nearby town, Doonhaven. The Brodricks have an ancient quarrel with the Donovan family, who used to own Clonmere and who were outsed by the Brodricks a few generations before. When the first Brodrick we meet, ‘Copper John’, sets up a mine on Hungry Hill, old Morty Donovan curses him and says his family will never see happiness and that the Hill will have its way with them in the end:

“Ah, you can laugh” he said, “you, with your Trinity education and your reading and your grand progressive ways, and your sons and your daughters that walk through Doonhaven as though the place was built for their convenience, but I tell you your mine will be in ruins, and your house destroyed, and your children forgotten and fallen maybe into disgrace, but this hill will be standing still to confound you.”

All very ominous to begin with, but at first, all seems well and the story begins with a nice description of the cosy domestic life and material success ‘Copper John’ has.

But slowly, slowly, as the mine gets more and more successful and the richer the Brodricks get from the copper underneath Hungry Hill, the more tragedy seems to strike the family. It doesn’t happen in a supernatural way; Victorians were no strangers to deaths from illnesses and childbirth, etc, but the Brodricks do appear to be cursed when it comes to losing spouses, children, and so on, usually very suddenly and tragically. There is also the problem of depression, of restlessness, of indolence and of weakness that seems to strike the Brodrick males, leaving them struggling to make their way in the world despite the best efforts of the women in their lives. They seem to fall apart without someone to hold them up, and all too often, that influence is taken from them in their prime, leaving them broken and their children suffering as a result. Somehow, each death and destructive element that destroys the Brodrick’s happiness and ability to enjoy their wealth in each successive generation seems to derive from the ancient quarrel with the Donovans and the anger of the Hill that was defaced by the mine built to make the family’s wealth.

We see five generations of the Brodrick family throughout the book, and they are all exceptionally well drawn, emotionally engaging, and tortured in their own ways. In Hungry Hill Du Maurier has written a sweeping saga of a family destroyed by the people and the country they are trying to improve, and it is as much a story of a family as it is the story of a country resistant to change and of the war and misunderstanding between the upper and working classes. It isn’t suspense driven in the way Rebecca is, but it is still immensely gripping and I couldn’t put it down towards the end. The last chapter harks eerily back to Morty Donovan’s original warning to ‘Copper John’, over one hundred years before, and it is hard not to think that somehow, the old man’s words may have indeed placed a curse over the tragic Brodrick family.

This is one of the less read Du Maurier’s but I would highly recommend it; I am now going to delve deeper into Du Maurier’s canon myself…I think Jamaica Inn will be my next, judging from the good reviews I have read.

8 comments

  1. I need to read more Daphne Du Maurier but, like you, I was scared that it wouldn't live up to the wonderful Rebecca. Glad you enjoyed this one and I have heard such good things about Jamaica Inn.

  2. There was a copy of Rebecca at the second-hand bookshop that I wrote about the other day, I would have bought it but the spine was detached from the book. Hungry Hill sounds rather fabulous as well! (p.s. – note to self, order another bookcase).I will also admit to a quiet smirk everytime I hear the tube message say 'Cockfosters', you are a kindred spirit.

  3. Great review! I'll be on the lookout for this one. I recently read Jamaica Inn and loved it, but I just finished My Cousin Rachel today and found it totally annoying!! It was just too much like Rebecca (which I loved).

  4. It's hard to avoid Du Maurier here in Cornwall. I didn't realise so many of her books had fallen out of view until Virago started reissuing them. For me Rebecca suffers from over-familiarity, but the book I love the most that hasn't been mentioned yet is The House on the Strand …

  5. I'm reading a collection of her stories right now–those that are suspenseful and she was quite talented in knowing how to unnerve her reader!! I've loved every DDM book I've read, except I did struggle with Castle Dor, though I can't really fault her too much as the first part of the book was written by someone else. I'll have to give it another try sometime. And I loved Jamaica Inn when I read it, but that was a good 15 years ago now!🙂

  6. Jamaica Inn is very good. Rebecca is one of my all time, if not my very all time, favourites. I have worried everytime I have started her works that I won't like the next one and always have, even if they are about ships at sea (not a very me subject – yet she has me hooked. I still get nervous though, I might read this one next… am holding off starting My Cousin Rachel as I have heard its a corker and want to leave that till last!

  7. So many Du Maurier lovers! Claire – definitely branch out! I am much less scared to tackle her others now!Darlene – you must read Rebecca! I have lost my copy through lending it to a friend who moved abroad without giving it back so I need to get another, but a spineless one is no good, I agree! I'm glad you smirk too! Fleur – I am now off to check The House on the Strand out!Danielle – I haven't heard of Castle Dor, I'll go and look it up. I've heard great things of her short stories and your blog posts have been severely tempting me…I need to read them!Simon – Yes, Rebecca is in my top 5, and I love it so much. My Cousin Rachel is indeed amazing and VERY frustrating – if you like delayed gratification wait to read it!

  8. I’ve just finish the book and I really appreciated it, all the characters are very well drawned and the family saga very interesting. I didn’t realize that it was in Ireland until the very end of the book!

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