Daphne du Maurier (1907 - 1989) did not believe in traditional individual immortality after death. But, a student of Carl Gustav Jung, she held two related beliefs in a universal consciousness and in the ability of a strong ancestor and ancestress to cast a shadow down future generations within a family. Du Maurier explored this in her very first novel THE LOVING SPIRIT (1931) about a real life woman who had lived generations earlier in du Maurier's part of the Cornwall coast.
In 1943 in her ninth novel, HUNGRY HILL, Daphne du Maurier did it again. She looks at a fictional Protestant family the Brodricks and carries them in increasing detail, concreteness and three-dimensionality, from their arrival in Ireland before 1600 to a huge setback for their last male descendant in 1920. She begins HUNGRY HILL in 1920 with the creation of a mine on the southern coast of Ireland (a country never called by name in the novel) -- a mine first for copper and then later for tin -- by John Brodrick. His grandfather had been instrumental in dispossessing a native Irish family, the Donovans from their local predominance. For his pains putting down illegal smuggling he had been shot in the back and killed.
From that time onward the history of risen Brodricks and fallen Donovans is intertwined. A few years after the mine has opened, attracted local Irish Catholic men as workers and become hugely profitable to the Brodricks, a bloody attack on its above ground facilities is repelled by "Copper John" Brodrick, his two sons and others, blowing up with gunpowder the ringleaders during the attack. At the same time on the other side of Hungry Hill, the site of the mine, a nearly insane ancient Donovan Clan patriarch named Morty confronts Copper John's younger son John and others in hiding to try to catch copper pilferers at a secret smuggling exit from the mine. Morty Donovan delivers the following threat:
"I have cursed your father tonight, and your brother, and Now I curse you, John Brodrick ... and not only you, but your sons after you, and your grandsons, and may your wealth bring them nothing but despair and desolation and evil, until the last of them stands humble and ashamed amongst the ruins of it, with the Donovans back again in Clonmere on the land that belongs to them" (54).
Copper John, his sons and others, however, in the clash that same night on the opposite side of Hungry Hill have smashed Donovan pretensions apparently forever. Nonetheless as the years role by and Brodrick sons and daughters marry and have children, the novel every 75 page or so shows the Donovans are still in the vicinity of the Brodrick's "castle" at Clonmere, still brood over ancient wrongsand still hate their usurpers whom they pretend to respect. No single interaction of the two families brings down the proud Brodricks. But they are always the worse for contact with Donovans, male or female.
Between 1820 and 1920 no Broderick is ever as remotely powerful, single-minded, honorable and successful by his or own efforts as old Copper John had been. When he dies very old, a worthless grandson "Wild Johnnie" Brodrick inherits Clonmere and is soon enough blackmailed for a tryst with a Donovan.
The saga ends after World War One when a demobilized John-Henry Brodrick, a bachelor, inadvertently runs afoul of one of several Donovan brothers keen to drive the "English" (even those who have been there since the 1500s) out of Ireland. If old man Morty Donovan's curse is ever going to be fulfilled, 1920 is a good a time as any. Maybe it will be. Maybe it won't. Read HUNGRY HILL and find out what happens!
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About the reviewer
(Thomas) Patrick Killough (qigongbear)
I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more