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Frenchman's Creek

Frenchman’s Creek

By Daphne du Maurier

About the Author

Daphne du Maurier was born in London in 1907, the second daughter of a famous stage actor and actress. Her first novel was published in 1931, but it was her 1938 novel Rebecca which made her one of the most successful writers of her time. Alfred Hitchcock’s adaptation of the book won the Best Picture Oscar in 1940, and he used her material again for his classic The Birds. In 1969, Du Maurier was created a dame of the British Empire.

At the age of 81, Du Maurier died at home in her beloved Cornwall, the region that had been the setting for many of her books.


Reading Group Guide

1. A major theme of Frenchman’s Creek is escape. Have you ever found that you wanted to escape from the daily grind? Where would you go and what would you do if you could escape? Could Dona’s escape be an inspiration, or is it too fantastical?

2. At the very beginning of the story, we get to know Dona as someone who both plays mean pranks and who abandons her children. Do you think that she can be excused for this behavior because of her dissatisfaction with her role as a high society wife? Or is she being selfish and uncaring?

3. The Frenchman makes important distinctions between “contentment” and “happiness.” Do you agree with his ideas about the two states of being, or has your own life experience made you define happiness differently?
4. How do the pirates’ love of music and drawing illuminate their characters?

5. The Frenchman robs from the rich and gives his booty to the poor. Do you think that his robbery is justifiable?

6. Do you think there are ways that Dona could have become happy without abandoning her responsibilities and breaking the law? Have you ever been in a situation where you have been unhappy enough to abandon your responsibilities? In retrospect, was that the right decision for you?

7. William says that a “pirate is a rebel…He is without ties, without man-made principles.” Is this an accurate description of the Frenchman?

8. Even as he faces his own execution, the Frenchman displays no fear or regret and seems content with the life he has lived. Do you think you will ever reach a place where you are content enough with your own life to die without regret? Or is death the one thing that humans cannot help but to try and escape?

9. Years ago, the Frenchman gave up his name to pursue a life of adventure; when he offers Dona a place on his crew, she too loses her name, becoming “my cabin-boy.” In this story, is abandoning one’s name a bold gesture of self-actualization or the final stumble into fantasy? Is the cabin-boy the “real” Dona or restless make-believe? Why do you think the Frenchman told Dona his former name?

10. Compare and contrast Harry and the Frenchman. What can each offer Dona, and why does she ultimately choose Harry?

11. Dona chafes at the limited role women have in her society. At the same time, she has an obvious power over both Harry and the Frenchman. Do you think Dona is unique in the way that she is able to exert power over men even in her repressive era, or do you think people often are able to find ways around the constrictions of their society?

12. Some of the Frenchman’s most daring escapades succeed only at the last minute, because of unexpected luck. What role does chance play in Frenchman’s Creek, and how do you think it highlights the themes of adventure and escape?

13. Who really wins the wager regarding Dona’s rubies and a yokel’s wing? How does this bet change Dona and the Frenchman’s relationship?

14. Dona describes love as “something without shame and without reserve, the possession of two people who had no barrier between them, and no pride; whatever happened to him would happen to her too, all feeling, all movement, all sensation of body and of mind.” Do you think Dona made a huge mistake by succumbing to such feelings, or was embracing this passionate love worth the huge risks it entailed?

15. Why does Dona choose to return to her family at the conclusion of the narrative? What is she giving up? What is she taking back to her old life from her adventures with the Frenchman? Would you have gone back if you were Dona?

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