DAPHNE DU MAURIER
“I tell you your mine will be in ruins and your home destroyed and your children forgotten . . . but this hill will be standing still to confound you.” So curses Morty Donovan when Copper John Brodrick builds his mine at Hungry Hill.
The Brodricks of Clonmere gain great wealth by harnessing the power of Hungry Hill and extracting the treasure it holds. The Donovans, the original owners of Clonmere Castle, resent the Brodricks’ success, and consider the great house and its surrounding land theirs by rights. For generations the feud between the families has simmered, always threatening to break into violence . . .
First published in 1943, Hungry Hill was Daphne du Maurier’s seventh novel and it tells the story of five generations of the Brodricks, an Anglo-Irish family, who own a castle called Clonmere situated near Hungry Hill.
The book is divided into five parts, each dealing with the life of an heir: Copper John (1820-1828); Greyhound John (1828-1837); Wild Johnnie (1837-1858); Henry (1858-1874); Hal (1874-1895) and The Inheritance (1920). Although Copper John is the third generation to live in Dunhaven, the Brodricks are still considered interlopers by the locals for their English roots and the fact the land was stolen from an Irish family. Clonmere castle was once owned by the Donovans who have fallen on hard times and their enmity towards the Brodricks is a central them throughout the book. In fact, it is claimed an early Donovan ancestor cursed the heirs of the family and it is certainly true that the Brodricks have more than their fair share of tragedy.
Copper John, a widower with five children, decides to sink a mine into Hungry Hill to take advantage of its vast copper supplies, however his decision is controversial as the locals claim his plans will destroy the beauty of the mountain and cause his family bad luck. Copper John ignores the warnings, employing miners from Cornwall for the first mine, and reaps the benefits when it proves to be highly profitable despite repeated attempts at sabotage. However, tragedy is never far away and Cooper John ends up outliving all but one of his children. When his eldest son dies, his second son, Greyhound John, become his heir but he abhors the mine and would rather spend time racing his greyhounds.
Greyhound John marries a local beauty, the eccentric Fanny-Rosa Flower, and their children are raised in a chaotic fashion. Greyhound John falls victim to the family curse by dying young and his eldest son, Wild Johnnie, becomes his grandfather’s heir. Wild Johnnie is an angry young man who spends most of his time waiting on his grandfather dying so he can claim his inheritance but manages to drink himself to death when it is achieved. With no children to inherit, the legacy falls to his brother, Henry, a kind man who has made a good life with his beloved Katherine and their children. Henry has big plans to expand Clonmere and Katherine urges him to rebuild the miner houses to make their lives more comfortable. However, everything goes wrong when Katherine dies in childbirth and Henry cannot deal with living without her.
Henry abandons Clonmere as there are too many memories of Katherine and settles in London but a disastrous second marriage to a domineering woman alienates his children against him and he becomes a cold-hearted man. Henry is particularly hard on his only son, Hal, who has a sensitive nature, and the gap between them widens to the extent Hal flees to Canada to find a better life. However, Hal has a depressive streak that makes him believe he is a failure at everything in life and his heavy drinking breaks his health. He returns to Dunhaven to marry Jinny Callaghan, a childhood friend, and ends up working as a clerk in the very mine he is set to inherit until his father shocks everyone by selling it. The locals have come to rely on the mine for employment so its sale causes a lot of resentment and when anger boils over, Hal pays the ultimate price.
The last heir is Hal and Jinny’s son, John Henry, who is raised by his single mother in her father’s rectory. John Henry returns from fighting in the First World War, ready to take over at Clonmere and restore it to its former glory but he finds his homeland torn apart by civil war. John Henry remains politically neutral but unwisely has a drink with some British soldiers in the hotel where he is staying which has disastrous consequences. Returning to Dunhaven, John Henry is kidnapped and held captive for a couple of days, only to discover after his release that Clonmere has been burned to the ground as punishment for his perceived betrayal. Things turn full circle when John Henry tells a local farmer, Eugene Donovan, that he can use the almost intact stables for his cattle and the lands falls back into Donovan hands after five generations.
Hungry Hill is a sweeping family saga, however most of the characters flit in and out of the story as the focus is predominantly on the heir which is a shame as there are some lovely characters who deserved longer in the spotlight. The most colourful character is definitely Fanny-Rosa who is unapologetic about the way she lives her unstructured life but even she cannot save her son, Wild Johnnie, from his fate. Fanny-Rosa, devastated by his death, eventually moves to Nice where she becomes a gambling addict and fades into the background once more. The heirs themselves are largely unremarkable and the time moves on so quickly we barely get to know them, however I wouldn’t say any of them were likeable. The story draws to a satisfying conclusion as John Henry Brodrick hands the land back over to the Donovans once again. Not the most memorable offering by du Maurier but not the worst either.