Toward the Lodestone; Longing for the Devon Moors
In Pillars of the House, for instance, a young girl called Geraldine 'was in a quiet trance of delight’. Staying with the noisy, beloved cousins,
If you're unfamiliar with Yonge's fiction, but like me, come across one of her many novels in a second hand bookshop, or on the web, skimming through its pages you'll quickly have the impression of a fleet of children; they whoop and scamper through rose-laden arbours of gorgeous gardens and inside houses with Georgian marbled fireplaced rooms.
.she had first found a chink in the awning, but had watched with avid eyes the moving panorama of houses, gardens, tress, flowers, carriages, horses, passengers, nursemaids, perambulators, and children … there were greater delights; corn-fields touched with amber, woods sloping up hills, deep lanes edged with luxuriant ferns, greenery that drove the young folk half mad with delight … the children began to rush and roll in wild delight on the grassy slope, and to fill their hands with the heather and ling, shrieking with delight. Wilmet had enough to do to watch over Angela in her toppling, tumbling felicity; while Felix, weighted with Robina on his back, Edgar, Fulbert, Clement, and Lance, ran in and out among the turf'.
We pulled up and looked at the hills the mountains and the blue-green sea. There was a soft warm wind blowing but I understood why the porter had called it a wild place. Not only wild but menacing. Those hills would close in on you. (Wide Sargasso Sea)
Similarly, looming moor influenced Sylvia Plath’s poetry written in the foothills, at North Tawton. Dartmoor's ridge of tors seen from the town are an implicit transposed backdrop, a ‘blue distance’ in some of the poet's later poems, including ‘Sheep in Fog’, ‘Ariel’ and ‘Winter Trees’:
Then the substanceless blue
Pour of tor and distances.
Turning the moorland tables, if you look back from the summits of Dartmoor, you can see across to the north moors of Devon. And vice versa. This fact has proved useful for several women authors. In the mid 1960s, Doris Lessing, who at the time was living in the Dartmoor village of Belstone, and there drafted several novels (see Celebrations), in the converted shippen of her longhouse; (part of which I believe is now a holiday cottage - see here).
I read somewhere that Lessing once commented that this room's large picture window enjoyed panoramic views across the paddock, not toward the high moor, but further away, into the distant northern vista, of Exmoor.
Then there was Sylvia Townsend Warner, who found she could easily manipulate her readers via swopping Devon's moorland scapes in their minds. Warner's stories don't always match background scenery with real place. For instance, the story ‘A View of Exmoor’ was originally titled ‘A View of Dartmoor’, but apparently, after the publisher informed her that many people associated ‘Dartmoor’ with ‘prison’, Warner promptly swapped titles and places. Scenic features in the stories were less than precisely identified, there were, ‘ten foot hedges’ and ‘a falling meadow, a pillowy middle distance of woodland and beyond that, pure and cold and unimpassioned, the silhouette of the moor’ (See in Sylvia Townsend Warner, Selected Stories (Hachett, 2011. When put alongside the other defining feature the ‘moor mist’ is actually more suggestive of Dartmoor, but still, presumably, Warner's readers were satisfied that the 'view' in question matched with Exmoor).
Turn left at Mary Tavy … Between Mary Tavy and Peter Tavy … there is a track leading down through oak trees to a bridge across the Tavy … You can sit here by the golden-brown water, watching it divide round the granite rocks in its bed, or you can paddle or go a little way across on the stepping-stones. There is no particular need to cross the bridge. This must be one of Devonshire’s most undemanding expeditions, but it’s the one I remember most clearly of all, between summer and summer.('Writer's Britain; Spirit of the Moors', in The Independent, 20th February, 1994).
It's as though Fitzgerald’s moorland river-haven connotes an indeterminate place between one world and the next, a site where one can dream one’s interior worlds into being. It is a frontier essential to the writer, who, forgetting, digging deep and putting her own real life on hold, sinks into an imaginary place; she's conjuring a series of signs set in process by the zone of reflection on the bridge over the water that she doesn’t have to cross. Writer/initiate, is at the place where two inner waters meet: that of Lethe, (forgetfulness of the past) and that of Mnemosyne, (memory, the mother of the muses): the kind of memory that gives birth to text.