This may be a case of veering
from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Recently I wrote a piece in
praise of Elmore Leonard, who died last week, for writing so vividly and
winningly about a range of comic characters from America’s urban sub rosa
society. Today I turn to Rosamunde
Pilcher, a writer of romantic fiction, mainly produced with female readers in
mind, set amid the pristine downs and picturesque hamlets of England’s
I have long been vaguely aware of
Pilcher the author without having given her a passing moment’s thought. Others obviously have, though. In any bookstore I set foot in at least one
shelf of the fiction department is crammed with her novels. The gaudy covers, slickly updated from the
days when she was a mainstay, as Jane Fraser at Mills and Boon, perfectly
convey the dreamily romantic themes played out in heather-filled meadows as symbolic
waves crash against rugged cliffs. The
stories have been referred to derisively as Aga Sagas.
Farther from the gritty milieu of
Elmore Leonard you could not travel.
The literary figures I most
associate with the west of England
are the books of my childhood, Charles Kingsley’s Westward Ho! and R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone, but I’m sure there are many others. Daphne du Maurier (Frenchman’s Creek) lived in Cornwall,
although her novels were not usually set in the West Country. William Golding lived down there too, I seem
to recall, though nor was his work specific to the area. The one name that has never come to mind, at
least not to my mind, is Rosamunde Pilcher.
It might have, though, if I’d
spent the last few years in Germany. There, apparently, she’s all the rage, and
not just in the printed medium. Germans,
I’ve been reading, are devoted to a marathon television series based on
Pilcher’s works, to the extent that every Sunday evening up to seven million devotees
switch to television station ZDF, which broadcasts each episode, with the kind
of unconditional enthusiasm their equivalents in Britain reserve for Downton
Abbey. German viewers, being German, are
even more slavishly hooked, for there are not just a mere dozen episodes but going
on for one hundred. And more, it seems, are
in the works.
The characters on the show are
English. They have English names. They
sit on chintz cushions in chocolate-box cottages and sip from Wedgwood cups,
pinkies raised in homage to their hosts.
The series was filmed on locations in Cornwall
But the language the actors speak is German; understandably, because the
actors are German and the series is made for German consumption.
German viewers evidently find
nothing incongruous or jarring about tweedy young men making gutteral noises
over the lawn-tennis net. An English
audience would doubtless find the whole thing risible. “Another biscuit, vicar?” would probably sound
to English ears more like “For you the war is over”.
There, I had to go and mention
But Pilcher herself (now 88, by
the way) started it, mentioning the war, that is. “I think I am more popular in Germany than I
am here,” she conceded in an interview. “It is gratifying. Having lived through the war, I am pleased to
have played my very little role in helping to put it behind us.”
Basil Fawlty would be proud for her.
War or no war, the locals are
said to be delighted with their new-found international fame, because the
series has led to a local boom in German tourism. Half a million German tourists visit Britain
each year, and about a third of these make a point of scooting down to ‘Pilcher
Country’, there to admire the scenery and to soak up the atmosphere they have
experienced from their armchairs. The tea
rooms in Penzance and Truro nowadays resound to
the Teutonic buzz of Bavaria and Prussia, and
perhaps – who knows – of Schleswig-Holstein.
Let them come, I say. The economy
down there at the remote toe of Britain
can use all the help it can get.
I wonder, meanwhile, if M has
read any Pilcher? I shall make a point
of asking her. In any event, I think
I’ll stick with Elmore.