There are only a few places named Cornwall in the English speaking world. But if you collected them in a list you would probably put on top the place where the name originated. Still, for some it’s just “the other Cornwall,” as Kerry Donahue called it with a touch of humor in her introduction to the fifth annual “Cornwall Reads Cornwall” library event on Sunday: a region far away and hardly ever on anybody’s mind.
The feeling is probably mutual. Although Cornish people, caught for centuries in a rebellious relationship with England’s rulers while struggling to maintain their own Celtic language, might appreciate learning about a special kinship with Connecticut’s Cornwall: a sense for literary writing.
While the other Cornwall was home to novelists such as Virginia Woolf, Daphne du Maurier, and John LeCarré, whose stories have not only found large audiences in print, but were transformed–mostly in America–into successful movies, our Cornwall has produced its own crop of outstanding creative minds.
One of these is Roxana Robinson, who has curated the “Cornwall Reads Cornwall” event since it was started a few years ago. For this edition she picked Woolf’s work whom she has praised often in the past. Noticeably in 2020 in the New Yorker, where she characterized the writer’s legacy as “the essence of what it is to be alive. She conveyed the immense possibilities of the human consciousness, in all its glancing, shimmering complexity.”
A portion of du Maurier’s most famous novel Rebecca was read by Jane Garmey, a noted garden writer and an Englishwoman whose garden on Cogswell Road comes with its own fascinating story. The Le Carré excerpt was offered by Duncan Webb, while Jonathan Arnold presented poems written by John Betjeman, a popular British Poet Laureate who spent the last years of his life in Trebetherick, a village on the north coast of Cornwall, whose churches, railways and landscape he utilized as scenic settings in his work. What fostered his imagination: Three short lines in his “Cornish Cliffs” might give a bit of that away:
More than in gardened Surrey, nature spills
A wealth of heather, kidney-vetch and squills
Over these long-defended Cornish hills.
📸: Juergen Kalwa
In photo: Kerry Donahue, Jonathan Arnold, Duncan Webb, Jane Garmey, Roxana Robinson