13 Romance Novels Set in Cornwall
Out of the many reasons to watch the latest BBC production of Poldark, I am sucker for the pretty, pretty scenery. Sure Aidan Turner and Eleanor Tomlinson as Ross and Demelza Poldark are gorgeous and eminently watchable but for an Anglophile like myself it’s really all about the scenery-porn of Cornwall. The stormy seas, the rocky cliffs, the sunny beaches and tiny fishing villages and gothic manors with flower-filled gardens: Cornwall is a never-ending feast for the eyes. So until we can all watch all that gorgeous scenery again, here are 13 romance novels guaranteed to transport you to those dream-laden shores.
The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley
Author Susanna Kearsley is a master at capturing the feeling of the exact moment you hear the roar of the ocean waves crashing against the rocks and all of that stress you’ve been holding in just suddenly ebbs away. At some point, almost every one of her heroine's experiences it. Here, it’s Eva who goes to Cornwall to scatter the ashes of her movie star sister Katrina. Cornwall is where they spent childhood summer vacations and where they always felt truly at home. But, once there, Eva discovers a secret ability...to slip through time, back to the early 18th century and into the arms of Daniel, a handsome smuggler. Kearsley packs in plenty of surprises and romantic moments, as Eva struggles to decide where her real home lies.
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Years ago, on the eve of World War I, Cassandra’s grandmother Nell was found abandoned onboard a ship in Sydney Harbor with only a book of fairytales to give any indication of who she is and where she may have come from. Now, with an unexpected inheritance of a cliffside cottage and clues to her grandmother’s identity, Cassandra makes her way to the beautiful, windswept Cornish coast and mysterious Blackhurst manor once owned by the Montrachet family. There she’ll discover the secrets of Nell’s past and maybe the keys to her own future. Morton perfectly blends elements of gothic storytelling, mystery and of course, romance that will have you scrambling for more of her books. (P.S. They’re all good!) Another Cornwall set book by Morton is The Lake House.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
You can’t write about books set in Cornwall without including Daphne du Maurier. She is the Queen of the Cornwall-set novel. She writes novels built upon it’s perception of isolation and wildness as if when you cross into’s it's boundaries you are saying goodbye to civilization and the normal rules of society. In Rebecca, a naive young woman marries wealthy Maxim de Winter and after the honeymoon she is whisked off to his manor home, Manderley, on the Cornish coast. It’s a home also occupied by his sinister housekeeper Mrs. Danvers and the specter of his first wife, the beautiful Rebecca. A masterpiece of gothic foreboding, it doesn’t take much to conjure up a drive along the Cornish coast, wind in the hair and Manderley, rising up out of the dark.
The Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
It should come as no surprise that du Maurier lived in Cornwall and was inspired to write Jamaica Inn by a stay at the real Jamaica Inn located on Bodmin Moor. A dark, moody period piece; just thinking about it sends shivers down my spine. It centers on Mary, an orphan who goes to live with her aunt and uncle who run a pub on Bodwin Moor. It’s filled with ruffians and wreckers, people who lure ships to shore to wreck them and steal their goods. Her aunt is cowed by her abusive husband and Mary has nowhere else to go. Trapped in a bad situation getting worse, it is her uncle’s brother Jem that provides her any solace. There’s a wildness to the author’s description of Cornwall as well as a cold desolation and stark beauty. It’s a great story, but it’s the setting that truly brings the novel to life.
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
I should just fill this list with Rosamunde Pilcher books and be done with it. She is one of my all time favorite authors, writing a perfect blend of history and romance that feels authentic and not forced. Another Cornwall native, she brings the setting and scenery alive. Coming home from the hospital and getting on in years, Penelope Keeling recalls her unconventional life, bohemian childhood and wartime romance - all symbolized in her prized possession, a painting by her artist father, “The Shell Seekers”. Her grown children, knowing it’s worth a fortune, fight over who will inherit it but for Penelope it’s worth far more than just money. An unforgettable book of passion and heartbreak all against an incredible Cornwall backdrop.
Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher
One of my all-time favorite historical fiction novels (ever!), Pilcher combines many of my favorite elements: a boarding school orphan, an unconventional aristocratic family, eccentric characters, a young woman coming of age, plenty of romantic interests, a war torn home front, a house with a gravitational pull and gorgeous scenery. Interested yet? In 1935, Judith is left at a boarding school by her family as they go off to live in Singapore. She soon makes friends with Loveday Carey-Lewis, who sweeps her into a world of privilege and family. But their perfect life is soon interrupted by war and tragedy. A romantic coming of age and family saga at it’s finest. It was the first time that I’d read about palm trees and tropical plants in Cornwall - gulf stream who knew?
When I was growing up, the discovery of a new Victoria Holt novel would send me scurrying home from the library to read for the rest of the afternoon. Her Cornwall-set books aren’t rocket science. In many ways, they are simple rehashes of du Maurier and Brontë plots but boy, are they fun to read. Mistress ...has a young governess in the thrall of her handsome and mysterious employer and Bride... sees a young woman get swept off her feet and taken to her new, isolated, Cornwall mansion. Sound familiar? Just imagine all this on a rocky, wind-swept coastline under a stormy sky. These gothic novels won’t change the world but they certainly do help an afternoon melt away.
Jenny Colgan is hands down my favorite British “chicklit” author. Her books are funny, often irreverent, full of heart with just the right amount of cozy. Add a pot of tea and a plate of scones and you’ve got yourself a weekend. Set on the fictional Cornish tidal island of Mount Polbearne, similar to St. Michael’s Mount, Polly is escaping a toxic relationship when she finds herself an attic apartment overlooking the Mt. Polbearne harbor and finds solace in baking bread. As she pounds and kneads her troubles away, she soon finds that her hobby is giving her a future in more ways than one. Polly's story continues in Summer… Colgan includes baking recipes for the adventurous. I’d never heard of St. Michael’s Mount before and it’s scenery blows me away. Don’t be surprised if you suddenly find yourself fantasizing about living on an isolated, tidal island with little phone or internet service and where there’s little else to do besides read and bake.
Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James
Simone St. James writes these wonderful, shivery, historical, ghost story romances always with perfect gothic settings. Reader’s tip: never read them right before bed. Inquiry, might be my favorite one. Set in the 1920’s, Jilian is a hard working Oxford student. When her famous, ghost-hunting Uncle Toby accidentally dies she must go to a small, seaside village in Cornwall to pack up his belongings. After she arrives, odd, unsettling incidents begin to happen and terrifying noises keeping her up at night, making Jilian wonder what and who her Uncle had been studying. When handsome, Scotland Yard detective Drew Merriken shows up with his own inquiries, into sinister, local happenings Jilian begins to wonder if her Uncle’s death was no accident. Besides the aptly named “Blood Moon Bay” as a setting, what I love most is Jilian’s indomitableness. She's no damsel in distress and she knows a good distraction when she sees one.
Time to Remember (includes The Empty House & The Day of the Storm) by Rosamunde Pilcher
Back to Rosamunde Pilcher. There really is no substitute. She can describe a setting like no other and before you know it you’ll be booking a trip to St. Ives and Polperro. In both books, Pilcher takes us to seaside towns and rustic homes with large, country kitchens that have heavy pots hanging from the ceilings, windows that look out at the sea and gardens filled with wildflowers. Of course, there are also ruggedly handsome men who are just waiting to sweep heroines off their feet. The novels are short but sweet (almost too short). The Empty House is the story of a wealthy, young widow who takes her two children to Cornwall for a fresh start and it’s there that she runs into someone she used to know before she threw it all away. In Day of, just before her mother’s death Rebecca learns of a family she never knew she had. She heads off to Cornwall to find them: a famous painter grandfather, an aunt and a cousin - all living in a home (wonderfully) called Boscarva. She has no idea what she’ll find but she thinks it’ll be better than having no one at all.