Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 549
The House on the Strand takes place in Daphne du Maurier’s six-hundred-year-old home, Kilmarth, on the rugged Cornish coast of southwestern England. Told from the first-person point of view, the novel relates the adventures of Richard Young, whose old school friend, Magnus, now a professor of biophysics, has lent him...
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The House on the Strand takes place in Daphne du Maurier’s six-hundred-year-old home, Kilmarth, on the rugged Cornish coast of southwestern England. Told from the first-person point of view, the novel relates the adventures of Richard Young, whose old school friend, Magnus, now a professor of biophysics, has lent him a house for a summer holiday. In the cellar, Magnus keeps some of his experimental drugs, hallucinogens that take Richard back and forth in time to Cornwall in the 1300’s. Gradually, he becomes more involved in the lives of the medieval lords and ladies, and when his wife and two young stepsons join him, he finds his own life pale by comparison.
At Magnus’ direction, Richard takes his first dose of the drug in the days before his family arrives. He finds himself transported back in time, able to move around the countryside without any sensation and to see everything without the participants being aware of his presence. Led by his guide, the steward Roger, who lives at Kilmarth, he meets the lords, ladies, and clergy embroiled in the political and romantic intrigue of early fourteenth century England.
The drug wears off, leaving only some nausea and vertigo. After obtaining further information in the next few days from Magnus, Richard takes several trips. He observes the romance between Lady Isolde and Sir Otto, both of whom are married to other people. After Otto is drowned by Isolde’s husband, Richard becomes increasingly enthralled by her, so much so that on the arrival of his family, he has trouble keeping his mind anchored in the present. His wife and stepsons become increasingly upset with his peculiar behavior and sudden absences from the holiday activities.
When Magnus announces that he will visit, Richard eagerly looks forward to settling some of the mysterious details. Before he reaches Kilmarth, however, Magnus is killed by a train while trying to retrace history. In his will, he leaves the house to Richard, along with some instructions concerning the drug. Richard has become so enmeshed in the past that he feels more alive and more himself in that world than in his own.
Believing that he must find out what happened to Isolde, who has become an outcast cared for by Roger, Richard returns to the past. When Isolde is threatened, he steps in to help. The present returns with a jolt, however, as he finds his hands around the neck of his own wife. This action so devastates Richard that he consults a local doctor. Together, they manage to smooth things over, and the family decides to take a short vacation in Ireland while making plans for the house.
Richard, however, has not quite finished with the fourteenth century and manages to slip off from the airport waiting room to return to Kilmarth for one last trip. He finds Isolde dead and Roger dying, both struck down by the Black Death of 1348. Returning to the present, he sees a doctor by his side. Richard announces that with the situation resolved by death, at last he is free to join his family. The doctor warns him to wait, and he is right. Richard cannot feel any sensation in his fingers and hands, an ominous sign because use of the drug could lead eventually to death.