Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch - Fowey's Literary Giant


Fowey's literary giant – and Ratty too!

Daphne du Maurier is the writer most people now associate with Fowey, but it was another literary figure who arguably left a more lasting impression on the town.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch is best known for compiling the vast Oxford Book of English Verse, published in 1900 and extended in 1918. It was not updated until 1972.
However, he was a prolific writer of verse, literary criticism and (often under the pseudonym 'Q') the author of popular novels of the day, including comic stories based on his beloved Fowey - or Troy Town, as he renamed it. They included The Astonishing History of Troy Town and The Mayor of Troy Town. He also completed Robert Louis Stevenson's unfinished novel St Ives.

Born in Bodmin in 1863, Quiller-Couch began publishing his work whilst studying at Oxford. Later, he was appointed Professor of English Literature at Cambridge, with Alistair Cooke amongst his notable students. It was a post he retained for the rest of his life. He settled in Fowey in 1891, purchasing 'The Haven' on the Esplanade, and named his daughter Foy.

Many of his literary friends were frequent visitors, including Peter Pan author JM Barrie and Kenneth Grahame, whose first edition of The Wind in the Willows is inscribed 'To Foy'. Grahame, who was married at St Fimbarrus church, used his Cornish friend as the inspiration for the character of Ratty. It is also said that Fowey Hall, now a hotel, was the basis for Toad Hall.

Although largely forgotten outside Cornwall these days, Quiller-Couch was a towering figure of the literary world for almost half a century and had a profound influence on many writers. One was the American Helen Hanff, the author of 84, Charing Cross Road, and its sequel, Q's Legacy.

Quiller-Couch was extremely active within the local community, and in Liberal politics. He played a leading role in Fowey regaining its civic status in 1913, and with it the return of its Town Hall; the old Local Authority's rights had been withdrawn during the previous century on charges of corruption. He was Commodore of the Royal Fowey Yacht Club from 1911 - 1944, a member of Cornwall County Council's Education Committee and a magistrate.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch died in 1944, following injuries sustained when he was struck by a jeep in wartime Fowey. His unfinished historical novel, Castle Dor, was completed by Daphne du Maurier at the request of his daughter Foy.

But Q's legacy is very much alive in Fowey today. The local theatre group is The Troy Players, there is a road named after him, and his imposing Memorial stands overlooking the harbour on the Hall Walk, close to Bodinnick.

 

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