Sunday, August 16, 2015

Jamaica Inn - Daphne Du Maurier

This is quite a momentous occasion for me - it's the first time I've ever managed to finish a Du Maurier book. I've tried so many times over the years, convinced that she's a writer I should love, but never managing to get absorbed enough in her books to manage more than 50 pages or so. 

'Jamaica Inn' was turned into a TV mini series recently though and after missing half of it I thought I should perhaps give it another go. The really lovely (and hugely improved) cover art on Virago's recent re print finished the job and this time I had no trouble getting through it at all. 

'Jamaica Inn' should be familiar enough to most people for me not to worry about giving spoilers, so basically what happens is this; it's sometime in the early 19th century. Mary Yellan is orphaned at the age of 23, young enough to still be expected to go you family member rather than live alone so she dutifully obeys her mothers dying wish and goes to her aunt Patience and her husband, Joss, landlord of Jamaica Inn. On the way she learns something of its evil reputation, but finds things much worse when she gets there. Joss us the drunken, murderous, head of a gang of smugglers and wreckers, his wife a broken woman, and the inn itself a brooding evil, and shamefully neglected place. 

Mary's initial determination to destroy her uncle is. somewhat hampered by her attraction to his younger brother and a feeling of responsibility towards her aunt, although with or without her intervention a crisis is approaching anyway. The question is how will events turn out and who will be left standing?

Someone in the Independent described this as 'A perfect fusion of gothic romance and a young woman's rite of passage in the vein of Twilight and Wuthering Heights'. The 'Wuthering Heights' comparison sort of works though Jem, and even Joss, are far less objectionable than Heathcliff and in 1936 it was clearly possible to be far more explicit about sexual attraction then in the Bronte's day but I don't think the 'Twilight' comparison is especially apt. At least not from what I've seen of the film version. The crucial difference being that if you take being a vampire out if the equation, Edward is not the sort of young man anybody's parents would object to. 

It does seem a bit hard on Mary that Du Maurier sends her off into the sunset with a man who introduces himself as a horse thief, has dabbled in smuggling, and whisks her off with only the clothes on her back to a life on the road. In January. For all the talk of love and belonging at the end, Mary has still only met Jem a handful of times, and whilst he may have shopped his brother to the authorities to save her, and probably hasn't murdered anyone, what lies between them is attraction. A sensible woman would take a cold bath and then look for a man less likely to end on the gallows. 

Meanwhile it's about full of wonderful images, perfect for filming. The moors and marshes in all their winter bleakness are the perfect back ground for tales of adventure. The revelations about the wreckers grim trade quite as horrifying now as they ever would have been, and Mary herself a compelling character. Her struggles to work out what she should do and who she can trust ring true. Her final decision to run away with Jem also makes sense - he does at least hold the promise of a sort of camaraderie and equality though I wonder if Du Maurier ever pictured a happy ending for them. 

My other question is this - am I ready to tackle 'Frenchman's Creek'? 


  1. Oh I do hope you read 'Frenchman's Creek', although being a Du Maurier fan, I love all her books. I live close to du Maurier country, in fact stopped for a coffee last week at Jamaica Inn during a drive around Colliford Lake and the surrounding moorland. I love Cornwall and am familiar with most of the places where Daphne lived and drew inspiration to write her books . . and Frenchman's Creek is a beautiful, secluded place where I can still imagine the appearance of 'that boat' with 'that handsome man' on board. One can dream!

  2. Just to add - I have just finished reading all 12 Poldark novels by Winston Graham; 'Poldark' was on TV earlier in the year and I decided I couldn't wait for ages to see how the story developed, so I bought the books. It's surprising how much is changed when a book is 'adapted' (changed!) for showing on television - I prefer the books!

  3. I've been eyeing up the Poldark books and wondering if they'd be fun to read so it's good to hear you really enjoyed them. I've yet to make it go Cornwall but it's somewhere I'd love to visit and by the time I've worked through a bit more Du Maurier I'm guessing I'll want to no even more.

  4. Well, if ever you do visit Cornwall, please give me warning on my blog and then I'd love to meet up with you in du Maurier country.

  5. I read this book so many decades ago, and this review is enticing me to read it again. My favorite Du Maurier is Frenchman's Creek, also read long ago. I hope you read Frenchman's Creek.

  6. In that case I'll do it! Thank you for the recommendation/push :-)