Daphne du Maurier
Du Maurier’s novel Jamaica Inn gives a perceptive overview of life in the 1830s around the Cornish coastline of England. Pirating and wrecking and smuggling was at its height resulting in great danger to ships navigating around the southern coastline. This is the scene around which she bases her novel. The following book review should give the prospective reader a good insight of the novel.
Jamaica Inn: The Setting
The story is set in a landscape which is familiar to Du Maurier, the moors of Cornwall and in many ways what she describes taking place at Jamaica Inn during the early 1800s is very close to the truth. Mary Yellan is the youthful heroine, orphaned in her early twenties and with no one to turn to, she is forced to sell the family farm and make her home with her married aunt, this being her dying mother’s final request. Mary’s adventure begins when she heads for Jamaica Inn, located between Bodmin and Launceston, where Aunt Patience’s husband, Joss Merlyn is the landlord.
Jamaica Inn: Mary’s Arrival
Mary’s arrival at Jamaica Inn is marked with a darkness that only grows as events unfold. Mary’s childhood image of a happy-go-lucky Aunt Patience is shattered when she encounters her, a broken and tearful woman, subservient to the ruthless bully who is her husband. Her Aunt Patience is too fearful to impart any information to her so Mary discovers the sinister goings on at Jamaica Inn through her own curiosity and fearless perseverance. She finds out that Joss Merlyn is involved in everything from treachery to murder.
Jamaica Inn: Mary Finds Some Solace
Amidst all of this, Mary has to battle with feelings of passion for Jem, the brother of Joss not knowing whether he is involved with Joss whom she plans to expose. Romance, however is not part of this novel; Mary is down to earth and sees the cycle of life as being inevitable and outside her control, romance a mere temporary aberration in life. Her only source of solace is the Vicar of Alturnam; seeing him as a man of God, she trusts and confides in him only to discover that her trust was misplaced.
Mary Leaves Jamaica Inn
There is a continuous build-up of action which keeps the reader engaged until the end. There is both despair and relief for Mary and she is finally able to leave the darkness of Jamaica Inn behind her. She leaves with Jem knowing that there will be trials and tribulations ahead.
Jamaica Inn and Du Maurier
Whilst Du Maurier had a rather privileged life, she has excelled remarkably in portraying the lives of ordinary working class and farming families. This expose emanates through the language used and the behavior of the individuals resulting in an extremely true-to-life drama in which Du Maurier seems to be at one with Mary’s psyche. The outcome is a real life drama which is balanced and focussed on the hardships and realities faced by people, in particular, women.
There is no ludicrously happy ending for Mary, rather a glimmer of happiness as May’s life moves on from her ordeal. The reader is left with no doubt that Mary will face many more problems during her lifetime. The drama unfolds quickly making this a book that is difficult to put down until the end has been reached.
Du Maurier, D. (2008). Jamaica Inn, Virago Press:London
by Daphne du Maurier
The cold walls of Jamaica Inn smelt of guilt and deceit. Its dark secrets made the very name a byword for terror among honest Cornish folk. Young Mary Yellan found her uncle the apparent leader of strange men who plied a strange trade. But was there more to learn? She remembered the fear in her aunt’s eyes…..
Out on wild, rough moors there were only two people to befriend her – a mysterious parson and an insolent, likeable rogue who broke the law every day of his life.
Written by Daphne du Maurier. First published in 1936 by Victor Gollancz ltd. This edition published by Pan Books 1976.
Set on the wild, windswept moors of Cornwall in the early 1800′s, Jamaica Inn is a beautifully written gothic romance cast amidst the murderous backdrop of the nineteenth century criminal underworld.
Following the death of her mother and the gradual ruin of their family farm, our heroine, 23 year old Mary Yellan, decides to sell up and leave town to go live with her mother’s sister Aunt Patience. Mary has had little contact with her Aunt over the years, only remembering her as a pretty, smiling woman who had lost contact with the family when she married ten years ago. Now Patience lives with her husband, Joss Merlyn, the landlord of Jamaica Inn on Bodmin moor.
Suspense and foreboding literally drip from the pages aswe accompany Mary on her rain lashed journey through a desolate November night to get to the inn. Right from the start the omens aren’t good and they certainly do not get better. Once she arrives Mary is greeted by a barren, unlit husk of a building out of which looms the powerful and frightening figure of her uncle, Joss Merlyn. The inn is as bleak inside as out and Mary is dismayed when she finally meets her Aunt – an unrecognisable shadow of her former self, reduced to a nervous, tattered wreck by her vicious, drunken husband.
Well, as a bleak November night unfurls into a bleak and dreary mid-winter, things get stranger and scarier for Mary. Jamaica Inn never seems to be open to the public and only caters to a select band of vagabonds befriended by the bullying landlord. Strange noises and furtive comings and goings in the dead of night hint at a darker purpose to this inn and all is soon revealed to Mary by landlord Joss himself when he slips into a drunken stupor, revealing the shocking truth behind his business.
From the moment she set foot in the inn her heart has been telling her to flee but, determined to do right by her Aunt, Mary decides to stay, perhaps even to bring justice and an end to the practices of her murderous Uncle. But she has to tread carefully as her own life is in peril and early on our canny heroine knows she should trust no-one – not even her Uncle’s brother Jem, a horse thief who steals her heart and swears he has nothing to do with his brother’s dastardly deeds. And what about Francis Davey, the soft spoken, albino Vicar of Altarnun, who comes to her rescue more than once when she finds herself stranded on the moors. Perhaps Mary has found an ally in him – or has she?
Like Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights or Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, Jamaica Inn is one of my favourite winter reads. This is a tale steeped in mystery and suspense which grips the reader right up to the end. And this book is dark - really if you thought your Christmas was looking grim have pity on poor Mary Yellan. The prose is beautiful, full of atmosphere and brimming with all things gloriously gothic. We have murder, madness, passion and mayhem; stark landscapes, stormy seas and blood curdlingly horrifying crimes. It’s no surprise that Daphne du Maurier’s works are still in print to this day (though I think I prefer the cover art on my edition!). This is the perfect book to curl up with on a dark winter’s evening. Five out of five stars.