Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week Review: Jamaica Inn

My Interest

“She realized for the first time that aversion and attraction ran side by side; that the boundary-line was thin between them.”

Not only is it Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week, but I am actively reading through her “backlist”–I supposed that isn’t really the correct term since she’s dead, but it’s the same principle. I’m trying to read through all of her books and story collections. So, this week I’m able to cross another one off the list.

The Story

“She realized for the first time that aversion and attraction ran side by side; that the boundary-line was thin between them.”

Mary Yellan has just lost her mother and the farm she loved. Now she’d obeyed her dead mother’s wishes and gone to live with her Aunt Patience. Little does she know that he Aunt’s husband, the much-feared Joss Merlyn, the proprietor of the Jamaica Inn is involved in what would be called “nefarious activities”–smuggling, murder, and more. Mary has not been brought up to a life of crime, but nonetheless can stand up for herself. Along the way she encounters an local vicar–an albino with a seemingly sympathetic air. Finally she meets her Uncle’s brother, Jem. Life at Jamaica Inn is not at all what Mary’s late mother expected for her daughter. The barred room at the end of the corridor features a rope for hanging and Mary is told to go to bed and hear nothing and see nothing that goes on. She endures it all for her poor, downtrodden Aunt. Then on Christmas Eve…[no spoilers]

“I don’t want to love like a woman or feel like a woman, … there’s pain that way, and suffering, and misery that can last a lifetime. I didn’t bargain for this; I don’t want it.”

My Thoughts

“…Christianity…built upon hatred and jealousy and greed…while the old pagan barbarism was naked and clean….

As always Du Maurier’s Cornwall is dark and creepy. Jamaica Inn is darker and creepier even than the neighboring moors. Her brutish uncle, her miserable Aunt who for an unfathomable reason won’t leave her brutish husband, the ill-mannered men who assist her uncle in his middle-of-the-night crimes all make the reader’s pulse race with apprehension. No one tells a creepy, gothic tale like our Daph and this one is no exception. Making the unctuous clergyman be a “freak of nature” (an albino) was pure genius, but giving him a secret hobby that is so “illuminating” surpasses even that choice (and, that is as much of a spoiler as I’ll give).

“…he concealed his impatience well, but it was there in the flicker of his eye and the tightening of his lips…”

Listening to the audio version of this tale was both mesmerizing (the descriptions as always are fabulous) and, at the right times, deeply unsettling. I could feel the floorboards creak, could hear the damp, could taste the fear at every point in the story. Du Maurier is a rare author that I’ll allow to unnerve me. I do not enjoy being frightened by books or movies, but I make an exception for Daphne’s beautifully penned tales. Like Bram Stoker’s Dracula or Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (both of which I was surprised to enjoy) a perfectly crafted tale is enjoyable even if it is upsetting. Too many such tales fall-short of the beauty of the gothic craft and simply leave the reader “creeped out.” Not so with Daphne. Her tale takes us fully inside Mary Yellan’s mind (even if I did keep hearing the very American “Mary Ellen”).

While The King’s General, then Rebecca are my favorites, Mary’s tale was as well told and as riveting and will leave me with many satisfying memories of listening to it.

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

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My previous Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week post