Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Book Review - Daphne Du Maurier's Jamaica Inn

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier
Published by: Virago Press
Publication Date: 1935
Format: Paperback, 302 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Mary Yellan abides by her mother's dying wish and leaves her farm and life behind and travels north to the Cornish moors. There she expects to meet her Aunt Patience, the bubbly beauty of memory, and her new husband, Joss Merlyn. Yet before she even sets out on her journey she has doubts. Mary thought that her Aunt lived a quiet life in a small town but she is told in a curt letter from Patience that she and her husband now reside at Jamaica Inn where her husband is proprietor. There Mary finds a shell of a woman and a terrifying brute of a man in a run down inn where travellers dare not stop. It isn't long till Mary starts to learn the reasons why Jamaica Inn is given such a wide berth. The wagons in the night. The rowdy men coming in off the moors. Mary starts to dream of a way out of her situation for herself and her aunt, taking what solace she can from wandering the moors. Though soon Mary learns how easy it is for history to repeat itself when she starts to fall for her Uncle's younger brother Jem. But this wrecked life she is living can not sustain itself and something has got to give.

Jamaica Inn and Rebecca are two interesting books to read back to back. At this precise moment in time these are the only books I've read by Daphne Du Maurier so far that aren't comprised of short stories. Besides being the only books by Du Maurier that I've read both Jamaica Inn and Rebecca are re-reads for me. Books can change greatly on a re-read; you see things you missed, you might notice the pacing more, you know the ending, if you can remember it that is, and therefore can pick up on foreshadowing. Your entire experience is different to the first time. What struck me most re-reading these books was that the pacing of Jamaica Inn doesn't lend itself to a re-read as much as Rebecca does. Jamaica Inn's pacing is a headlong rush into the world of smuggling where you briefly come up for air on a rare walk with Mary Yellan over the moors but on the whole the book doesn't let up till the last page.

But knowing what that last page contains makes the rush loose it's impact. You don't have that burning desire to get to the next page and the next. It's like you start running with intent but give up fairly quickly with a stitch in your side realizing it's not really worth the effort. Whereas Rebecca is more of a slow burn. Rebecca does have the constant force pushing you forward but it's more psychological manipulation, more subtle. Rebecca invites you to dwell and absorb the atmosphere, whereas at Jamaica Inn you're just praying you get out alive. Which makes me realize all the more that while I loved Jamaica Inn the first time I read it, it truly is and always will be Rebecca that is Du Maurier's legacy.

Despite not connecting to the story the way I did initially there is so much depth that I hadn't even guessed was there during my first headlong rush through the book that the story was interesting to me in a whole new way. Du Maurier herself figures very much into the themes expressed in Jamaica Inn. All her life she felt as if she had two distinct people within her, the female and the male. While this could just be her own way of coping with her bisexuality, I find it interesting that she uses her work, her writing, which she said came from her male energy, her "boy in a box," to explore these issues which are forefront in Jamaica Inn. Mary Yellan is an a-typical girl in that she is willing to do the work of a man and cares not for trifles such as love. This a-typicality is often viewed as masculine by those around her. I don't think I can count the number of times Mary said "if only I were a man" or someone said to Mary "if only you were a man."

What this duality does in Jamaica Inn is not only address that everyone has dual natures fighting each other, but it shines a light on the mores of the time. When Du Maurier wrote this book, over a hundred years after its action takes place, society was still a very male dominated sphere. Mary is masculine because she will not abide by what society thinks she should do. She doesn't want to sit by a fire and be a lady's companion. Mary would rather run a farm on her own and be the mistress of her own fate then fall victim to the conventions of the time. Much like Du Maurier herself who set out to be a popular writer in a male dominated industry. If they had to align themselves with their male half in order to succeed, more power to them. One can only wish we could live in a world where someone could succeed just by the value of their work, but the world is always putting us in boxes, so is it any surprise Du Maurier did it to herself?

The male versus female dynamic isn't the only duality seen in the book. There is also the thin line of repulsion and attraction. Like Darcy struggling in vain with his better judgement, it's a quick turnaround from hate to love. By all reckoning, Joss Merlyn should be a repulsive, horrid man, but there's a magnetism about him, like Mary you are drawn to this brute and fascinated by him. Mary could see why her Aunt fell for him all those years ago. Which is why I think Mary falls for Jem; a purer, untainted version of Joss. Despite seeing in her Aunt what her future might hold, Mary willingly, if begrudgingly, goes off into the sunset (or in this case over the River Tamar) with Jem.

But the most important duality is seen in man versus nature. I'm not talking about man's nature, but the actual air and sky and sea. Mary comes from the south, a place where nature is tamed, but the north, ah, nature isn't tamed. The sea and the marshes are shown to fell men in the blink of an eye. Jamaica Inn on that blasted moor is the last human bastion amongst the howling winds and great tors. Cornwall itself becomes it's own character in the book. Du Maurier is able to so vividly capture the landscape and atmosphere, you can see how Cornwall needed Du Maurier to tell this story and Du Maurier needed Cornwall as her muse. There's a symbiotic relationship that feeds off each other and brings out the best in both through this stunning story of man versus nature, and here I do mean every definition of nature.


Newer Post Older Post Home