Reviewing Daphne du Maurier's 'Jamaica Inn'
'Nothing but a poor battered board, that had once known producer days in its first erection, but whose white lettering was now blurred and grey, and whose message was at the mercy of the four winds - Jamaica Inn - Jamaica Inn.'
First published in 1936, Jamaica Inn follows Mary Yellan as she moves to live with her uncle and aunt on the Cornish coast. The novel was inspired by du Maurier's 1930 stay at the real Jamaica Inn, which still exists as a pub in the middle of Bodmin Moor.
Set in the 1800s, the plot follows a group of murderous wreckers who run ships aground, kill its sailors and steal the cargo. Despite living a pleasant and peaceful life prior to her arrival at Jamaica Inn, Mary is forced to leave her hometown and become witness to her uncle's vicious crimes following the death of her mother. As the novel progresses, we begin to see how Mary is constantly divided between loyalty and confession, torn between morality and protecting her Aunt Patience, who has been left a shadow of her former self after years of marriage to the brutal Uncle Joss.
What I love about du Maurier's work is how she completely captivates you within the realms of her fictional worlds. She creates an unnerving atmosphere of criminality by drawing on conventions of the gothic genre, the vicious storms and dark, brooding characters providing the ultimate setting for the world of corruption and betrayal that Mary is led into. The tavern, buried deep in the Cornish moors, is isolated and menacing, sending a quiver down the reader's spine upon the realisation that Jamaica Inn may not be as cosmopolitan as the names suggests. The novel offers the escapism every reader desires as we are led into a world of times gone by, making it all the more appealing to lose yourself in. Even after you close the book, you feel a sense that a shadow is watching you, as Mary too experiences within the story as she realises her enemy may not be who she previously thought.
'Once more she knew the humility of being born a woman, when the breaking down of strength and spirit was taken as natural and unquestioned.'
The gender dynamics of the novel also play a role in its greatness, despite being utterly frustrating to a 21st century reader. du Maurier highlights the disparity between men and women in the 1800s, particularly through Uncle Joss' violence and greed. His bullish, alcoholic demeanour leaves the reader in a state of despair as we begin to imagine how his wife must have suffered all through their marriage. Moreover, the only thing that saves Mary from the dirty hands of Joss' gang is the fact they are related, reaffirming the degrading position women found themselves in. And yet, I admire Mary for her determination, strength and solidarity, despite suffering at the hands of her Uncle.
However, sadly, I feel as though I have exhausted everything I can say within this review. Whilst the novel was perfectly enjoyable, I can't help but feel a little deflated as I reflect on it. After I fell in love with Rebecca (check out my review here!), I had very high exceptions for another of du Maurier's work, but this expectation was not quite reflected in this novel. Thus, I have learnt not to expect so much from a novel based on a preceding expectation. I didn't really fall in love with the characters and, whilst I did have a pleasant time reading it, I felt it fell a little short. Nonetheless, I enjoyed it as a relaxing read to take my mind off the heavier literature I am reading for my degree.
It is disturbing at times, mellowing at others; I would recommend Jamaica Inn to anyone wishing to escape into a world of swashbuckling energy and see the world through the eye of a lonely criminal.