“I never thought I’d struggle with telling good from evil. But there was once a time when I lost that certainty and everything I thought I knew was just a lie.”
I have, as of March, read only eight books this year. Four mostly average modern
romances, two adorable YA romances, Jane Eyre (for the second time) and Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier, which is the subject of ye ole’ blog this fine rainy afternoon.
A much condensed summary follows, spoilers abound.
Jamaica Inn tells the story of Mary Yellan, who travels from her farm in Helford to the remote, dark and dreary moor-swallowed Jamaica Inn to live with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss Merlyn after her mother dies. Mary Yellan learns that Jamaica Inn is avoided by the locals because Joss is a horrible, cruel alcoholic, a smuggler, a wrecker, and a murder. Mary endures for the sake of her broken, child-like aunt (mostly) but also because of Joss’s devastatingly charming horse-thieving younger brother, Jem. Against her better judgement, and even though she doesn’t trust him one lick, (he is a horse thief, after all and may or may not be involved with all the smuggling stuff) Mary still falls in love with him. He kisses her in the rain, she can’t help it. And I did mention he was devastatingly charming? When Jem’s own crimes catch up with him though, Mary is forced to rely on (in many instances of dramatic convenience) Frances Davey, the Vicar of Alternun, and also a creepy albino. (I would like to mention that I do not use the terms “creepy” and “albino” as being mutually exclusive. There can be non-creepy albinos, this just doesn’t happen to be the case.) In a desperate bid to prevent her uncle from escaping justice for his crimes. Mary runs to Mr. Bassat, the local magistrate (because for once Davey is dramatically inconvenient) only to learn that someone else has already informed on Joss and Mr. Bassat is on his way to arrest him. Mary returns to Jamaica, finds Joss and her Aunt Patience murdered, and is immediately taken in by Frances Davey. Fearing that Jem is responsible for the murders, Mary relies on Davey, only to learn from the albino vicar that Jem is the informant against Joss. And, Jem (as they speak) is tracking down a lead on the murderer that would lead him to Frances Davey’s door, because, in fact, Frances Davey is the leader of the smuggler ring (dun dun dun), and he murdered Joss and Patience to keep them quiet. Davey kidnaps Mary, and leads her across the moors, Mr. Bassat and Jem giving chase. A thick fog slows them down, their pursuers catch them up, Davey is shot by Jem. Mary is taken in by the Bassat family (local nobility) and though they encourage her to stay with them, she runs off into the sunset with her gallant hero on the backs of his stolen (supposedly) horses.
Jamaica Inn was Daphne Du Maurier’s fourth novel, published in January, 1936, and
according to the website www.dumaurier.org sold more copies in the first three months of publication than her previous three novels combined. This does not surprise me. It was a damn good read, given to me by my best friend in reading and writing shenanigans. I carried the small, second-hand paperback around in my purse as I read it, and a co-worker of mine noticed it and informed me that her mother’s favorite author was Daphne Du Maurier. Not having heard of Daphne Du Maurier before, and having not yet gotten very far in the novel, I asked this co-worker in a tremor of hope: “Is it her favorite because she writes about really good sexy times?” The co-worker told me in fact, it was. This, reader, is untrue. Though romance exists betwixt these pages, and Du Marier has been described as a writer of “dark romance” (though I believe that’s mostly because of her sex. Heaven forbid a female write something else other than romance), I can only describe this novel as a gothic tale in the truest sense of the word. I was worried that due to my modern proclivities, I would be desensitized to a novel written in 1935, that the darker aspects would fall short for me. I was pleasantly proven to be wrong.
One of my favorite characters is the setting. I read on the above website, in a review
written by Ann Wilmore, that Du Maurier was inspired to write an adventure-like novel after she and a friend were stranded by bad weather on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall during a horseback riding excursion. It’s all very Bronte-esque. I kept thinking of Wuthering Heights as I read, for Mary Yellan loves to wander around the moors that surround Jamaica Inn for miles. Honestly, I would too if I the alternative was spending time with my asshole uncle. Not surprisingly, in my research I discovered that Du Maurier adored the Brontes. It shows. That, and she writes about Cornwall because she loved it so much. I was so tickled to discover that she didn’t make any of it up (but then again it’s so
vivid how could she.) I found pictures! So many pictures of all the places she talks about. And even discovered that the smuggling plot featured was actually quite true to real life Cornwall at the time. The region was very poor, and smuggling was the hot fad to overcome your circumstances. During the course of my research, it was mentioned several times that Daphne du Maurier was quite privileged, being the daughter of famous actors, and so was able to spend almost her entire life writing and staring out at the landscapes that inspired her. Her love shows.
Let’s talk about Joss Merlyn. Best villain name ever, am I right? Here is a good quote that best describes him.
“And though there should be a world of difference between the smile of a man and the bared fangs of a wolf, with Joss Merlyn there they were one and the same.”
He’s giant, he’s mean and cruel. He’s also alarmingly self-aware which suggests an intelligence that should make any ward of his wary. The first time the reader is introduced to him, Joss un-apologetically declares that he likes to get shit-faced wasted, and then he talks far
too much and it’s going to get him into trouble one day. In retrospect, I see Joss as the boogey man of the horror movie. He’s obviously evil-looking and acting, but he also has moments of calm consideration.
“Had he cut her a chunk of bread and hurled it at her she would not have minded so much; it would have been in keeping with what she had seen of him. But this sudden coming to grace, this quick and exquisite moving of his hands, was a swift and rather sinister revelation, sinister because it was unexpected and not true to type.”
What’s worse is Mary understands why Patience married him. And Patience is hopelessly devoted, at her best when her husband needs her the most. More than once I wondered what he did to earn Patience’s unerring devotion. Patience was at once a happy, outgoing woman, not the shell you meet in this book. That means Joss must have wooed the hell out of her. More than once Mary understands that maybe a decade or so ago, he was a catch.
“They jogged along in silence, Jem playing with the thong of a whip, and Mary aware of his hands beside her. She glance down at them out of the tail of her eye, and saw they were long and slim; they had the same strength, the same grace as his brother. These attracted her; the others repelled her. She realized for the first time that aversion and attraction rand side by side; that the boundary line was thin between them. The thought was an unpleasant one, and she shrank from it. Supposing this had been Joss beside her ten, twenty years ago? She shuttered the comparison at the back of her mind, fearing the picture it conjured. She knew now why she hated her uncle.”
He’s a contradictory, fully realized villain, and you’ll enjoy his brutal ups and downs.
In true gothic nature, Jem Merlyn is the yang to Joss’s ying. Though just as lawless as his brother (they can’t help it, it’s made quite clear they were genetically doomed at
birth), Jem offers a much more charming and witty version of breaking the law. The man sells a stolen horse back to the wife of the man he stole it from. It’s freaking genius. From the first time Mary and Jem meet, and the banter ensues, you know they’ll fall in love. It’s inevitable. Did I mention he kisses her in the rain? He also climbs through a window to comfort her and breaks the glass with his bare hand. #commitment. Obviously, if there weren’t the slight detail of the fact that he was a horse thief, and therefore on the wrong side of the law, he would be the perfect man. Nope, I take that back. I actually wrote that with a straight face. This is gothic romance! His faults are what make him perfect (also in true Bronte fashion.) Jem is irreverent, sarcastic and a little misogynistic. When Mary meets him, she’s at the lowest point she’s been in her entire life. She doesn’t want to fall in love. Not to mention Jem is related to the man she hates most in the world. But again, true to the genre, if she wasn’t afraid of him a little or hated him a little, she probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with him. #Rochester #Heathcliffe
“No, Mary had no illusions about romance. Falling in love was a pretty name for it, that was all. Jem Merlyn was a man, and she was a woman, and whether it was his hands or his skin or his smile she did not know, but something inside her responded to him, and the very thought of him was an irritant and a stimulant at the same time. It nagged at her and would not let her be.”
I never understood the ability of these Gothic assholes to ensnare me just as thoroughly as their literary objectives. They say awful things, I melt into a pile of goo. Works every time, no exception here. Most of Jem Merlyn’s appeal comes from the things he says. I had several laugh out loud moments because of him, particularly when addressing Mary. Most importantly, the two just work. I think Jem represents every good that can pop up when everything else is bad. He is diamond in the rough. He is the power of lawlessness, even in so far as the fact that he forces her to fall in love when that’s the last things he wants.
“She laughed because she must, and because he made her.”
Somewhere between the ying and yang is the creepy albino vicar, Frances Davey. I gave myself a giant pat on the back that I saw his duplicity coming from a thousand lonely moor-ish miles away. From the time he drives his carriage way to fast, to his constant unconcern to the suffering Mary, who is clearly distressed and in danger, I knew something was up with this guy. Everything he does, especially his keen ability to appear out of darkness when Mary needs him most like the prince of dramatic convenience screams ‘villian.’ He might as well have a name tag. “Hello, my name is your future kidnapper.” He was brilliantly written. I liked all his opposites. He’s an albino, and therefore white or transparent in nature, but in reality he’s black and opaque, hiding his true self. He’s a vicar, meant to peacefully lead his flock, but he sees himself as a wolf. The creepiest moment in the whole novel (and this is saying something because the novel as a whole is pretty chilling) is when Mary is snooping through his desk and finds a drawing of him at a pulpit with the face of a wolf, and all of his congregation with heads of sheep. In one brief image, you come to understand Frances Davey fully, and feel in your fretful heart that if his carriage ever found you in the middle of the night on the moors, you should probably just insist that you are going to walk home in the dense preternatural fog. My one point of contention is his decision in the end to take Mary with him when he tries to escape, knowing Jem would have figured him out by then. He’s a smart guy, he put together the whole wrecking/smuggling ring that everyone thought Joss was leader of, and got away with it for years. He would have had to realize that Mary would slow him down, Mary would never become his complacent companion, and that (most importantly) Jem would never stop looking for her (or least in my head he wouldn’t, I have no textual evidence to support this). So I’m still wondering if he just went insane when he knew his gig was up, because there was no rationality in that, but it was sure suspenseful.
The main character herself, Mary Yellan, is a strong heroine to carry you through this book, and I liked her a lot. She is independent, fierce, and most importantly, she knows her own mind and her place in the world. Raised as a farmer’s daughter, she knows she was born to work, and doesn’t shy away from it. She is pragmatic, has no ambition for romance, and is dismayed and troubled when it falls in her lap. Throughout the book she wants nothing more than to support herself and Aunt Patience in a safe, legal manner until the time of her death. She often condemns her femininity and laments that she was not born a boy because she thinks her life would have been easier.
“I don’t want to love like a woman or feel like a woman, Mr. Davey; there’s a pain that way, and suffering, and misery that can last a lifetime.”
It’s such a strong motif, that I wasn’t surprised to read that Daphne Du Maurier often wished she were born a boy as well, and that she even had a fully realized male alter ego that she named Eric Avon, a rugby player. #hardcore My one fault with her (and this goes against every one of my romantic notions) is that she chose to follow Jem in the end. Don’t get me wrong, I love that they end up together. But she had her heart set on returning to Helford. She never wanted to leave, and only went to Jamaica Inn because of her dying mother’s wish. Yet here comes sweet-talking Jem Merlyn, traveling in the opposite direction. A couple kisses and a few taunts later, Mary jumps into his wagon, surrendering her ambitions to the pursuit of love.
“He took her face in his hands and kissed it, and she saw that he was laughing. ‘When you’re an old maid in mittens down at Helford, you’ll remember that,’ he said, ‘and it will have to last you to the end of your days. ‘He stole horses,’ you’ll say to yourself, ‘and he didn’t care for women, and but for my pride I’d have been with him now.’”
This, to me, is what dated the novel the most. Modern relationships are about embracing the spirit of compromise. The notion of giving up everything you want in life for the man you love, isn’t all that romantic to me. I have no doubt Jem would have endeavored to make her happy, but it still rubbed me the wrong way. Ann Willmore, in her review on www.dumaurier.org, writes:
“The men of her novels often exist to show the confines of women, and although Mary shows courage and resourcefulness with a desire for independence, at the end of the story she opts to settle for a life with Jem, condemning herself to follow in her aunt’s footsteps.”
I don’t necessarily agree Mary is condemned to become her aunt. We’ve established that Jem is a foil to Joss. Joss is brutal, Jem is cunning and smooth. If anything, Jem will teach her to steal horses, and they’ll become the most prolific horse thieves of all of southern England. No steeds will be safe! More than likely, in true Bronte fashion, Mary just married the hell out of him, had his babies, and lived happily ever after far, far away from Jamaica Inn.
Thus concludes my assessment. I shall like to read more Daphne DuMaurier in my lifetime. Rebecca for sure. It’s (arguably) her most famous. And also I was recommended Frenchman’s Creek because: “It has pirates.” And how doesn’t like a good pirate story?