Originally published in 1936 by Gollancz
My edition: The gorgeous chalkboard YA re-release from last year.
WHEN I Discovered This Classic
When I started to see adverts for a new BBC TV mini-series back in 2014. I actually struggled to get into it and never made it past the first episode!
WHY I Chose to Read It
I fell head over heels in love with Daphne du Maurier last year when I read Frenchman’s Creek for the blog tour celebrating the new YA editions of Frenchman’s Creek, Rebecca and Jamaica Inn.
WHAT Makes It a Classic
It’s Daphne du Maurier! Jamaica Inn is a classic tale of an orphaned girl forced to leave her home and move in with her aunt and uncle who run the legendary Jamaica Inn, only to find that there’s something a little sinister going on. Mary also happens to catch the eye of the devilish Jem Merlyn, her uncle’s brother, and begins to wonder if he’s mixed up in all of the murdering and smuggling that is going on along the Cornish coast.
WHAT I Thought of This Classic
I was a bit hesitant about this after loving Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek at it doesn’t seem to be as well-loved, but I still really, really enjoyed it.
As I'm coming to expect from Du Maurier, the atmosphere perfectly drawn; Jamaica Inn is dark, gloomy and deliciously ominous. Atmosphere is one of the places that Du Maurier really, really shines. It builds deliciously and the wild, rugged setting of the Bodmin moors only enhances everything as Mary spends her afternoons walking them and meeting mysterious figures that become very important to her life at Jamaica Inn. Jem is the biggy.
Jem Merlyn is said to be the worst of the Merlyn’s, though Mary can't imagine anyone worse than her uncle, Joss Merlyn. Jem turns out to be ruggedly charming, intelligent and really rather appealing. Mary’s ruminations on her growing feelings for Jem revealed a really interesting take on romance – she doesn’t believe in it. She sees attraction as instinctual and inevitable, and a bit of an inconvenience, to be honest. It's a refreshing attitude and an unusual one for a 19th Century woman. Like Lady Dona from Frenchman’s Creek, Mary feels a little stifled by the constraints of being a young, unmarried woman in her time; she’s trapped by her family and her situation, but unlike Dona, she has neither the money nor the freedom to escape it. I'm beginning to think that this might be a running theme for Du Maurier.
Unlike Rebecca and Frenchman’s Creek, I did have a few issues with Jamaica Inn. I didn’t 100% connect with Mary, though I did like her for the most part. It was her reaction to one of the characters that made my feelings towards her shaky. SPOILER! Francis Davey, the vicar of a nearby town, rescues Mary when she becomes lost in the moors and takes her back home to Jamaica Inn. Davey has albinism and Mary becomes a little fixated on him – she constantly refers to him as “an albino” and “a freak of nature”, and then he turns out to be the brains behind the deadly smuggling gang that Joss is a part of. It made me extremely uncomfortable for so much focus to be on his appearance and “unnaturalness” and then he turns out to be a villain. Not cool, DDM.
I was also a smidge disappointed by the ending. There was a big build up with Mary telling Jem that she didn’t want to go with him on an adventure and wanted to go back home to Helford among the people she grew up with and make a go of her parents’ farm. I was cheering her on and maybe hoping Jem would go with her, but not too bothered, and then he works on her and she up and leaves with him instead! It wasn’t out of character completely, but I just didn’t feel like it was really what she wanted. SPOILER OVER!
Though Jamaica Inn wasn’t as perfect as Rebecca or Frenchman’s Creek for me, I did still thoroughly enjoy it and my love for Daphne du Maurier is still going strong.
WILL It Stay a Classic
Yes, it definitely will. It’s one of Du Maurier’s most famous novels and it was adapted for the BBC a year or so ago. It won’t be forgotten!
WHO I’d Recommend it To
- Fans of eerie, historical settings.
- People who love 19th century set novels.