A young woman alone after the death of her mother, Mary Yellan, has traveled to the mysterious and lonely Jamaica Inn on the cost of Cornwall to stay with her Aunt and Uncle in 1820. As her mother said, “A girl can’t live alone, Mary, without she goes queer in the head, or comes to evil.” Mary finds herself in a precarious situation. Her Uncle Joss Merlyn is a hard brute of a man who mistreats her mother’s sister, Aunt Patience. Although she is abused, Aunt Patience loves Uncle Joss and won’t leave him. Mary has spunk, but she decides to stay at Jamaica Inn to determine the mystery of the place and to help her Aunt Patience. Why don’t the carriages stop at the Inn anymore? Why do strange men come every once in a while and move items into a locked storage room and then move them away?
As Mary works to solve the mystery, she also roams the surrounding moors and gets to know the area. While wondering, she meets the younger brother of Uncle Joss, Jem, who also happens to be a horse thief. “He lacked tenderness; he was rude; and he had more than a streak of cruelty in him; he was a thief and a liar. He stood for everything she feared and hated and despised; but she knew she could love him.” She also meets Frances Davey, the vicar of the nearby Alternun, a man she can turn to about her worries about her Uncle.
It has been a good twenty or more years since I read this novel. I remembered the general premise, but a lot of it was like new to me. I like how we are able to solve the mystery with Mary and learn what horrors are occurring at Jamaica Inn. I really liked her courage and her nerve in trying to do what was right. I also loved her romance with Jem. He is no angel, but there is more depth to him than Mary originally assumes. I also loved the setting – 19th century Cornwall.
I love Du Maurier’s writing style and many of her books are my favorite novels such as Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, and Frenchman’s Creek. Some of my favorite quotes from Jamaica Inn were as follows:
As Mary leaves her home: “Already, though barely forty miles by road from what had been her home for three-and-twenty years, the hope within her heart had tired, and the rather gallant courage which was so large a part of her, and had stood her in such stead during the long agony of her mother’s illness and death, was no shaken by this first fall of rain and the nagging wind.”
Mary witnesses mass brutality and is in a state of shock. “The wheels of the cart crunched the uneven lane, and, turning right, came out upon a smoother surface of gravel that was a road, running northwards between low hedges. From far away, across many fields and scattered plough lands, came the merry peal of bells, odd and discordant, in the morning air. She remembered suddenly that it was Christmas Day.”
I love Jem’s description of life in a village. “I’ve never had neighbors, so I cannot contradict you, but I’ve had the feeling always it would be like living in a box, to live in a village. You poke your nose over your gate into another man’s garden, and if his potatoes are larger than your own there’s a talking upon it, and argument; and you know if you cook a rabbit for your supper he’ll have the sniff of it in his kitchen Damn it, Mary, that’s no life for anyone.”
Jamaica Inn was Daphne Du Maurier’s second novel. She was inspired to write it after visiting the real Jamaica Inn that still is a pub in the middle of the Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. Jamaica Inn was also made into a 1939 movie by Alfred Hitchcock starring Maureen O’Hara and Charles Laughton. I just watched this movie again when I reread the book. I was surprised on how the movie is basically nothing like the book. Even more surprising, the movie shows you in the first scene what Mary spends the entire novel trying to discover. It was entertaining, but far, far from being a faithful adaptation. I also discovered that there is a much clearer and better copy that I have watched in the past. I will need to find this when I watch it again in the future.
Overall, Jamaica Inn is a riveting suspenseful historical fiction novel with great characters, plot, and setting. I highly recommend it! I read this as part of The Classics Club and The Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.
Book Source: Review Copy from William Morrow. Thanks!