20 March 2011

Jamaica Inn

Although Daphne du Maurier was a prolific writer - books, plays, memoirs - I never got around to reading anything but her Rebecca.  Creeped me out, too, considering I read it for the first time when I was twelve and never managed to shake the Mrs.-Danvers-is-watching feeling.  I read my second du Maurier with Literature by Women this month - Jamaica Inn.

Jamaica Inn has the best elements of gothic fiction - mysterious comings and goings, albino vicars, villains of all stripes, isolated locations - without the over-stuffed, circuitous narration of actual eighteenth- and nineteenth-century gothic fiction (The Mysteries of Uldolpho, anyone?).  Long story short, country girl (but not-so-terribly-naive, she is a farmer's daughter) Mary has to come stay with her Aunt Patience and Uncle Joss at Jamaica Inn after her mother's death.  However, Jamaica Inn hasn't functioned as an inn in quite some time, Uncle Joss is a mean drunk (and up to all sorts of illegal types of activity) and Aunt Patience is a cowering mess.  Mary is stuck in an impossible situation - immediately rat out her uncle to the magistrate, and risk her aunt's life, or risk turning into a battered, abused woman like Aunt Patience?

Jamaica Inn was quite a fun book to read, thrilling and well-written.  Du Maurier tells great stories and I find I like her heroine Mary better than the unnamed Mrs. de Winter who narrates Rebecca (although Mrs. Danvers beats out just about everyone in Jamaica Inn for creepiest character, except the vicar).  Mary is spunky and tough while Mrs. de Winter is just....there.  I was hoping for a slightly different ending to the novel (after the climax, which was pretty crazy for a novel set on the moors of Cornwall) but you don't always get what you want.  I think I should read My Cousin Rachel as my next du Maurier (whenever I manage to get around to it which may not be soon).

*PS: The movie adaptation by Alfred Hitchcock has a very divergent storyline and cast of characters caused by the Hays Code and one obnoxious movie star.  Although it does have Maureen O'Hara as Mary...you win some, you lose some.

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