Lucinda Elliot

Review of Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier: Vivid Atmoshere: A Shame About the Male Lead…

The atmosphere and the descriptions of the scenery were really good.
The idea was original. It was well plotted overall.
Generally, the characterisation is cleverly done.
I also liked the heroine, who shows herself as generally brave and having integrity.
I also liked the fact that the story was about ordinary people – well, they’re often larger than life, but with the exception of the squire, they are not rich, well born or well connected. I appreciated the lack of sentimentality in the writing, and the fact that life for working men and women in early nineteenth century Cornwall was in no way glamourised.
Unluckily, I disagree with Sarah Dunant, who wrote the introduction of the edition I read, when she asserts that ‘Once you’ve got past the second chapter, it’s almost impossible to read Jamaica Inn slowly.’ I obviously am capable of the impossible, as I could, and I largely lost interest from the point at which Mary Yellan allows herself to fall in love with Jem Merlin.
In common with several reviewers on here, I didn’t find the relationship believable, and I didn’t like him. I was repelled by his complete lack of tenderness for his late mother. Obviously, he has been badly affected by his brutal father, and in fact, has only been born because of marital rape, but even so…
Mary’s giving in to her feelings for him might make more sense if she was a very young girl of sixteen or seveenteen, but at twenty-three you would expect her to have a little more common sense. It isn’t even love at first sight. It happens in inexplicably during their third meeting, when they go to the Christmas fair together.
I found the scene where he ordered her to cook his lunch and she performed some piece of domestic wizardry and had his filthy flloor ‘sparkling clean’ with only water and a broom downright annoying. Yes, men of the time thought of the domestic sphere as being the woman’s domain, but that was really presumptious and seemed to be some sort of display of dominance (off topic: the author’s not needing to do housework herself shows here; of course, Mary would have needed some cleaning material of the time to achieve that).
Generally, then, Jem Merlin spoilt the story for me.
Another aspect I found unpleasant was the depiction of the vicar’s being ‘a freak of nature’ as an albino, with the impliciation that if his outside is not normal, then it automatically reflects some defect of his character. Given that sort of intolerance was a feature of the times in which the author was writing, and people and authors should only be judged by the standards of their times, I tried to avoid letting that affect my assessment of the story, but I probably didn’t succeed.

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