Book Review: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

jamaica innI just saw the movie, Crimson Peak, about a week ago, and immediately rushed to the nearest Barnes & Noble to grab a copy of any Gothic romance I could put my hands on, which is how I ended up with one of Daphne du Maurier’s most memorable works, Jamaica Inn. According to the jacket copy, it was one of three works made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, the others being Rebecca and “The Birds”. I knew about Rebecca, but not the other two.

Daphne du Maurier is considered a master storyteller by many, and an icon of the gothic romance genre. Guillermo del Toro refers to film adaptations of gothic romances such as du Maurier’s Rebecca and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights as part of his inspiration for Crimson Peak, and as a writer, I’m hoping to sort of mentally dissect the tropes played out in both the movie and in Jamaica Inn.

There are a million articles all about del Toro and his take on Gothic romance. I don’t think the term was coined yet back in 1936, when du Maurier published Jamaica Inn, but both are chock full of the tropes we associate with that genre today. There must be a sense of foreboding throughout. The atmosphere is grim and bleak right from the beginning. The landscape is part of the sense of horror, and there’s always a big, crumbling mansion full of secrets. And let’s not forget a dark and mysterious stranger who might be a villain, or not, but the heroine is usually drawn to him despite herself.

crimson peakThe thing I really liked about Jamaica Inn is how the heroine, Mary Yellen, is fairly feminist and progressive for her time. She talks about being independent and doing “man’s work” on her farm to make a living. She’s not afraid to be alone or to stand up for herself, which she does fairly frequently. Of course, this is cut down a little by the men treating her as helpless and ignorant, just because she’s a woman, but our plucky heroine often uses this to her advantage, surprising her aggressors. Also, there is actually very little romance in this story. I think the romantic aspects are used as just another thread of tension in the plot. We’re left wondering, as Mary is, if the attractive stranger is worth trusting or not. Mary ultimately decides that she’s better off trusting herself, but she’s led astray and ends up trusting the wrong person, leading to an exciting and harrowing chase scene across the bleak and foggy moors of Cornwall.

If you’ve seen Crimson Peak, then you’ll recognize a lot of the same tropes. The lonely plot of land in windswept England. The big, crumbling mansion. The secrets of the family. And most importantly, the inability of the heroine to trust the man she supposedly loves to keep her safe; a decision that leads her to trust only herself, which almost leads to her downfall. But in the end, no man saves her, and she survives on her own wits and her ability to face her fears. The film is gorgeous and atmospheric, and exactly what you would expect out of a true Gothic romance. I think I’m pretty much hooked on this genre for the moment, and I highly recommend Jamaica Inn if you’re interested in delving into this genre yourself.

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