“It was a cold grey day in late November. The weather had changed overnight, when a backing wind brought a granite sky and a mizzling rain with it, and although it was now only a little after two o’clock in the afternoon the pallour of a winter evening seemed to have closed upon the hills, cloaking them in mist. It would be dark by four.”
Thus begins the novel “Jamaica Inn”. Mary Yellan promised her ill, failing mother on her deathbed that she will go to live with her mother’s sister, Aunt Patience. Now that Mary has lost both her parents she is on her way to Jamaica Inn, where her uncle Joss, the landlord, and her Aunt Patience live. The beginning paragraph of this novel of suspense sets the stage for her bleak move to the moors and the unknown. As the novel progresses the reader finds that Mary has no idea of what her promise to her mother will cost her.
“The drive was silent then, for the most part, with no other sound but the steady clopping of the horses’ hoofs upon the road, and now and again an owl hooted from the still trees. The rustle of hedgerow and the creeping country whispers were left behind when the trap came out upon the Bodmin road, and once again the dark moor stretched out on either side, lapping the road like a desert. The ribbon of the highway shone white under the moon. It wound and was lost in the fold of the further hill, bare and untrodden. There were no travellers but themselves upon the road tonight. On Christmas Eve, when Mary had ridden here, the wind had lashed venomously at the carriage wheels, and the rain hammered the windows; now the air was still cold and strangely still, and the moor itself lay placid and silver in the moonlight.”
When Mary arrives at the inn, she finds her her aunt Patience a shadow of her former self with her Uncle Joss, who is an alcoholic, haunted by the deeds he does in the darkness of the moors.
Like all of duMaurier’s novels, Jamaica Inn is gothic-y, atmospheric, and suspenseful, with dark undertones! Mary Yellan is courageous, fearless and resourceful, and she begins to find that her suspicions are correct. Mary does not hesitate to do what is right, even when it means compromising her family. The reader simply needs to know what motivates the characters to make the choices they do, and how the consequences will play out and affect Mary’s life.
Mary grieves over the choices her Aunt Patience has made in marriage and she is determined to save her aunt from her life of fear and servitude. Whether this will be possible and successful is just one of the subplots of the novel, cleverly woven among other more complicated components of the story.
“…Aunt Patience might have been a farmer’s wife at week, with sons of her own and house and land, and all the little happy trivialities of a normal happy life: gossip with the neighbors, and church on Sundays, and driving into market once a week; fruit picking, and harvest-time. Things she would have loved, things that had foundation. She would have known placidity, and the they would be tranquil years that turned her hair in time to grey – years of solid work and calm enjoyment.”
Jamaica Inn was written after Daphne duMaurier had visited the real Jamaica Inn in Cornwall. You can see photos of it here:
The author’s talent lies partly in her atmospheric writing, and although this story at times is bleak and somber (and based on history with smuggling and wrecking of the ships), du Maurier’s writing is just so good and hard to put down!
“The room in which she was sitting had the quiet impersonality of a drawing room visited by night. The furniture, the table in the centre, the pictures on the walls were without that look of solid familiarity belonging to the day. They were like sleeping things, stumbled upon at midnight by surprise. People had lived here once – happy, placid people; old rectors with musty books beneath their arms; and there by the window a grey-haired woman in a blue gown had stooped to thread her needle. That was all very long ago. They slept now in the churchyard beyond the gate, their names indecipherable on the lichened stone.”