Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier


Following her mother’s dying wish, twenty-three year old Mary Yellan moves to live with her last living relative Aunt Patience at the eponymous Jamaica Inn. Jamaica Inn may as well open with “It was a dark and stormy night;” so bleak, so gloomy, so rain-and-windswept is Mary’s journey from mild and fertile Helford to the barren Bodwin moors. Not only does Mary have to deal with the desolate atmosphere, she is treated with great suspicion and disdain by anyone who learns she is heading to Jamaica Inn. No one respected ever goes to Jamaica Inn anymore, Mary is warned. Strange things happen in Jamaica Inn. Strange and terrible things. But Mary is headstrong and has a promise to fulfill, so to Jamaica Inn she goes.

When she arrives, the Aunt Patience she remembers as a bright figure; lovely and laughing, has turned drab and meek, cowed under the thumb of her husband, the nearly-seven-foot-tall Joss Merlyn. Joss is drunken, vicious, and brutal. He warns Mary to shut her eyes and ears to the happenings at Jamaica Inn. There is a locked room at the inn that Mary must never enter.

One day, a group of men described as the dregs of the countryside convene at the inn’s bar. After a few drinks, the men torment one of their own, leaving a disgusted Mary to keep to her room. It is there she sees the men’s wagons deposit heavy cargo into the inn’s locked room. As Mary’s suspicions turn to smuggling, she overhears a member of the band argue against her uncle Joss. A fight breaks out. And Mary later sneaks to the bar only to find a hangman’s noose hanging from the rafters.

As the plot thickens, two new characters enter the fray: Francis Davey, an albino monk and Jem Merlyn, a charming horse thief and Joss’ younger brother. Mary struggles to decide who to trust and against her better judgment grows attracted to Jem.

Jamaica Inn is without a doubt the most fun book I’ve read this year. It’s almost too fun to be considered a classic. I read my first du Maurier, Don’t Look Now, last year and loved it so much I proclaimed du Maurier a new favorite author of mine. Her short stories were spine-tingling, atmospheric Gothic horror and I picked up Jamaica Inn expecting more of the same. It’s not the same. It’s an entirely different beast. Jamaica Inn is still atmospheric, with its intensive descriptions of bleak landscape, but its genre is more Gothic romance and adventure yarn rather than Gothic horror. It’s a fabulous page-turner and I stormed through the novel. The tension is palpable and there were moments when my heart thumped in worry for Mary Yellan’s safety.

Jamaica Inn isn’t without its flaws. I guessed the plot twist and the conclusion deflated a little. But my biggest issue is that the characters veered a little too close to two-dimension territory. Mary, our heroine, is predictably plucky and spirited. She feels a bit clichéd. So do the monk and the horse thief. du Maurier’s greatest character creation in Jamaica Inn is probably Joss Merlyn. His presence and physical description is appropriately menacing. But the reader can easily tell that a lot of his manner is just bluster. Like most bullies, Joss is weak, really. After suffering his worst alcohol bender, courtesy of threatening Mary and Aunt Patience to hand him brandy, he whines to them, “Why did you let me drink?” Joss’ faults are always with the drinks or the Merlyn curse, never himself.

Something about Jamaica Inn promises to be a darker read than it turned out to be. The threat of rape hangs above Mary throughout the novel.  The specter of domestic abuse sticks to Aunt Patience like glue. Jamaica Inn follows genre conventions in the end. Mary is never harmed despite the dangers around her. Nothing too grisly is written. All’s well that ends well on the final page. Or is it? I simply couldn’t shake off the curious feeling that du Maurier intended Jamaica Inn to be darker than its final product, so I actually found the “happy ending” quite horrific.

Did anyone else, like me, interpret the “happy ending” of Jamaica Inn as something very dark?

12 thoughts on “Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

  1. I’ve read du Maurier’s “Rebecca” and “The King’s General,” but not “Jamaica Inn” yet. I really like her style, so I might add this one to my own Classics list.

    Since you like du Maurier, you might enjoy Kate Morton. She’s an Australian writer, and I love the blend of mystery and Gothic in her stories. I actually first read du Maurier because she heavily influenced Morton’s writings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the recommendation! I’ve never heard of Kate Morton before. I just looked into her books and both The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper sounds promising.

      du Maurier left an indelible mark on many contemporary writers. Both Sarah Waters and Gillian Flynn have cited her as an influence.


      1. The Forgotten Garden was the first of her’s I read, and it’s still my favorite. The Distant Hours is really good, too, and more in the Gothic style. Haven’t read The Secret Keeper yet — I hated the idea of “running out” of Kate Morton books, but now that she released another I’m going to read the lovely copy that’s been waiting on my shelf 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I recently reread Jamaica Inn and enjoyed it. It is a fun Gothic adventure story. It pulled me in and I kept reading faster and faster. However, once I was done and the spell of the story had passed a bit I did have a few quibbles with the book. The characters did feel like the stereotypes of the Gothic novel. Like you, I felt they were a bit two-dimensional. And I also was not really happy with the ending. I had trouble believing in the happy ending. Were Mary and Jem really going to be happy? I had my doubts. That being said, it was a fun read, wasn’t it?


  3. Our thoughts on Jamaica Inn are exactly the same. Fun, but not flawless. Have you read any of du Maurier’s short stories, Jennifer? I found them to be superior to Jamaica Inn, especially Don’t Look Now, The Birds, and Blue Lenses. I’m still saving Rebecca for later.

    I had trouble believing Mary and Jem were destined to live happily ever after as well. If anything, Mary and Jem seem doomed to continue Aunt Patience and Joss’ cycle of abuse.


  4. Yes, I also thought that the ending was pretty dark. I didn’t read it as a happy ending at all. I’d say that it’s more of an uncertain future rather than a happy life with Jem.


    1. Goodness, forgive the late reply! Thank you so much for dropping by.

      Strange, isn’t it? I’m still not sure whether du Maurier wrote that ending simply to end on a conventional Gothic romance note or if she was hinting at a sinister future for Mary.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I wonder if Jamaica Inn suffers from the plot twist being so good that so many other authors have used it, that it’s no longer a plot twist. That being said, a always assumed that there would be a “happy” ending, because most of her books have a “happy” ending. Then again, I always wondered how “happy” this ending really is or if it’s more a realistic “happy” ending that we struggle to see as a “happy” ending. I don’t think it’s dark, but more somber than anything else. I don’t really know, and that’s actually a good question.


    1. Hello, I apologize for only responding now. Thank you for your comment!

      That’s a really good observation, actually. I was watching the film version of The Shining (the one directed by Stanley Kubrick) and while nothing surprised me, I can imagine how novel/innovative it must have been to the horror film genre when it was released. It could definitely be the same way with Jamaica Inn.

      What troubled me about Jamaica Inn’s ending was how it was “presented” as a happy ending. I can never be sure whether du Maurier intended to sell it straight as a happy ending or if she wrote it with a smirk in mind.

      Liked by 1 person

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