Why Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier is my favourite book

With our libraries still closed, each week we are keeping in touch with our librarians by getting them to tell us about their favourite books.

Friday, 19th June 2020, 3:10 pm
Rachel Willmer, senior library assistant at Horsham Library
Rachel Willmer, senior library assistant at Horsham Library

This week, Rachel Willmer, senior library assistant at Horsham Library, tells us why Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier is the book for her.

“I was lucky enough to encounter Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn when I was eleven years old. At that time, I had moved to Berlin with my parents due to their commitments with the RAF. I started boarding school and Miss Watson, an amazing and inspirational English teacher, piqued my interest with this dark, gothic, and romantic novel. The story starts by introducing the reader to a young woman called Mary Yellan. Her mother has died, which has forced her to leave her village of Helston, Cornwall. She travels to live with her aunt and uncle at the mysterious Jamaica Inn on the desolate and lonely Bodmin Moor. Here, her life proves never to be the same again. Her first sight of the inn is in the murky darkness, where ‘it stood alone in glory, four-square to the winds.’ This is the story of how Mary fights to survive.

“She finds her Aunt Patience to be a shadow of the woman she used to know, and her aunt is now timid and terrified of her violent and drunken husband Joss Merlyn. Mary faces much hardship, and every night lives in fear for her life as the inn fills up with the very worst smugglers, thieves, and murderers. The characters are described vividly, and it takes you right to the heart of the very worst of criminal society in the early 1800s. Probably the most terrifying part is her gradual realisation of the full horror of the criminal activities that her uncle and his evil cohorts are involved in.

“Specifically, I admire du Maurier’s character descriptions. I love the way she describes Joss Merlyn, who she depicts as ‘a great husk of a man, nearly seven feet high, with a creased black brow and skin the colour of a gypsy. He looked to have the strength of a horse with immense powerful shoulders, long arms that almost reached his knees giving the impression of a giant gorilla.’

“Mary is a strong, bold heroine who is determined to free herself and her aunt from this terrible existence. Who can she trust? The kindly Vicar of Altarnun? Or could it be the strangely likeable, charismatic and romantic horse thief Jem?

“This novel had such an impact on me because I was learning to live away from home like Mary. She is also an extremely confident and resourceful character, proving to be a truly positive role model for any young woman. I have read and re-read it about eight times over the years, and each time I find something new. I mainly re-read at times of change in my life as I always find it a constant, comforting, and familiar read.

“A film adaptation was made in the early 1980s, with Jane Seymour and Trevor Eve in the lead roles. I felt that it was faithful to the story, made more believable with it being filmed on location. The atmosphere and scenery presented really do justice to du Maurier’s words.

“I have always loved the novels of Daphne du Maurier, where her beloved Cornwall forms the backdrop to a considerable number of them. Most of her stories are historical with dark psychological themes being explored. At times tension is lightened by the characters’ romantic endeavours and the thrilling highs and lows they experience. Other favourites of mine are Rebecca and The Birds.”

Following the Government’s recent document outlining the phased lifting of restrictions, all West Sussex Libraries remain closed at least until July and they are currently working on a strategy for how they might reopen safely. In the meantime, explore the virtual hub at https://arena.westsussex.gov.uk/web/arena/currentoffer

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