Daphne du Maurier

Jamaica Inn

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Jamaica Inn Summary

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Jamaica Inn (1935), a historical mystery by Daphne du Maurier, follows a young woman who finds devious schemes, wrecked ships, and stolen cargo in a rundown hotel called the Jamaica Inn. Alfred Hitchcock later adapted the book into a major motion picture. Du Maurier was a highly successful playwright and author. Many of her books later became movies. Despite du Maurier’s successes, numerous authors accused her of plagiarism. Du Maurier always fiercely denied these claims. Jamaica Inn is one of her earliest novels. She died in 1989 in Cornwall, England, where the book is set.

Twenty-three-year-old Mary Yellan lives on a farm in west Cornwall. She is a quiet but determined young woman who plans to remain single forever. She has watched men subdue her friends, turning them into housewives with no voice or opinions. She doesn’t want the same fate for herself.

As the novel begins, Mary’s mother dies of heart failure. Because it is assumed women can’t take care of themselves, Mary can’t stay on the farm alone. She must go to live with her only surviving relative, Aunt Patience. Patience is free-spirited, strong, and knows her own mind. Although Mary would rather live by herself and make her own way, she knows Patience will be a good influence.

Mary sets off for the Jamaica Inn, run by Patience and her husband, Joss Merlyn. Mary has never met Joss but she has heard rumors that he is a mean-spirited and aggressive man. She hopes the rumors are false, but she refuses to let her fears occupy her thoughts. Patience would never let a man dominate her.

When Mary arrives at the Jamaica Inn, she is horrified. Patience hardly speaks and she seems pale, withdrawn, and meek. Barely recognizing her aunt, Mary blames Joss. Joss is terrifying—he is taller than anyone Mary has ever met, bullies the locals, and drinks too much. Loud and overbearing, Mary resents him the moment she lays eyes on him.

Mary doesn’t sleep for worrying about Patience’s welfare. She realizes that she is the only guest; no one is allowed inside even for a drink. She asks Patience about it, but Patience is too scared to talk to her. Mary doesn’t back down. She confronts Joss, criticizing the hotel. He tells her to mind her own business; he wouldn’t run the Jamaica Inn if he had any other choice. Mary spends her time puzzling over Joss’s strange words.

After a short time, Joss’s brother, Jem, arrives at the hotel. He is tall and strong like Joss, but he doesn’t hurl abuse at everyone. Jem is a petty thief who runs his own shady dealings in the local area. Jem is attracted to Mary and wants to woo her, but Mary will have none of it. She would never attach herself to such a man—especially if it means marrying into Joss’s side of the family.

One night, Mary discovers that Joss runs a band of ship wreckers. They murder sailors, raid their ships, and steal their cargo. Overhearing Joss plotting his next move, Mary realizes that she is not safe here. She doesn’t want to live with murderers and criminals, but she has no money and nowhere else to go. For the first time, Mary feels trapped.

Jem pursues Mary despite her protests. He is not part of the wreckers and he is apparently the only person Mary can trust. Mary wonders if, in another time, she could love Jem. She wishes he wasn’t a criminal and that Patience hadn’t married Joss. Mary spends all her time pondering her situation and wondering if there is any way out of it.

One day, when Mary is out walking with Jem, he disappears, and she is forced to walk home alone. The wreckers ambush her, making her watch them destroy a ship. Terrified, Mary blames Jem for everything, wondering if Jem set her up. However, she believes he is better than that. She learns she is right to trust Jem when he saves her from the wreckers and gets her away from Joss.

Mary wonders where she can go, and she is scared to leave her aunt with Joss. Jem tells her that she can trust the local vicar. He is a good man and he will either look after her or find her gainful employment. Taking his advice, Mary heads for the vicarage, but the vicar isn’t home. Feeling more desperate than ever, Mary is forced to return to the Jamaica Inn. She assumes that Joss will kill her.

When she reaches the inn, Mary finds Joss and Patience both dead, clearly murdered. Jem is nowhere to be found. Mary is surprised when the vicar turns up. She discovers that he is the true leader of the ship wreckers. Joss was merely his underling. Again, Mary worries that Jem has set her up, but the vicar admits Jem is innocent.

Saving Mary from the vicar, Jem takes her away. He makes sure she gets back to Helford safely. Her family still owns the farm; Mary is free to have the life she has always wanted. However, she didn’t have Jem before. She decides that she wants to marry Jem. Mary asks him if she can go with him, wherever he is headed. As the novel ends, they are together.