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Friday, April 18, 2008

Du Maurier Revisited

(Warning: may be spoilers)

I have just finished reading Daphne Du Maurier's JAMAICA INN. I last read it as a teenager (prescribed school text) and I loved it! Mind you I was already a Du Maurier fan, having adopted THE KING'S GENERAL quite early in my life. I also think "gothic romance" novels appealed to me - JANE EYRE being my "desert island" book of choice.

So it was interesting to go back to it with an adult's eye and realise what a highly inappropriate book it was for a 13 year old - being black with the overwhelming threat of violation and the murderous deeds of the wreckers. No one can write like Du Maurier. She has the power of words to bring the Bodmin Moor to life as a character in its own right, as black and dangerous as the landlord.

But it has left me with a question. Is it a romance?

I had to give a lecture at a school on this subject. The girls were studying REBECCA specifically as a romance and the teacher thought it would be diversionary to get a romance writer in to talk about the subject. I'm not sure if she was best pleased with my conclusion - that REBECCA is NOT a romance and neither is JAMAICA INN...yes the hero and heroine end up together but there is no promise of a 'happy ever after' and the reason for this, I think, lies in Du Maurier's heroes. They are, to a man, flawed almost beyond redemption, incapable of love. Maximillian in REBECCA never really appears at all and while Jem Merlyn displays some heroic qualities, you are left with the query in the back of your mind as to whether blood will out and Mary, is in fact, going to end up just like her Aunt Patience. As for Sir Richard Grenville in THE KING'S GENERAL, there was never going to be a HEA there. The heroes of Du Maurier's books are "mad, bad and dangerous to know" and the heroines love them without reserve, but it is an animal attraction. Mary Yellan even accepts this...she says at one point in JAMAICA INN that her attraction to Jem Merlyn is not a romantic attraction, but an attraction as old as men and women. An irresistable attraction she describes as love but not romantic love.

I would love to know what you think...Would you describe Du Maurier's books as "romances"?



  1. Hiya Alison! What an interesting discussion. Actually, I think it comes down to your definition of a romance. My definition is a story that concentrates on an emotional/soul connection between two people (not even necessarily a man and a woman). I also think a romance shows how that relationship then changes the protagonist(s). Change is germane to my definition of a romance! It doesn't have to be the largest partof the book but it has to be the STRONGEST part of the book. In that case, yes, to me, Rebecca is a romance and so is Jamaica Inn, which I must admit I haven't read since high school. But like you, I was a huge gothic fan so it left an indelible impression. In my definition, Gone With the Wind is a romance although I know RWAmerica considers it's not. I even think Anna Karenina is a romance, much as I hate to think of lovely Anna squashed on the train lines!

  2. Hi Alison,

    *waving to Anna*

    I loved The King's General, but Frenchman's Creek is my favourite Du Maurier. Rebecca - not for me. Did not enjoy this one at all, I'm afraid.

    I don't describe Du Maurier books as romances for exactly the reasons you stated in your post. I need the promise of a HEA to call a book a romance.


  3. Thanks for the comment, Anna - I like your perspective. But for me, it is the "happy ever after" that makes a romance, as distinct from a "love story". There must be change, a journey the character go on, in both cases but I need the assurance that these two characters are going to go on through life together. I don't get that with Du Maurier's protagonists. Jem Merlyn is wildly attractive (in the MBADTK sense) but I don't think either he or Mary are "in love" in the romantic sense of the word. They are definitely drawn together, but will that passion (or attraction) sustain them?

    IMO, GWTW is a wonderful love story and Anna Karenina is a great tragic love story, but I personally don't consider either of them romances.

    I recommend a re-read of Jamaica Inn - you'll love it!

  4. Alison,
    You've inspired me to re-read Jamaica Inn. Like you, I last read it as a teenager - along with Rebecca - and that's a while ago now! Have just finished reading Frenchman's Creek which I hadn't previously read and I loved it. Is it a romance? Hmmm. For me, the HEA is also a crucial factor in a romance so I would also say 'no'. But a love story, definitely and her writing is just fabulous.

  5. Hi Alison, I too read Jamaica Inn when I was about 13, and to this day I remember my feelings of shock at the end when Jem and Mary didn't get a satisfying HEA (in my romantic opinion at any rate!) As for the King's General (also read at age 13) I was livid she didn't just go off with Richard as I was sure she was the only woman who could redeem him! (of course there wouldn't have been much of a story then, but at least they would have got some sort of HEA!!)

  6. I had forgotten FRENCHMAN'S CREEK - the pirate story. I read it during a Du Maurier "bender" when I was at Uni (many years ago now) but it never resonated with me the way the other books have and I've never gone back to it in the way I have with some of her others. Probably because, while it had a hero who was MBADTK, it too did not have the HEA I crave in a romance.

  7. Christina - THE KING'S GENERAL is a special favourite of mine. My father read it to me and I attribute it as being the start of my lifelong passion for the English Civil War. Of course, Sir Richard Grenville being a historical character, it could never have any other ending...sadly. But if Honor had gone with him, what would her life have been like? I think like Mary in JI, there would have been no HEA either!