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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"?