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Literature / Jamaica Inn

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A 1936 novel written by Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn tells the story of young Mary Yellan, who was brought up on a farm in Helford but had to go and live with her Aunt Patience following her mother's death. Patience's husband Joss Merlyn, a terrifying bully who is almost seven feet tall, is the keeper of Jamaica Inn, a remote public house on Bodmin Moor.

On arriving at the gloomy and threatening inn, Mary finds her aunt in a ghost-like state under the thumb of the vicious Joss, and soon realizes that something unusual is afoot at the inn, which has no guests and is never open to the public. The plot follows a group of murderous wreckers who run ships aground, kill the sailors and steal the loot. It is an eerie period piece set in Cornwall in 1820; the real Jamaica Inn still exists and is located in the small village of Bolventor, just off the A30 as it passes across Bodmin Moor (said road actually ran right through the village before the bypass was built in the 1980s).

Made into a 1939 film directed by Alfred Hitchcock (his first of three du Maurier adaptations), starring Charles Laughton and (in her first starring role) Maureen O'Hara. Later adapted into two Mini Series; one in 1983 by ITV, starring Jane Seymour, Patrick McGoohan and Billie Whitelaw, and the other in 2014 by BBC1, starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Sean Harris.

Tropes in Jamaica Inn:

  • Albinos Are Freaks: Francis Davey, the vicar of Altarnun. Played with.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Mary is attracted to Jem, despite knowing that he is a horse thief. In the final chapter of the novel, she decides to join him on his travels through England.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The story ends with Mary deciding to join Jem on his travels through England.
  • Bad Guy Bar: The inn exists only to be a home base for the wreckers.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Joss and Patience are murdered by Francis Davey, the true mastermind of the wreckers gang. Before his crimes come to light, Davey attempts to smuggle himself and Mary away from England by sea. They're pursued in the early hours of the morning and Davey is gunned down by Jem. Later, Mary begins making her way back to Helford, but meets Jem on the road. He convinces her to accompany him on the road north across England for future hijinks.
  • Creepy Uncle: While Joss despises Mary at the beginning of the novel, he comes to care for her and admits to having a soft spot for her. He kisses her on the lips when she is injured and later suggests to her that if he were younger, he would have courted her.
    • Subverted/zig-zagged with Jem and Mary's romance, as he too is sort of her uncle (by marriage, anyway).
  • Domestic Abuser: Implied. Under Uncle Joss's influence, Aunt Patience has gone from a friendly, happy demeanor to a tormented, ghost-like state. He's described as vicious.
  • Evil Uncle: Joss admits to Mary that he has murdered people.
  • Farm Girl: Mary prefers the hard life of the farm. She repeatedly tells people that she wants nothing more than to take her Aunt Patience away from Uncle Joss, start their own farm somewhere and "live a man's life".
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The coach driver notes that there are "queer tales" about the goings-on at the inn.
  • Lovable Rogue: Jem Merlyn.
  • Love Martyr: Aunt Patience to Joss.
  • Meaningful Name: A long-suffering wife named Patience.
  • Not Good with Rejection: Jeremiah "Jem" acts pretty dickish toward Mary during their Christmas trip to Launceston. The two seem to get along well with each other, with Jem even confessing her Casanova antics to her. However, once Mary rejects him, Jem abandons her in Launceston, from which is impossible to return due to the weather and the distance.
  • The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: Subverted. Terribly, terribly subverted. Joss's gang is more like The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything Else.

The 1939 Alfred Hitchcock adaptation includes these tropes:

  • Adaptational Heroism: Jem Merlyn becomes Jem Trehearne, a Royal Navy lieutenant.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Eager to import the film to America, the producers learned that having a clergyman as a villain violated The Hays Code, so the Vicar had to be Adapted Out. In his place, the novel's Squire Bassat got transformed into Sir Humphrey Pengallan, the Big Bad of the film.
  • Ambiguously Bi:
    • Sir Humphrey (played by an actor who famously spent his life in a Transparent Closet) has a dandyish manner and a mincing walk, but is clearly horny for Mary.
    • Harry, who acts as The Dragon for Joss, is very flamboyant and wears earrings, but also hits on Mary (then gets told "She's not partial to your sort"). He was played by Emlyn Williams, who was bisexual in Real Life.
  • Creator Cameo: Averted. This was the last Alfred Hitchcock film in which he didn't make some sort of cameo, though it's been reported that he was an extra in the film. If so, he might've been in the crowd in the final scene.
  • Defiant to the End: Sir Humphrey at the film's climax.
    What are you all waiting for? A spectacle? You shall have it! And tell your children how the great age ended. Make way for Pengallan! (leaps to his death)
  • Disney Villain Death: Sir Humphrey, from the mast of a ship, no less!
  • Fat Bastard: Sir Humphrey, gleefully so.
  • Flashed-Badge Hijack: Trehearne does this with a horse-drawn coach.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Phrased even more amusingly than the novel.
    Coach driver: That place. Jamaica Inn. It's got a bad name. It's not healthy, that's why. There's queer things goes on there. Queer things. I won't stop there, not if she were to offer me double fare!
  • The Infiltration: Trehearne has been sent by the government to the inn to join Joss' gang.
  • Internal Reveal: A conversation between Sir Humphrey and Joss after Humphrey takes Mary to the inn establishes that Humphrey is the Diabolical Mastermind behind the shipwreck scheme. Hitchcock reportedly wanted to wait a while before this was revealed, but Laughton, eager to ramp up the villainy in his performance, overruled him.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: "Tell your children how the great age ended!", coming toward the end of a film that was, indeed, the end of an era, as Hitchcock's final British film before he moved to Hollywood.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Sir Humphrey Pengallan is the local justice of the peace, who obviously condones his own criminal schemes. Also counts as a meta example, as Charles Laughton overruled Alfred Hitchcock, who wanted to wait longer before The Reveal of Sir Humphrey as the main villain.
  • Signature Style:
  • Smug Snake: Sir Humphrey is supremely conceited and relishes the way he controls everyone around him.
  • Villain Protagonist: Since Charles Laughton was producing, once he decided to switch from playing Joss to playing Sir Humphrey, this trope got invoked hard.
  • Wicked Cultured: Sir Humphrey Pengallan, a refined country squire who's secretly the Diabolical Mastermind of the wreckers.
  • World of Ham: With Charles Laughton as Sir Humphrey, pretty much everyone else in the cast was forced to ham it up just to keep up with him, with Leslie Banks (Joss) doing some standout Cold Ham work. To put it another way, when the most subtle performance comes from Robert Newton, you know ham is going to be this movie's main course.

The 1983 ITV adaptation also includes these tropes:

The 2014 BBC adaptation also includes these tropes:

  • Bottomless Magazines: A single-shot flintlock gun is fired three times without reloading.
  • The Unintelligible: Joss's lines were borderline inaudible, leading to numerous complaints. The BBC blamed it on problems with the sound mix.

Alternative Title(s): Jamaica Inn 1983