Despite everyone grumbling about the muffled Cornish accents, I thoroughly enjoyed the latest BBC adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. I finished the novel last summer and I was pleased with the show’s loyalty to the book. And after Lady Sybil was so cruelly removed from Downton, I was happy to see Jessica Brown Findlay’s cool little face once more.
I’ve treasured an eerie obsession with Jamaica Inn ever since I visited the moors of Bodmin when I was about 8. I don’t remember much about the trip; most of it has merged into other childhood memories of travels through Cornwall.
Nevertheless, I do remember the secluded inn all alone in the west country wilderness. It’s said to be one of the most haunted locations in Britain, built in 1750 as a coaching house for changing horses. Du Maurier wrote the classic tale in 1930, after she got lost on the moors when out riding her horse. She became swamped in fog and sought refuge at the inn, where she was entertained by the local rector with tales of ghosts and smugglers.
When I visited the inn, it was home to Walter Potter’s Museum of Curious Taxidermy. He was a famous Victorian amateur taxidermist, and arranged his stuffed animals into ‘amusing’ tableaux, such as ‘Kitten Wedding’ and ‘Monkey Riding a Goat’. As a child this was terrifying, and of all my childhood memories, this remains one of the most vivid. Being an amateur, the dead creatures often looked contorted and the result was fascinatingly horrible. Luckily, I remember my Dad assuring me that all the animals had died of natural causes..
To my morbid delight, Kate Mosse, author of Labyrinth, is publishing a new novel this Autumn called The Taxidermist’s Daughter, inspired by her own childhood visits to the dreary exhibition (it was originally situated in Sussex where Potter lived). It’s a Gothic psychological thriller and I’m jolly excited!
I am determined to return to Jamaica Inn in the near future and see if it’s as terrifying as I remember. I’m planning to complete a literary tour of Britain, and I recommend the original novel for anybody who likes a grisly adventure tale!
Jamaica Inn is available on iPlayer here, and The Taxidermist’s Daughter will be published by Orion books on 11th September 2014.