Review of The Scapegoat - Laura Varnam
The Scapegoat, one of the five du
Maurier novels with a male narrator, was published in 1957 by Gollancz
and was made into a film in 1959 starring Alec Guinness and Bette Davis.
The narrator, an Englishman named John, depressed and dissatisfied with
his life as a university lecturer, is travelling in France when he
meets his doppelganger, the French count, Jean de Gué and after a
night of drinking with his double, John wakes up to discover that Jean
has disappeared, leaving him to play the role of the Comte and become
his double's scapegoat in a complex web of family intrigue and
The seeds for the novel were sown in 1955
when du Maurier was in France researching the lives of her ancestors,
the Busson-Mathurins, who were glass-blowers. The research she was to
undertake later formed the basis of her 1963 novel The Glass-Blowers but du Maurier was sidetracked by a number of incidents that were to inspire the plot of The Scapegoat.
While out walking in a square in a French town, du Maurier saw a man
who looked identical to someone she knew and then, glancing through a
window onto a family scene, she began to wonder, as was her habit, who
the people were and what their secrets might be. 'She imagined herself
suddenly transported into their midst, listening to their conversation,
perhaps even becoming one of them', her biographer Judith Cook writes
(p.216). In the course of her researches, du Maurier also discovered a
house that two hundred years ago had belonged to one of her ancestors
and she explored the derelict buildings and saw fragments of the glass
that had been blown there. In The Scapegoat, in the guise of her
male narrator, du Maurier did enter the lives of a French family, but on
the much grander scale of the Comte and Comtesse, and her ancestral
glass-blowing foundry became the failing business of the de Gué family.
Du Maurier wrote the novel at record
speed in sixth months and then collapsed with nervous exhaustion. Judith
Cook writes that she had begun to experience odd connections between
the writing of the novel and her family life which had disturbed her
greatly; when she wrote about Françoise, Jean's pregnant wife, needing a
blood transfusion, shortly afterwards her own daughter Tessa delivered a
son who required two blood transfusions, 'Daphne began to find it all
rather frightening' (Cook, p.218). In Margaret Forster's biography, she
reprints a letter, which du Maurier wrote in 1957 when her husband Tommy
Browning had had a nervous breakdown and she herself was on the verge
of nervous collapse. She refers to The Scapegoat as follows:
'It is my story, and it is Moper's
[Tommy's] also. We are both doubles. So it is with everyone. Every one
of us has his, or her, dark side. Which is to overcome the other? This
is the purpose of the book. And it ends, as you know, with the problem
unsolved, except that the suggestion there, when I finished it, was that
the two sides of that man's nature had to fuse together to give birth
to a third, well balanced. Know Thyself. The one man went back home
having been given a hint that his family, in future, would be different,
would be adjusted; the other man went to the monastery, for a space of
time, to learn 'what to do with love'. Can Moper, and can I, learn from
this? I think we can [...] but the dark side is not yet destroyed. We
must be patient' (Forster, p.424).
Du Maurier's 'dark side' as she calls it
was to be the subject of many of her short stories, those macabre and
chilling tales of the unexpected such as 'Don't Look Now', 'The Blue
Lenses', and 'The Breakthrough', in which she delved into her own psyche
and explored other, imaginary selves and their secret lives.
The narrative is indebted to novels such as The Prisoner of Zenda
(1894) in which an Englishman abroad impersonates the king whom he
physically resembles and who has been kidnapped on the eve of his
coronation, a favourite tale of Daphne's when she was younger (Cook,
p.218). In its dealings with the theme of doubling, however, the novel
is more reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in which the two selves are part of the same person. In The Scapegoat,
the doubling is less a reflection of Jean and John as two individual
personalities than John's realisation of another darker personality
hidden within his own self.
'I left the car by the side of the
cathedral, and then walked down the steps into the Place des Jacobins.
It was still raining hard. It had not once let up since Tours, and all I
had seen of the countryside I loved was the gleaming surface of the
route nationale, rhythmically cut by the monotonous swing of the
windscreen-wiper. Outside Le Mans, the depression that had grown upon me
during the past twenty-fours had intensified.' (p.1)
The Scapegoat is narrated by John, an
Englishman and lecturer in French history at a London university, who is
coming to the end of his holiday in France. He arrives in Le Mans,
depressed and melancholy at the thought of returning to his lectures: 'the real meaning of history would have escaped me, because I had never been close enough to people' (p.1). John feels lonely, isolated, and as though his outward life is a meaningless facade. 'I
lived and breathed and had my being as a law-abiding, quiet, donnish
individual of thirty-eight. But to the self who clamoured for release,
the man within? How did my poor record seem to him? [...] Perhaps, if I
had not kept him locked within me, he might have laughed, roistered,
fought and lied' (p.10). John considers concluding his visit at the
Abbaye de la Grande-Trappe where he hopes to find some consolation but
as he crosses the road in Le Mans the driver of a car calls out to him,
addressing him as Jean. John tries to explain to the man who seems to
know him that there has been a mistake but the man takes it to be a
deliberate deception, winks, laughs and drives away. He enters the
station buffet and is confronted by another man: 'I realised, with a
strange sense of shock and fear and nausea all combined, that his face
and voice were known to me too well. I was looking at myself' (p.13).
John has a premonition that meeting his double could be 'fraught with tragedy, like the Man in the Iron Mask'
(p.14) but he sits down and has a drink with his doppelganger, to whom
he begins to confess his feelings of depression and failure. His double
mistakes him for a Frenchman because of his excellent grasp of the
language and they eventually retire to a backstreet hotel where they
continue to drink and eventually swop clothes. John falls to the floor
drunk and when he awakes, he discovers a chauffeur at the door: 'Monsieur le Comte is awake at last?'
(p.27). John realises that his double has disappeared with his clothing
and he attempts to convince the chauffeur that he is not the Comte. The
chauffeur believes him to be drunk and when he enquires after the 'gentleman I was with last night' (p.30) the hotel receptionist has no knowledge of him. John decides that if 'he
wished to make an idiot of me, I would do the same to him. I would put
on his clothes and drive his car to hell - as he was no doubt driving
mine - and have myself arrested, and then wait for him to turn up and
explain his senseless action as best he could' (p.31). Ignoring
further opportunities to explain his predicament, John shaves, dresses,
gets in the car and they make for the chateau at St Gilles. He realises
that Jean de Gué 'had given me what I asked, the chance to be
accepted. He had lent me his name, his possessions, his identity. I had
told him my own life was empty: he had given me his' (p.34).
They arrive at the chateau and John is
met by a man named Paul, Jean's brother, who appears irritated by his
lateness. John enters the house and goes into a room in which three
women are seated. One, named Blanche, leaves as soon as he enters; the
second, a fair-haired woman, who is pregnant, tells him that they have
been worried about his absence; and the third, dark-haired, exchanges a
knowing glance with him. The women inform him that Marie-Noel has a
fever and when asked about Paris he declares carelessly: 'I have no idea what happened in Paris. I'm suffering from memory loss' (p.41). The pregnant woman expresses her hope that he has reached an agreement in Paris but John continues to taunt the women: 'Actually,
I am not Jean de Gué at all. I am someone else. We met in Le Mans last
night, and changed clothes, and he has disappeared in my car, heaven
knows where, and I am here in his place. You must admit it's an
extraordinary situation' (p.42). The women take no notice, believing
him to be suffering from a hangover, and eventually John admits that he
drank too much in Le Mans and leaves the room.
Venturing upstairs, John finds himself
in a bare room decorated only with religious paraphernalia: a painting
of the scourging of Christ, a crucifix, and a small alcove for prayer. A
servant discovers him and asks, looking rather surprised, if he is
searching for Mademoiselle Blanche. He is told that she is with the
Madame la Comtesse who is eager to see him and will not wait. He follows
the servant into a room in which 'a massive elderly women, her flesh
sagging in a hundred lines, but her eyes, her nose, her mouth so
astonishingly and horribly like my own that for one wild moment I
believed after all Jean de Gué had come up here before me and was
masquerading as a final jest' (p.46). John intuits that the woman is
Jean's mother and when she presses him as to whether he has renewed the
contract; he tells her that everything has been arranged. She pesters
him for a present that he has brought her from Paris and then they dine.
She tells him that Marie-Noel has been having visions and that 'she kept telling Françoise and Renée that you were not coming back'
(p.52). Blanche, who has been sitting with Madame la Comtesse while the
local priest attended her, declares that she will inform the bishop if
Marie-Noel continues to have visions of the Virgin Mary. The mother's
maid, Charlotte, presses John for the package and he leaves the room,
fortuitously stumbling upon Jean's dressing room where he discovers a
number of parcels, marked F, R, B, P, M-N, and Maman. He returns with
the parcel but Charlotte intercepts it and takes it away. When he
returns to the dressing room he discovers that the pregnant woman is
Françoise and that rather than being Paul's wife, as he had assumed, she
is in fact Jean's wife.
John gives her the package marked 'F'
which turns out to be a locket broach containing a miniature of
himself/Jean. Françoise is pleased but confesses her deep unhappiness to
John. When she falls asleep, John goes out into the corridors of the
chateau and is accosted by Renée, the dark haired woman, who says: 'I waited for you, leaving my door open. Didn't you see it?'
(p.64). John brushes her off and she storms away upstairs. He goes out
onto the terrace at the back of the house and is suddenly pelted by
chestnuts, by a kneeling figure in an upstairs window. He looks closer
and discovers that it is a child who declares: 'I swear to you, that if you don't come to me by the time I count a hundred, I shall throw myself out of the window'
(p.67). John rushes inside and finds the child, who looks like Jean de
Gué in miniature and calls him 'Papa'; the child is Marie-Noel. She is
affectionate and playful with him but notices that his hands and smell
are different. She tells him that she had a vision of the Virgin Mary
who told her that her father would not return. She declares that she
would have killed herself if he had not returned: 'And then I should have burnt in hell. But I would rather burn in hell than live in this world without you'
(p.71). Her room, like Blanche's, also contains a crucifix, a
prie-dieu, and pictures of the saints. John returns to his bedroom and
opens the package marked M-N, it is a book called 'The Little Flower'
about St Therese Lisieux. John thinks that Jean acted wrongly to escape
from the chateau- 'none of these people under his roof would be behaving as they had behaved tonight but for something he had done to them' (p.76)-but he sees an opportunity for himself to put it right.
When John awakes the next morning,
Gaston tells him that Paul will be expecting him at the verrerie (the
glass-works) in the afternoon. John gives Marie-Noel her present and
declares that he will give all the other presents at lunchtime, although
Marie-Noel is surprised that there is one for Blanche. At lunch, the
content of Renée's package- a lace nightgown- upsets the party and there
is further embarrassment when Marie-Noel reads the label on Paul's
present- a remedy for impotence. Blanche does not open her parcel. John
realises his mistake and leaves with Paul for the verrerie. He
apologises for the mistake but Paul remains furious. At the verrerie,
John discovers that the reason for Jean's visit to Paris was to attempt
to save the business by renegotiating a contract with a firm called
Carvalet to sell their glass. Despite having no idea as to the outcome
of Jean's meeting, John tells Paul that he has renewed the contract and
that production can continue as normal. Paul is delighted. John
interrogates Jacques who works at the foundry and discovers that the
verrerie is a liability and that unlike Jean's father, and Monsieur
Duval who managed affairs previously, the Comte's management of the
business has been non-existent. He then meets some of the workers at the
foundry including Julie and her son-in-law André who had been badly
injured in an accident. Back at the chateau, John reads the letter from
Carvalet and discovers that they had declined to renew the contract and
that the visit to Paris had been a failure.
John decides to rectify the situation.
He rings Carvalet and tells them that he will accept their terms,
despite running the verrerie at a loss. He suspects that someone has
overheard his phone call but he cannot locate the other extension. He
rummages through Jean's desk in search of some information about his
finances but instead finds a photograph album featuring himself, Paul,
and Blanche as children, and a man named Maurice. Renée comes into the
library and berates him for giving her the lingerie at the dinner table.
John suddenly realises that Jean was having an affair with her and he
attempts again to brush her off. He goes to see Marie-Noel and discovers
that Blanche had opened her package. Inside was a bottle of perfume and
a note: 'For my beautiful Béla, from Jean'. Marie-Noel also lets slip
in conversation that Jean had not spoken to Blanche in fifteen years and
John muses: 'no wonder the giving of a present had been out of
character. The revelation was disturbing, even sinister, especially when
I remembered the snapshots of the two children with their arms about
each other. Something personal and bitter had come between Blanche and
Jean de Gué, yet it was accepted by all, even by the child' (p.127).
When John puts Marie-Noel to bed she tells him that she had sinned by
threatening to kill herself and she attempts to perform penance by
beating herself with a leather whip. Appalled by the effects, which
Blanche's religion is having on his daughter, John delivers the whip
back to her only to find the door slammed in his face. John decides to
spend his second night at the chateau sleeping in the dressing room. 'I
knew that everything I had said or done had implicated me further,
driven me deeper, bound me more closely still to that man whose body was
not my body, whose mind was not my mind, whose thoughts and actions
were a world apart, and yet whose inner substance was part of my nature,
part of my secret self' (p.138).
The next morning John decides to go to
the bank in Villars to investigate his double's finances. Renée
contrives to go with him but John encourages Marie-Noel to join the
party. Marie-Noel is delighted but when doing cartwheels in her mother's
room, smashes two ornaments. Françoise is upset and lashes out at the
child, telling her that when the baby arrives, she will take second
place. John takes the pieces of the ornaments with him, parcelled up in
some discarded paper he found in the dressing room, hoping to arrange
for them to be mended in Villars. Renée is annoyed that she and
Jean/John are to be chaperoned by the child and she goes off to the
hairdressers. Marie-Noel visits the antique shop to see if they can fix
the ornaments while Jean goes to the bank. In his vault he discovers the
marriage settlement relating to Jean and Françoise. He discovers that
Françoise's dowry was in trust for a male heir and that Jean would only
come into the money otherwise if Françoise reached the age of fifty
having only given birth to daughters or if she died. John understands
why it is crucial for Françoise's baby to be a boy and why she is
anxious about the pregnancy. John leaves the bank, having been told that
Marie-Noel had already left town in a lorry going back to the verrerie.
He goes over to speak to the blonde woman whom he presumes owns the
antique shop where Marie-Noel left the ornaments. She ushers him inside
and declares: 'That child of yours is adorable but it was very
naughty of you to send her here. Any why for heaven's sake did you wrap
up those pieces of broken porcelain in cellophane and paper with a card
addressed to me?' (p.155). John inadvertently wrapped the pieces in
the paper containing the note to 'Béla' from Jean. He realises that this
woman in Villars is Béla and she is another of the Comte's mistresses.
John tells Béla the truth about the
Carvalet contract and she asks him why the sudden concern for the
verrerie and its workforce. She tells him that she has always wondered
whether his lack of interest in the place was because of what happened
to Maurice Duval. John encourages her to keep talking and she mentions
that he died during the Occupation. He tries to tell her about the
change that has come over him/Jean and that he is a different person.
Béla replies 'you aren't the only one with a dual personality. We all
have multiple selves. But no one avoids responsibility that way. The
problems remain to be tackled just the same' (p.164).
When John returns to the house, he
discovers that the doctor who had called to see Françoise has already
left and he has ordered her to remain in bed in order to protect the
baby. He goes to talk to Françoise and tells her that he had a long
meeting at the bank which prevented him from being home in time, and he
confesses about the Carvalet contract. Françoise is pleased that he
confided in her and she then asks if he looked at the marriage
settlement when he was in the vault. He says that he did and she asks
whether he will inherit the money if she dies. '"What happens if I die? You get everything, don't you?" "You're not going to die"'
(p.172). John goes to see Jean's mother and when he mentions that
perhaps Françoise should see a specialist if the pregnancy is going to
present problems, she says slyly 'Whatever for?' (p.176). They
are interrupted by a telephone call from Dr Lebrun. He tells John that
Françoise needs complete rest. Marie-Noel asks why the servants are
gossiping about the baby dying and she asks why they need to have
another baby. John replies honestly that it is because of the money they
will receive from the marriage settlement.
John returns upstairs to sit with
Françoise rather than brave Paul and Renée in the salon. She is touched,
if a little surprised, by the concern. The following day he goes down
to the verrerie to go through the figures with Jacques in the office and
he then asks about the rest of the disused house. He finds a box of
books, one of which is inscribed 'Maurice Duval', and he asks Jacques
why they don't make the house inhabitable. He replies that 'there are
not very happy memories connected with the house when it was last
inhabited. Few people would wish to live there now [...] When the last
man to live here, the master of the verrerie, Monsieur Duval, is woken
from him bed in the middle of the night, and taken downstairs and shot
by his own countrymen, and his body thrown into the well cut to pieces
with his own glass, even if it happened a long time ago and is something
we all prefer to forget, yet it does not make anybody very anxious to
come and live here, where it happened, bringing a wife and family'
(p.189). John signs the new contract from Carvalet and puts it in the
post. He then goes to talk to Julie and asks her about the Occupation.
She shows him a snapshot of a young German officer whose coat she
cleaned so that he would not get in trouble with his superiors. The
villagers ostracised her two years afterwards: 'so you see, when war
comes to one's own village, one's own doorstep, it isn't tragic and
impersonal any longer. It's just an excuse to vomit private hatred' (p.194).
When he returns to the chateau, the
servants ask John about the arrangements for the annual shoot the
following day. He has overheard references to the 'grande chasse' during
the past few days but he suddenly realises its implications: he, John,
cannot shoot. He goes out into the grounds of the chateau, desperate for
an excuse not to participate. He sees a fire burning and decides on a
rash course of action. He drops Jean's watch into the fire and then
thrusts his hand into the flames to retrieve it. He returns inside in
great pain, to the shock of the family, especially when they discover
that the watch he had wished to save had been a present from Maurice
Duval. Blanche dresses the wound and he tells Paul to organise the
shoot, now he is injured he has no interest in it. When he goes to put
Marie-Noel to bed, she tells him that she saw him thrusting his hand
into the fire on purpose. He tells her that it was because he had no
wanted to shoot and she says that he must have been thinking about
Duval. When John questions her further she says that she knows he met a
horrible death but that her grandmother had forbidden her from talking
about Duval either to her father or to Blanche. She asks if he did it
because he didn't want to kill any birds and when he says that perhaps
that was the reason, she is pleased at his courage and his 'great act of humiliation'
(p.216). John persuades her not to mention it to any one and Marie-Noel
agrees, although she tells him that she thinks his act to be like the
sacrificial mortifications of the saints.
When the annual shoot begins the next
day, John discovers Jean's mother welcoming the guests, who are so
surprised by her emergence from the chateau that John's hand goes
unnoticed. John is annoyed when she mocks Paul and Renée's attempts to
run the shoot but he then finds himself unable to control Jean's dog,
César. The dog scatters the birds, to Paul's annoyance, and John returns
to the chateau with Gaston, drinking cognac from a hip flask. He meets
the man who first mistook him for Jean in Le Mans before the swop took
place and on a whim he gives the man his own address in London: '"Any
assistance you give this chap you'll be giving to me; we're closer than
brothers." Then I burst out laughing, thinking him extremely stupid not
to see the point' (p.229). John is encouraged to give a speech to
the guests, which despite his inebriation he does, but they are not
amused when he jokes that if he had shot with his damaged hand 'some of you present might never have survived'
(p.230). When he returns to the chateau, John is summoned to Jean's
mother who appears to be unwell. Her maid is downstairs in the kitchen
and the mother urges him to help her, directing him to a drawer. When
John opens it he discovers that the package which he brought back from
Paris was ampoules of morphine. 'But his mother was not ill or dying, neither was she in pain' (p.234). He reluctantly administers the drug and she loses consciousness.
John spends the night in Villars with
Béla. He recounts the events of the day and when he recalls his quip
about the gun she comments: 'Coming from a one-time Resistance leader to a group of well-known collaborators, it must have sounded curious all the same' (p.245). When he returns to the chateau he discovers a letter from Marie-Noel pushed under his door in which she writes: 'The
Sainte Vierge tells me you are unhappy, and are suffering now for wrong
done in the past, so I am going to pray that all your sins may be
visited upon me, who, being young and strong, can bear them better.' (p.248). When he goes in to Françoise, she tells him that Marie-Noel has disappeared.
Everyone goes out to look for
Marie-Noel except Françoise. By chance John discovers her down at the
house at the verrerie being looked after by Julie who found her down the
well amongst the broken glass after the dog, César, was found there
barking. When he expresses surprise about the well and that it has
contained no water for fifteen years, he finally discovers the secret of
Jean's past. Maurice Duval was shot by Jean and his men: 'poor
Monsieur Duval, whose only crime was trying to preserve the verrerie
while you were absent, for which you and your little group of patriots
called him a collaborator, and shot him, and let him die there in the
well' (p.258). John's realises that Marie-Noel had climbed into the
well as an act of penitence on behalf of her father. Blanche arrives and
looks around her at the house and John suddenly realises that 'what she was looking at had once been part of her life'
(p.260): Blanche had had a relationship with Duval. Marie-Noel wakes up
and tells John that she had had a dream in which the Virgin Mary told
her that her grandmother wanted Françoise to die: 'In the dream I
wanted her to die too. So did you. We were all guilty. It was very
wicked. Isn't there something you can do to prevent it coming true?' (p.263). At that moment there is a telephone call from the chateau for John to return at once.
Françoise has fallen from the bedroom
window and been taken to the hospital in Villars. She requires a blood
transfusion and when Blanche says that either Jean or Paul could donate
because they are the same blood type, John speaks up and denies it.
Blanche declares: 'You don't want to save her. You're hoping she'll die'
(p.269). Françoise and her baby, which was a boy, both die and John
thinks back on his behaviour towards Jean's wife. He is glad he gave her
the locket but he regrets that he had done no more. Back at the
chateau, John interrogates his mother's maid Charlotte. She says that
when Marie-Noel had gone missing, Françoise worried that 'the child might have turned against her. She is too fond of her papa, she said, and of Mademoiselle Blanche'
(p.275). Charlotte tells John that she agreed with Françoise and he
worries about how this might have affected her. He goes to the bedroom
and leans out of the window, wondering whether her death can really have
been an accident.
Fearing the worst, John goes to
interrogate Jean's mother. He forces her into recounting a conversation
which she had with Françoise shortly before she died. Madame la Comtesse
recalls: '"Does he want me to die so that he can marry someone
else?" she [Françoise] asked at last. I told her I did not know. "Jean
makes love to everyone. He has made love to Renée, even, here in the
chateau, and he has a mistress in Villars" [...] " So the child isn't
the only one to want me out of the way", she said, "Jean does, too, and
so do you, and Renée, and the woman in Villars". I didn't answer her"' (p.283). Jean's mother concludes by saying 'You've got what you wanted, haven't you?'
(p.283) but John denies it vehemently. He declares that he needs her
help and after considerable effort, he persuades her to resume her
position at the head of the family and to give up the morphine. She
agrees and goes downstairs to begin making the funeral arrangements.
The commissaire de police arrives to
investigate Françoise's death. The suspicion of suicide is raised and
when Charlotte is interviewed, she lets slip that she had been listening
in to John's conversation with Carvalet about the renewal of the
contract. Paul is astonished. When the commissaire goes to Françoise's
bedroom Marie-Noel is there, having leant out the window and discovered
the locket on the ledge. It seems that when leaning out to rescue Jean's
present, Françoise fell.
Paul confronts John about the Carvalet
contract and he tells him the truth. John admits that he/Jean has no
head for business and he agrees with Paul that if he had gone to Paris
instead, the contract would no doubt have been more favourable. John
suggests that Paul take over that part of the business and travel with
Renée, while he stays at the chateau. Paul is surprised but he accepts,
believing it to be the only way to save his marriage. Later when Renée
confronts him, John says that he is not in love with her. She asks him
whether he contrived the Carvalet contract in the hope that Françoise
would die and she is relieved when he denies the charge. John sits with
Jean's mother until she falls asleep as she is beginning to suffer
withdrawal symptoms from the morphine. He then goes to see Blanche and
while she dresses his hand, he forces her to talk about the past. He
tries to apologise but Blanche is still angry, reminding him of his
mockery of her and Duval's relationship, and his jealousy when their
father made Duval head of the verrerie. John tells Blanche that he wants
her to run the verrerie in his place and to live in the master's house.
'The house is waiting there for you. It's been waiting for fifteen years.' (p.326).
The next day the funeral arrangements
are begun, Blanche goes down to the verrerie, and Renée begins to talk
about travelling with Paul. Then there is a telephone call for John. It
is Jean de Gué: 'It's me. Jean de Gué. I've just seen today's newspaper. I'm coming back' (p.334). They agree to meet at the master's house at the verrerie. 'Although
the emotion that filled me now was violent, over-whelming, yet at the
same time I felt deliberate and calm. I was the possessor now, he the
intruder. The chateau was my chateau, the people were my people, the
family who in a few minutes would sit with me round the table were my
family, my flesh and blood; they belonged to me and I to them. He could
not return and make them his again' (p.336). John goes into the
library and removes a revolver from the desk drawer. He waits in the
master's house but when there is a knock at the door, he finds the
priest standing there, who takes the gun from his hand. The priest had
feared that John might kill himself and he says: 'What good would
that do, to you or to them? By living, you can create their world
afresh. Already I see signs of it, here in the master's house' (p.343). When the priest leaves, Jean de Gué enters holding a gun and says 'So you planned to get rid of me, did you, and stay in St Gilles?' (p.345).
Jean is amazed that John has managed
to keep up the deception for seven days and he amuses himself by
wondering how John dealt with his various intrigues, and problems with
Renée, with Blanche, with Françoise. He mocks John's attempt to take his
mother off morphine, 'tonight she'll be a raving maniac', and he thinks that John's plan for Renée and Paul will break up their marriage even sooner, 'Renée
will find the lover she's been searching for and Paul feel himself more
inferior than ever [...] What want of tact, if I may say so, how
lacking in finesse' (pp.347-8). He is more concerned with the
Carvalet contract but considers that asking Blanche to run the verrerie
might in fact make sound business sense. Jean thinks that John wants to
stay at the chateau for the money and comfort, but John says 'I happen to love your family, that's all' (p.349). Jean laughs in disbelief that he could love them, listing their faults: 'Paul,
who is an oaf, a weakling, a thoroughly disagreeable personality [...]
Blanche, who is so twisted with repressed sex and frustrated passion
that the only stimulation she gets out of life is to kneel before a
bleeding crucifix' (p.350). John tells Jean to kill him, if that is
his wish, and to throw him down the well. Jean is surprised that he has
discovered the secret about Duval. He believes that John could not
possibly have met Béla, and John does not disabuse him of this notion.
He then tells John that during his time in the chateau, he had been to
London. Jean stayed in his flat and then sold it, clearing out his bank
account and changing the money into francs after fortuitously meeting up
with his friend from Le Mans, to whom John had given his London address
during the annual shoot. John is astounded: 'unless I liked to make a
fool of myself by writing to the university and saying it was all a
mistake- that I had decided not to resign after all- I had no work. I
had no money, save for one or two investments. I had no flat, and if I
didn't get back to London soon I should have no furniture. I did not
exist. The self who had lived in London had gone forever' (p.355).
Jean admits that in a strange way he missed his family, and the two
exchange clothes. Jean suggests that they might make the switch again,
from time to time, if they fancied a change. They get into John's car
and drive towards the chateau. He tries to tell Jean that his family has
changed but he ignores him. Jean gets out of the car and walks the rest
of the way and John sees him greet Marie-Noel as he drives on along the
John drives to Villars to see Béla.
She alone had realised that he was someone else and not the real Jean de
Gué. She says that he had a 'tendresse' that Jean did not possess. She
says that because of John the family in the chateau will be different,
even if Jean tries to undo the good he has done there. John says that
Jean is a 'devil' but Béla replies: 'he's not a devil. He's a human, ordinary man, just like yourself' (p.364). She tells him that 'you've
given something to all of us [...] Just now I called it tendresse.
Whatever it is, it can't be destroyed. It's taken root. It will go on
growing. In the future we shall look for you in Jean, not for Jean in
you' (pp.364-5). John says that at St Gilles his failure turned into love but 'the problem remains the same. What do I do with love?' (p.367). He leaves resolving to follow his original path to the Abbey de la Grande Trappe.
'I drove to the network of roads at the top of the town, turned left, and took the road to Bellême and Mortagne' (p.368).
The Scapegoat is a tightly plotted novel, full of suspense, coincidence, and secrets. Like My Cousin Rachel,
the narrator suspects the protagonists of wickedness and the plot is
driven by the desire for knowledge and understanding. John is one of du
Maurier's more successful male narrators and although the novel ends
with him driving off towards the monastery, there is a sense in which he
has become more self-possessed and confident through his exploration of
his darker self. The experience of reading the novel is rather like
reading detective fiction as du Maurier often leaves clues for the
reader to puzzle out the relationships between Jean and the other
characters before John does; it becomes clear to the reader that Renée
is Jean's mistress, for example, before this idea occurs to John.
Perhaps the most vivid character in the novel is Marie-Noel. The
intensity of her relationship with her father reminds us of that between
du Maurier and her own father, the charismatic actor-manager Gerald du
Maurier. Marie-Noel's eagerness to sacrifice herself for Jean/John
perhaps makes her the 'scapegoat' of the novel; although as Lisa
Appignasi notes, there are 'at least two contenders for the role',
Francoise as well as John (Daphne du Maurier Companion, p.190).
The novel is perhaps best read alongside du Maurier's short stories
which rely on the same atmosphere of suspense, mystery, and the uncanny.
As a review in the Chicago Tribune states: 'Never has [du Maurier]
written a stranger, more tense tale, or one more certain to fill the
reader's mind with speculation'.
The Scapegoat (Gollancz 1957).
The Scapegoat is currently in print, published by Virago (2004). Page references throughout the review are taken from this edition.
Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster (Chatto & Windus 1993) (Published in the US as Daphne du Maurier - The Secret World of the Renowned Storyteller (Doubleday 1993)).
Currently available in paperback, published by Arrow Books (2007).
Daphne: A Portrait of Daphne du Maurier by Judith Cook (Bantam Press 1991, Corgi 1992).
The Daphne du Maurier Companion edited by Helen Taylor (Virago 2007)
© L. Varnam 2010.