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Daphne du Maurier

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A series of Daphne du Maurier related blogs from Stephen Alexander

Stephen Alexander is a London-based writer with a PhD in modern philosophy and literature whose intellectual project can be described as a form of perverse materialism.  His background is in modern European philosophy and literature, with particular reference to the work of Nietzsche and DH Lawrence.  He writes a blog which, he tells us, circulates amongst a tiny number of mostly academics and artists, and which reflects his field of work.  He also discusses many aspects of contemporary popular culture, such as film and fashion. 

He has written several pieces on du Maurier's fascinating and often astonishing work, although he says his knowledge of her writing is limited to the better-known texts.  We will leave you to decide if he is being modest in his understanding of du Maurier's work.

All these du Maurier related blogs plus many more on other subjects can be found on Stephen’s blog here:

These are the first of what we hope will be a number of Stephen's blogs on the subject of Daphne du Maurier's writing. 


  • Help! I'm Turning into a Tapeworm (Don't Tell Me Not to Worry) 
  • A Brief Note on The Scapegoat (1957) by Daphne du Maurier 
  • Never Give a Doppelgänger the Keys to Your Car ...
  • A Border-Line Case - On Genetic Sexual Attraction (With Reference to the Case of Jinnie Blair)
  • The Blue Lenses – To See More Clearly Than Ever Before
  • Jamaica Inn - Make Way for Pengallan!
  • Jamaica Inn - Francis Davey: The Vicar of Altarnun.

Help! I'm Turning into a Tapeworm (Don't Tell Me Not to Worry)



The Breaking Point (1959) and The Blue Lenses and Other Stories (1970)

A note from the website:

We include one of Stephen Alexander's du Maurier related blogs on this page from time to time.  This one is a little strange but certainly links us to Daphne's short story, The Blue Lenses, and perhaps also to her novel The ParasitesThe Blue Lenses can be found in Daphne du Maurier's collection The Breaking Point (1959), later published in paperback as The Blue Lenses and Other Stories (1970).  You need to be made of stern stuff to read this, don't even go there if you are particularly squeamish!

Teresa Zgoda: Taenia solium (tapeworm) everted scolex
Nikon Small World Photomicrography Competition (2017)


The above image by Teresa Zgoda, revealing the anterior end of a pork tapeworm, is truly the stuff of nightmares. No wonder then that after coming across it, a friend of mine experienced a metamorphic dream in which he had the head and short neck of the creature atop his still human body. 

As he described what had happened to him in his dream, it became clear that there was no point my telling him not to worry, as, clearly, he was profoundly disturbed by this - and perhaps rightly so; for if transforming into a macroparasite isn't troubling, then what is?

Besides, don't worry is such a crass response; insensitive and inadequate; dismissive and minimising. When people are upset, they want to be able to express their worries and fears, and they want, perhaps, to be offered some explanation for why they are feeling as they do.

They certainly don't want to hear the words don't worry, never mind, or calm down. Nor do they want to be told to get over it, as if their emotional distress were something trivial and slightly embarrassing (something they either have to justify or apologise for).         


Having said that, what do you say to a man who is worried about becoming-tapeworm? Who has seen himself (in his dreams) with that terrifying attachment organ, the scolex, where his head should be and fears his body is becoming whiter and flatter and more ribbon-like by the day?    

I'm not a psychiatrist or dream therapist, and I'm afraid my only experience in these matters is as a reader of fiction ...

One thinks of Gregor Samsa, for example, who famously wakes up one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a large insect (commonly depicted as a cockroach). Initially assuming this to be a temporary change and that he will soon be back to normal, Gregor is, at first, philosophical about what has happened to him. Unfortunately, however, he doesn't recover his human form, and things end tragically for him [1].

One also thinks of Marda West, in Daphne du Maurier's extraordinary short story The Blue Lenses (1959), in which everyone appears to suddenly lose their human features and are seen with the head of the creature that best expresses their inhuman qualities; not so much their true nature, as what might be termed their molecular animality. Again, this might sound amusing at first, but any comic aspects quickly give way to horror [2].     

I would advise my friend, therefore, to take his dream seriously. But I would also remind him that our humanity is nothing originary and autonomous; in fact, there are no free-living organisms - we are all parasites living off the lives of others ...


[1] I'm referring, of course, to Franz Kafka's novella, Die Verwandlung (1915). There are many English editions of this text available, but I would recommend the translation by Susan Bernofsky, which comes with an introduction by David Cronenberg; The Metamorphosis (W. W. Norton and Co., 2014).
[2] See Daphne du Maurier, The Blue Lenses, in The Breaking Point, (Virago Press, 2009), pp. 44-82. 


A note from the website:

As a follow up to Stephen Alexanders article Never Give a Doppelgänger the Keys to Your Car ... on the early chapters of The Scapegoat, we bring you his thoughts on completing his reading of the novel.  I think we can safely say they are not very positive, but we are all entitled to have our preferred du Maurier titles, and this was certainly not one of Stephens!

A Brief Note on The Scapegoat (1957) by Daphne du Maurier

I'm sorry to say, but Daphne du Maurier's eleventh novel, The Scapegoat (1957), isn't one I'll be adding to my list of favourite books (not even my list of favourite books by her).

For whilst Lisa Appignanesi writes in her Introduction to the work that it has "terse economy of style [and] great literary sophistication"[v], I'm afraid I found it rather tedious at times and - despite the great promise of its premise to do with the performance of identity and the struggle to consciously maintain a lie - philosophically disappointing.

Just to be clear: I loved the first couple of chapters: I loved the final three chapters. It was the twenty-odd chapters in between that I had problems with ...

And one of the main problems was the feeble and depressing protagonist-narrator; a character in stark contrast to his fascinating French double.* One wishes the novel had been more about the latter and less about the former's attempt to live (and redeem) Jean's de Gué's life.

In addition, the other characters in the book - particularly the family members - are also extremely unsympathetic. The English imposter might learn to love them, but I'm afraid Monsieur le Comte is right:

(i) His mother, an obese morphine addict, is the most egotistical, the most rapacious, and the most monstrous of old women ...

(ii) His younger brother, Paul, is a painfully inferior and provincial oaf with a "thoroughly disagreeable personality"[355]...

(iii) His sister-in-law (and lover), Renée, might have an enchanting body but possesses "a mind like an empty box"[355] ...

(iv) His sister, Blanche, is "so twisted with repressed sex and frustrated passion"[355] that she has become fanatically pious as well as resentful ...

(v) And, finally, his daughter, Marie-Noel, is an affected and manipulative little brat who puts on an act of sweetness and innocence, whilst really just wanting to be the centre of attention.        

Of course, there's Béla, who seems a good sort (cooks like an angel; fucks like a beast) and she performs an interesting role in the novel. As understanding and compassionate as she is, however, I suspect that even she was glad to see the back of a self-harming substitute with suicidal fantasies, and keenly awaited the return of the man who had been her lover for three years.

He may lack tendresse, but at least Jean de Gué knows who he is, what he wants, and how to whistle for his dog.   


*I'm assuming that there are two actual characters - English John and Jean de Gué - and not two distinct personalities belonging to the same schizophrenic subject, although, in many ways, this would be more believable and more interesting and I rather wish du Maurier had openly explored what is now referred to as dissociative identity disorder. She might even have given us a dramatic Fight Club moment when it's revealed that the Narrator is Tyler Durden and that it takes a Marla Singer - or, in this case, a Béla - to enable John to know the true from the false and realise that he's Dr Jekyll and Mr Jackass, i.e., somebody with deep-seated problems for which he should seek professional help. See Fight Club (1999), dir. David Fincher, starring Brad Pitt, Edward Norton, and Helena Bonham Carter, based on the 1996 novel of the same title by Chuck Palahniuk.  

Daphne du Maurier, The Scapegoat, with an Introduction by Lisa Appignanesi, (Virago Press, 2004). The page numbers given in the post refer to this edition.

For another post on The Scapegoat, click here: torpedo the ark: Never Give a Doppelgänger the Keys to Your Car ... 

Bonus: to watch the trailer for the 1959 film adaptation dir. Robert Hamer, starring Alec Guinness, click here: 


Never Give a Doppelgänger the Keys to Your Car ...

Roger Moore in The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)

There is always a part of ourselves by which we are haunted;
an avenging apparition which stands between us and our own lives,
thwarting our attempt to remain whole.


What is it with doppelgängers [i] and their urge to drive recklessly? I ask this having just read the opening chapters of Daphne du Maurier's 1957 novel The Scapegoat [ii] ...

In the book, a dull (and depressed) historian with no real connections to the present, dreams of belonging and acting directly in the world and of establishing human relations; he's sick of living in the past and of merely recording events; tired of being alone. He wants another, more meaningful life; a life shared and experienced with friends and family.

Then, by chance, he comes face to face with his double in a busy station buffet:

"Someone jolted my elbow as I drank and said, 'je vous demande pardon,' and as I moved to give him space he turned and stared at me and I at him, and I realized, 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." [9]

The narrator continues:

"We did not speak: we went on staring at one another. I had heard of these things happening [...] and the idea is amusing, or perhaps fraught with tragedy [...]

This was not funny: nor was it tragic. The resemblance made me slightly sick, reminding me of moments when, passing a shop window, I had suddenly seen my own reflection, and the man in the mirror had been a grotesque caricature of what, conceitedly, I had believed myself to be. Such incidents left me chastened, sore, with ego deflated, but they never gave me a chill down the spine, as this encounter did, nor the desire to turn and run." [10]

The man doesn't run, however. Rather, he accepts the double's invitation to have a drink and tells him of his life in London. And he allows him to drive his car, that he had left parked outside a nearby cathedral.

"He settled himself with assurance behind the wheel and I climbed in beside him. As he turned the car away from the cathedral [...] he continued to enthuse in schoolboy fashion, murmuring, 'Magnificent, excellent!' under his breath, obviously enjoying every moment of what soon turned out to be, from my own rather cautious standard, a hair-raising ride. When he had jumped one set of lights, and sent an old man leaping for his life, and forced a large Buick driven by an infuriated American into the side of the street, he proceeded to circle the town in order, so he explained, to try the car's pace. 'You know,' he said, 'it amuses me enormously to use other people's possessions. It is one of life's greatest pleasures.' I closed my eyes as we took a corner like a bob-sleigh." [16]

This is doubtlessly intended to be humorous, but, strangely, it reminded me of a far more sinister scene involving a dull man, his car, and a reckless driving doppelgänger ... 


What I have in mind is the opening scene of spooky psychological thriller, The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970), in which Roger Moore puts in a superb performance as staid business executive Harold Pelham [iii] ...

When driving home from work one day, Pelham appears to suffer - quite literally - a splitting of his personality and begins to drive recklessly and at speed, as if no longer himself and no longer behind the wheel of his Rover saloon, but seated, rather, in a silver sports car (a Lamborghini Islero, to be precise).

Following the inevitable crash, Pelham is shown on the operating table where he experiences clinical death. Fortunately, the surgical team manage to restore his vital functions. However, they notice that, for a moment, there appear to be two heartbeats on the monitor - his alter-ego or shadow self having become fully manifest.

This figure of both identity and non-identity challenges both epistemological certainties and ontological securities. Further, he is intent on making the original Pelham's existence his own (with a little added spice and an attractive mistress played by Olga Georges-Picot). Ultimately, as there is only room in the world for one Harold Pelham, things are destined to turn out badly for at least one of the two men.

I suspect that will be the case also for either John or Jean de Gué (having only read the first fifty-five pages of The Scapegoat, I don't know this for sure). The moral has to be this: Never give a doppelgänger the keys to your car ... because they'll drive off with your life! [iv]


[i] From earliest times, human beings have felt themselves to be accompanied by a double; be it a spirit, a shadow, a reflection, or what in more recent times the Germans termed a doppelgänger - a sinister figure which became a familiar trope in Gothic and Romantic literature, as well as in the modern thriller. For Freud, the doppelgänger constituted the definitive manifestation of the unheimlich (i.e., the strangely familiar realm that in English is known as the uncanny).

[ii] Daphne du Maurier, The Scapegoat, (Virago Press, 2004). Page numbers given in the text refer to this edition.

[iii] To watch the trailer to The Man Who Haunted Himself, (written and dir. Basil Dearden, 1970): click here. The film was an adaptation of Anthony Armstrong's, The Strange Case of Mr. Pelham, which appeared first as a short story in 1940, before being developed and published as a novel in 1957.
[iv] Jean Baudrillard, who was a big fan of demonic doubles and evil twins, also insists that an individual cannot survive an encounter with their doppelgänger. But, interestingly, he also argues that neither can the latter survive in the age of the clone.

© Stephen Alexander June 2020.


A Border-Line Case by Daphne du Maurier - On Genetic Sexual Attraction (With Reference to the Case of Jinnie Blair)


The tale of Shelagh Money, the nineteen-year-old actress who goes by the stage name of Jennifer Blair, is another of Daphne du Maurier's short stories that continues to intrigue long after it's been read.

Particularly as it anticipates the (pseudoscientific) idea of Genetic Sexual Attraction (GSA), a term coined in the late 1980s by Barbara Gonyo, an American woman forced to give up her baby son for adoption, but who developed amorous feelings for him when, twenty-five years later, she tracked him down.

Wishing to understand (and justify) her incestuous urges - that she describes as wonderful and frightening - Gonyo came up with the concept of GSA and even though there's very little hard evidence for this as an actual phenomenon, Greek myth, psychoanalysis, and pornography all attest to the fact that sexual attraction can (and does) occur between individuals who are related in some manner.

As does A Border-Line Case ...


Shortly before his death, Shelagh Money's father expresses a wish that he might see his estranged friend, Nicholas Barry, once more, in order to shake him by the hand and wish him luck in the future.

In order, also, that he might be forgiven for not recommending his pal for promotion when he had the opportunity to do so and thus inadvertently playing a part in Nick's decline in later years; years spent as a recluse living in Ireland and soured by disappointment. 

Despite having been told that Nick was "mad as a hatter" [108] and a border-line case, Shelagh decides to track him down in order to inform him of her father's death and of his regret that their friendship had ended in acrimony.
"Shelagh had acted on impulse. She knew she always would. It was part of her character and had to be accepted by family and friends. It was not until she was on her way, though, driving north from Dublin in the hired car, that her journey, hastily improvised, took on its real meaning. She was here on a mission, a sacred trust. She was carrying a message from beyond the grave." [111]

When Shelagh finds herself at Nick's island home and is waiting in his study to meet him, she notices a photograph in a blue leather frame. It was a photograph of her mother on her wedding day:

"There was something wrong, though. The groom standing beside her was not Shelagh's father. It was Nick, the best man [...] She looked closer, baffled, and realised that the photograph had been cleverly faked. Nick's head and shoulders had been transposed on to her father's figure, while her father's head [...] had been shifted to the lanky figure behind, standing between the bridesmaids. It was only because she knew the original photograph on her father's desk at home [...] that she recognised the transposition instantly. A stranger would think the photograph genuine." [125]

Naturally, this is rather disconcerting to the young woman. Why - and who - was Nick hoping to deceive? If the answer was himself, then, thinks Shelagh, he must be at least a little crazy: "What was it her father had said? Nick had always been a border-line case ..." [125]

Shelagh feels a strange sense of revulsion and apprehension come over her: "The room that had seemed warm and familiar became kinky, queer. She wanted to get out." [125]

Unfortunately, before she can leave, in walks Nick - or the Commander, as his staff refer to him. When he asks her name, she instinctively replies Jinnie, even though nobody except her father had ever called her that (presumably as a diminutive of her stage-name, though one might have expected that to be Jennie, rather than Jinnie, which is usually short for Virginia): "It must have been nerves that made her blurt it out now." [127]

They talk - some might even describe their exchange as a flirtatious form of banter. She notices he has an attractive smile; not in the conventional sense, but in her sense, and she recalls her mother saying that Nick was always great fun at parties. He reminds her of someone: and she reminds him of someone.

The next day, she decides that Nick is very different from the resentful figure her father described. They have a little picnic together, sat side by side on his boat - hard-boiled eggs and chicken - and she's relaxed enough to discuss her sex life with him: "'I'm not really permissive. [...] I don't strip down at the flick of a hat. It has to be someone I like.'" [139]

Well, Shelagh must have really liked Nick, because shortly after this she finds herself with her shoes off and drinking whiskey with him in the back of a grocer's van, where they have a highly charged sexual encounter amongst the loaves of bread and tinned goods.

"It's body chemistry, she told herself, that's what does it. People's skins. They either blend, or they don't. They either merge and melt into the same texture, dissolve and become renewed, or nothing happens, like faulty plugs, blown fuses, switchboard jams. When the thing goes right [...] then it's arrows splintering the sky, it's forest fires, it's Agincourt." [148]

Shelagh decides that she has, in fact, just experienced the fuck of her lifetime: "'I shall live till I'm ninety-five, marry some nice man, have fifteen children, win stage awards and Oscars, but never again will the world break into fragments, burn before my eyes [...]'" [148]

She only hopes that her father's ghost will forgive her for what she's done - and hopes to do again before the night is over: "'It was one way to settle your last request, though you wouldn't have approved of the method.'" [150]

Shelagh also realises that she's fallen hook, line and sinker for Nick. He sees their relationship, however, more in terms of love-hate: "'Attraction and antagonism mixed. Very peculiar.'" [152]

In fact, their relationship is more peculiar than either yet knows: for it turns out that shortly after her parents were wed, Nick called one evening, unexpectedly. His friend was out, so he got his friend's wife - Shelagh's mother - drunk and "'had a rough-and-tumble with her on the sofa'" [153].

Being, perhaps, a bit naive or slow on the uptake, Shelagh still doesn't grasp what this might mean. Indeed, even though she describes this act of adultery as revolting, she still wants desperately to stay with Nick in Ireland: "'What I really want,' she said, 'deep down, is stillness, safety. The feeling you'd always be there. I love you. I think I must have loved you without knowing it all my life.'" [154]

She says this, fearful that Nick will kick her out of the van and effectively abandon her by the roadside - which is pretty much what he does: "'I sacrifice the lamb that I do love to spite my own raven heart [...]'" [155]. Having made his poetic farewell, he does invite her to visit him again, any time she likes ...

Heartbroken back in London, she throws herself into rehearsals for a production of Twelfth Night. A package arrives from Ireland, containing an old photograph, of Nick, in costume as Cesario. An accompanying letter explains:

"'I have been burning some papers [...] and came across the enclosed photograph amongst a pile of junk in the bottom drawer of my desk. I thought it might amuse you. You may remember I told you that first evening you reminded me of someone. I see now that it was myself!'" [161]

"She looked at the photograph again. Her nose, her chin, the cocky expression, head tip-tilted in the air. Even the stance, hand on hip. The thick cropped hair. Suddenly she was not standing in the dressing-room at all, but in her father's bedroom [...] He was staring at her, an expression of horror and disbelief upon his face. It was not accusation she had read in his eyes [shortly before he died], but recognition. He had awakened from no nightmare, but from a dream that had lasted twenty years. Dying, he discovered truth." [161]
Now she had discovered it also: but she doesn't seem to find anything very wonderful or liberating in it. On the contrary, she stares at herself in the mirror with horror and rips the photograph apart, throwing the pieces into the waste-paper basket:

"And when she went back on to the stage it was not from the Duke's palace in Illyria that she saw herself moving henceforth [...] but out into a street [...] where there were windows to be smashed and houses to burn [...] where there were causes to despise and men to hate, for only by hating can you purge away love, only by sword, by fire." [162]

See: Daphne du Maurier, A Border-Line Case, in Don't Look Now and Other Stories, (Penguin Books, 2006), pp. 101-162. All page references given in the text refer to this edition.

© Stephen Alexander January 2020.


To See More Clearly Than Ever Before - Notes on The Blue Lenses,

by Daphne du Maurier

"There comes a moment in the life of every individual
when reality must be faced."


They say that dog owners gradually begin to resemble their pets, and people smile at the idea.

But what if everyone were to suddenly lose their human features and be seen with the head of the creature that best expresses their inhuman qualities; not so much their true nature, as what might be termed their molecular animality - would we still find this gently amusing?

I suspect not: in all likelihood, initial astonishment would quickly give way to horror, as the writer Daphne du Maurier brilliantly demonstrates in her extraordinary short story The Blue Lenses (1959) …


Marda West is recovering in a nursing home, following an operation on her eyes. The day has finally arrived for the bandages to be removed and for a pair of blue lenses to be fitted. Her surgeon reassures her that she will see more clearly than ever before.

As someone who has also undergone restorative eye-surgery, I can vouch for Marda's anxious anticipation; the hope that patience would be rewarded at last; the fear that the anonymity of darkness will continue. To see again is to be born again. To rediscover the wonder of the world in all its glamourous objecthood: a wardrobe, a chair, a wash-basin, a window, a vase full of flowers ...            

"The dim light caused by the blue lenses enhanced the charm, the softness of all she saw. It seemed to her, rejoicing in form and shape, that colour would never matter."

What does concern Mrs West, however, is the fact that her nurse, has the head of a cow! The head of a cow - with wide horns, large eyes, and broad nostrils - atop the uniformed body of a woman, carrying a tray with a glass of milk.

She thinks at first that Nurse Brand must be wearing an animal mask - but, no, she isn't. And nor is her surgeon wearing a mask when he comes into the room with a dog's head, ears pricked, and looking as if he might at any moment begin to yap and wag his tail. Marda begins to laugh at the absurdity of the situation.

However, when she looks down the corridor leading from her room and sees that everyone is in on the deception (as she believes it to be) - including a weasel-headed maid and a pig-headed porter - then "the first sharp prick of fear came to Marda West."

Bovine Nurse Brand leads her back to bed and gives her a sedative. But when she wakes up, things remain just as queer. She finds reassurance in the fact that the inanimate objects of her room have remained what they were: the chair is still a chair, not a mushroom; the table is still a table, not a haystack; and there is nothing false about the carnations, as fragrant and as graceful as always.

But the people have all become-animal: Nurse Sweeting is a kitten; Matron is mutton-headed in every sense of the term. "Why was it only people had changed? What was so wrong with people?"  

Marda decides that either she has gone insane, or it's the lenses that must be to blame; they were faulty in some way and creating an optical illusion. Or magical, and bestowing upon her some kind of hyper vision. And yet why then had her own face remained unchanged in the mirror? They had to be wearing masks; masks designed by some genius mask-maker "that merged with the body, blending fabric to skin" - for there was no obvious join to be seen.   

She awaited the arrival of her favourite nurse, Nurse Ansel, the bewitching night-nurse. She trusted Nurse Ansel above all others; Nurse Ansel wouldn't lie to her. It was quite a shock then when Nurse Ansel entered her room and slid slowly into view - with the head of a snake on a long, twisting neck: "Marda West felt sickness rise in her stomach, choking her ..."

And she knew that what she saw was real: but it was real with the reality of evil. Thus, it's not coincidental that Deleuze and Guattari speak of man's becoming-animal as a demonic process that challenges the idea of a human being as something essential. Nurse Ansel didn't resemble a snake, and she wasn't identifying as a one; she was a viper.

However we choose to describe it, du Maurier's tale is not simply an imaginative fantasy and she, like D. H. Lawrence, is "another of the writers who leave us troubled and filled with admiration" precisely because she was able to tie her work to "real and unheard of becomings". Hers is a genuinely black art.*     

Marda awaits her husband. Naively, she thinks he will save her from the waking nightmare in which she finds herself. But husband Jim, for all his familiar trappings - umbrella and bowler hat - now has the unmistakable head of a vulture:" The brooding eye, the blood-tipped beak, the flabby folds of flesh." Seeing the vulture and the serpent-nurse in conversation together, she knows that they are intimate and in collusion against her: "The two communicated in silence, sympathy between them."

In a fabulous passage, du Maurier reveals Marda West's fears of what horror is yet to come: would the bodies begin to change too, "hands and feet becoming wings, claws, hoofs, paws, with no touch of humanity left to the people about her"? And what about Jim's steady and reassuring voice? "When the human voice went, there would be no hope." Then she would be all alone, surrounded by the savage cruelty of beasts on all sides, making their jungle noises and cries. 

Marda decides she has to escape. And so, she creeps out of the nursing home in the middle of the night, passed the fish-faced night-porter, and out on to familiar streets of central London. But alas, there is no escape for the woman with the blue lenses:  

"When she came to Oxford Street she paused, wondering of a sudden where she should go, whom she could ask for refuge. And it came to her once again that there was no one at all [...] No one was human, no one was safe [...] Down Oxford Street she ran [...] the night all darkness and shadow, the light no longer with her, alone in an animal world."

This is the breaking point for Marda West: the moment when the link between emotion and reason is stretched to the point beyond endurance, and something snaps. Of course, this isn't as rare as people think - and you don't need to see the people around you suddenly transformed into beasts.

Indeed, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote twenty years earlier: All life is a process of breaking down ... One that combines big sudden blows that come, or seem to come, from outside with blows from within that you don't feel until it's too late (i.e., until you realise with finality that in some regard you'll never be the same person again).**

Having evidently collapsed in the street, Marda wakes up back in the nursing home. The porter, she's told, had luckily decided to follow her and was there when she needed him.

The blue lenses had been removed and replaced with another pair that enable her not only to see the world in colour but as it was - as it should be - fully human and free from animal-headed monsters. The doctors reassure her all will now be well; they talk about a trapped optical nerve or some such thing as having caused her terrible ordeal.

Nurse Ansel was there to hold her hand and to smile at her with understanding. Marda admires her hazel eyes, clear olive skin, and beautiful dark hair: "How could she have seen Nurse Ansel as a snake!" She was so pretty, so gentle - a woman whose very presence promised friendship and loyalty.

All, then, as well, as the sun came "streaming through the window, throwing light on the roses, the lilies, the tall-stemmed iris". Even the hum of traffic outside sounded friendly. "Instead of darkness, light. Instead of negation, life."

But of course, this being a horror story - which is to say, true to the transparence du mal that shines through the moment you rub the surface of the world too hard, in a vain attempt to make it ever-more ideal - it doesn't end here ...  

Marda West decides to apply her face-cream and powder and to paint her lips; to dab some scent behind her ears:

"The fragrance filtered, becoming part of the warm, bright day. She lifted the hand-mirror and looked into it. Nothing changed in the room, the street noises penetrated from outside, and presently the little maid who had seemed a weasel yesterday came in to dust the room.  She said, 'Good morning', but the patient did not answer. Perhaps she was tired. The maid dusted, and went her way.

Then Marda West took up the mirror and looked into it once more. No, she had not been mistaken. The eyes that stared back at her were doe's eyes, wary before sacrifice, and the timid deer's head was meek, already bowed."

And that, gentle readers, is just about the most perfect ending to a near-perfect short story that you could ever ask for.


Daphne du Maurier, The Blue Lenses, The Breaking Point, (Virago Press, 2009), pp. 44-82. All lines quoted and paraphrased above are from this edition. 

* Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, trans. Brian Massumi, (The Athlone Press, 1996), p. 244.

** F. Scott Fitzgerald, 'The Crack-Up', in The Crack-Up with Other Pieces and Stories, (Penguin Books, 1965), p. 39.  

© Stephen Alexander December 2018.



Jamaica Inn - Make Way for Pengallan!

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!


It can never be stressed enough: a novel is one thing and a film is something else; even the most faithful of screen adaptations is a radically different work of art and can only be analysed in and on its own terms. Thus, whilst it can be amusing to compare and contrast the book with the movie - or the movie with the book - it's a largely pointless exercise.

I was reminded of this whilst recently watching Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939), his version of Daphne du Maurier's novel published three years earlier, based on a screenplay by Sidney Gilliat and Joan Harrison.   

Many critics dislike this film; Michael Medved lists it in his fifty worse movies of all time, which, I think, is ridiculous. Having said that, Hitchcock himself was far from happy with the work and du Maurier was also less than pleased with the adaptation. [1]

Personally, however, I think Jamaica Inn has much to recommend it and contains some memorable scenes, all of which involve Charles Laughton as the astonishing figure of Sir Humphrey Pengallan, the amoral (and possibly insane) mastermind behind a gang of murderous ship-wreckers working the Cornish coast who uses the proceeds from the sale of the stolen goods to fund his lavish and decadent lifestyle.


When asked to make a toast to the ideal of Beauty by a guest at his dinner table, Pengallan instructs his butler, Chadwick, to bring him his favourite porcelain figurine, so that he may be inspired. When challenged by the same guest  - "But Sir Humphrey, it is not alive" - he replies that it's more alive than half the people round his table and fondles it with fetishistic fascination, like a genuine agalmatophile.

Pushed to provide an example of living beauty, Pengallan decides to introduce his beloved Nancy: "The most beautiful creature west of Exeter." This turns out to be a fine-looking horse, rather than the young woman anticipated, much to the bemused astonishment of his guests. One thinks of Caligula and his horse Incitatus ... 

Pengallan is, however, also partial to young women. No surprise then when he takes an immediate shine to Mary Yellan, played by the lovely nineteen-year-old Irish actress Maureen O'Hara. When Mary arrives unexpected and uninvited at his house, he half removes her coat in order to admire her exquisite shape, as if she too were a prized object or animal. Keen to display his literary leanings, Pengallan then quotes to her from Byron:

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes

Unimpressed, Mary amusingly responds: "Thank you, sir, but I didn't come for poetry, but for a horse."

My favourite scene between Mary and Pengallan happens towards the end of the film, however, when the latter kidnaps the former, ties and gags her, and tells her that he plans to make her his own now that she has no one else in the world. He drives her, still tied up and covered by a heavy cloak, to the harbour, where they board a ship bound for France. It's what's known in BDSM circles as a Sweet Gwendoline scene. [3] 

But my favourite scene of all comes at the climax of the movie and involves Pengallan jumping to his death from atop a ship's mast rather than surrender to the authorities. Addressing the crowd below, he says: "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!"

If and when I jump to my own death - which, as a philosopher, would be my preferred method of suicide (thereby continuing a noble tradition which can be traced from Empodocoles to Gilles Deleuze) - these are the lines I shall recite.  

Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara
Charles Laughton and Maureen O'Hara


[1] Although when interviewed Hitchcock referred to Charles Laughton as a charming man, one doubts he was happy with the latter's meddling with the film's script, casting, and direction, which, as a co-producer as well as the lead actor, Laughton doubtless felt he had every right to do, insisting, for example, that his own character be accorded greater screen time and that O'Hara be given the role of Mary. Laughton's method of acting - described in some quarters as ham and in others as camp - was also a problem for Hitchcock, though, again, I love his portrayal of Pengallan as a dandy libertine mincing around to the beat of a German waltz.

As for du Maurier, she was so disappointed by the adaptation that she briefly considered withholding the film rights to Rebecca which, as film fans will know, Hitchcock directed the following year, 1940, to great critical acclaim (and du Maurier's complete satisfaction). 

[2] Byron, She Walks in Beauty (1814). Readers who wish to read this short lyrical verse in full can click here to access it on the Poetry Foundation website:

[3] Sweet Gwendoline is the chief damsel in distress in the works of bondage artist John Willie, who first appeared in Robert Harrison's girlie magazine Wink from June 1947 to February 1950, and who invariably finds herself tied up and in need of rescue. I am aware, of course, that in this era of #MeToo such scenes of sexual sadism involving violence against women are no longer viewed in the same way.

Readers who are interested in watching Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn can do so on YouTube by clicking here:  The scenes I mention above are at 9.30-14.50, 1:26-1:28, and 1:37-1:38. 

© Stephen Alexander May 2020.


Jamaica Inn - Francis Davey: The Vicar of Altarnun

James Duke as Francis Davey
(Salisbury Playhouse 2004)


Albinism or, as it is sometimes known, achromia, is a rare congenital disorder characterised by the complete or partial absence of melanin in the skin, hair, and eyes. It is believed to affect approximately 1-in-20,000 people, mostly in Africa where it is often still regarded with superstitious fear resulting in persecution and acts of atrocity.

Having said that, the portrayal of people with albinism in Western culture is also largely negative and there are legitimate concerns that this engenders or, at the very least, reinforces, prejudice and discrimination.

It was, therefore, a little disappointing to discover Daphne du Maurier exploiting the evil albino plot device in her celebrated novel Jamaica Inn (1936), although it would be unfair to expect a woman born in 1907 to share 21st-century concerns surrounding this issue.

And besides, even if Francis Davey, vicar of Altarnun and criminal mastermind, is something of a fictional stereotype, he remains a truly fascinating figure ...


I think the first thing to note is the manner in which Davey's albinism is used to distinguish him not from the heroes of the book - for in truth, there are none - but from the darkness of his cohorts in evil and, indeed, the elemental darkness of the Cornish landscape itself. The whiteness of his skin and hair makes him stand out, but is not, of course, a sign of innocence; it is, rather, a sign of his unnaturalness.

Thus, while Joss Merlyn may be a monster, he remains all too human. Davey, on the other hand, is a freak who has something inhuman about him. Du Maurier, a mistress of the uncanny, is always good at blurring the line between brutal realism and queer gothic fantasy and with Davey she gives us a character about whom nothing is certain: he might be just a man after all; or he might be a fallen angel or demon. He certainly presents himself as both outcast and anti-Christ and it's his dark paganism rather than white hair and skin, that ultimately capture our interest.    


Although his concealed presence has previously been sensed in an empty guest room at Jamaica Inn, it's not until she is lost on the moors that Mary Yellan finally encounters Davey in the flesh - and even then he is a ghostly figure "lacking reality in the dim light" [94]. Softly-spoken, his voice nevertheless contained a calm, persuasive authority and Mary can tell he is a man of good breeding. But then she notices his blind-looking hypnotic eyes for the first time:

"They were strange eyes, transparent like glass, and so pale in colour that they seemed near to white [...] They fastened upon her, and searched her, as though her very thoughts could not be hidden, and Mary felt herself relax before him, and give way; and she did not mind." [95]  

His house - to which he escorts her - is strangely peaceful and enchanting, but at the same time it is also unreal:

"This was a different world from Jamaica Inn. There the silence was oppressive and heavy with malice; the disused rooms stank of neglect. Here it was different. The room in which she was sitting had the quiet impersonality of a drawing-room visited by night. The furniture, the table in the centre, the pictures on the walls, were without that look of solid familiarity belonging to the day." [97]

After speaking of her life at Jamaica Inn, Mary is driven home by Davey and she is shocked to discover a reckless quality to his character:

"He made no effort to rein in his horse, and, glancing up at him, Mary saw that he was smiling. 'Go on,' he said, 'go on; you can go faster than this'; and his voice was low and excited, as though he were talking to himself. The effect was unnatural, a little startling, and Mary was aware of a feeling of discomfiture, as though he had betaken himself to another world and had forgotten her existence." [104-05]

He was certainly not like any parson she had met before and she "wondered why he had not used the conventional phrases of comfort, said something about the blessing of prayer, the peace of God, and life everlasting" [166]. The answer, as we discover, is because Francis Davey is a devil in disguise; his face itself is nothing but an expressionless white mask that doesn't even betray his age.  

Until the very end, however, Mary continues to trust him - even after looking at his uncanny paintings with their alien atmosphere and discovering a sketch in his desk that depicted his congregation assembled in the pews and himself in the pulpit:

"At first Mary saw nothing unusual in the sketch; it was a subject natural enough for a vicar to choose who had skill with his pen; but when she looked closer she realised what he had done.  This was not a drawing at all, but a caricature, grotesque as it was horrible. The people of the congregation were bonneted and shawled, and in their best clothes as for Sunday, but he had drawn sheep's heads upon their shoulders instead of human faces. The animal jaws gaped foolishly at the preacher, with silly vacant solemnity, and their hoofs were folded in prayer. [...] The preacher, with his black gown and halo of hair, was Francis Davey; but he had given himself a wolf's face, and the wolf was laughing at the flock beneath him." [261-62]

This picture - regarded by Mary Yellan as blasphemous and terrible - provides good reason to rather admire Davey; he may be a murderer, but at least he has a sense of humour and artistic talent and these things compensate for a good deal. In fact, push comes to shove, I might prefer the company of Davey to that of Jem Merlyn. The latter may have a certain roguish charm and knicker-invading smile, but he has many depressing limitations.

In other words, if I'd been Mary Yellan, I just might have taken my chances with the vicar rather than thrown in my lot with a horse thief who promises only hard times and homelessness; "'with the sky for a roof and the earth for a bed'" [299].

For Davey not only offers an experience of the wider world - "'You shall see Spain, Mary, and Africa, and learn something of the sun; you shall feel desert sand under your feet ...'" [282] - but access to another world altogether; a primeval world of pagan splendour, when men were not so humble "and the old gods walked the hills" [274].    

Both men, by their own admission, spoke a strangely different language to poor Mary Yellan, the latter's romantic nomadism in contrast also to the former's pagan esotericism. I have, in my time, been a sucker for both, so I understand the appeal of each; the open road versus the road to hell paved with purple flowers.

It's not an easy choice, but, in this instance, Davey's offer of a queer alliance is arguably the more interesting. Jem offers Mary the chance to live like a gypsy; Davey promises that he'll teach her how to live "as men and women have not lived for four thousand years or more" [278]. Mad neo-pagan fantasy ...? Perhaps. But still his words "found echo in her mind" [280].  

Ultimately, however, Mary doesn't have to make the choice: Davey, who has abducted her and taken her onto the moors, is shot and killed by Jem Merlyn and it's his wagon she hops on board in the end (whilst recently buried Aunt Patience turns in her freshly dug grave) ...

See: Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn, (Virago Press, 2003). All page numbers given in the above text refer to this edition of the novel.

© Stephen Alexander May 2020.

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