“It was a dark, rambling place, with long passages and unexpected rooms. There was a separate entrance to the bar, at the side of the house, and, though the room was empty now, there was something heavy in the atmosphere reminiscent of the last time it was full: a lingering taste of old tobacco, the sour smell of drink, and an impression of warm, unclean humanity packed one against the other on the dark stained benches.”
It’s quite a contrast for Mary, who is accustomed to “the warm and soft climate of Helford, / with its high hedges and tall protecting trees. Even the wind had been no hardship there, for the arm of the head-land acted as a defence to those on land, and it was only the river that ran turbulent and green, the wave-crests whipped with foam.”
And, as if that wouldn’t have been hard enough, the man whom Mary’s aunt has married is very more difficult and challenging than the wind and the land:
“He laughed again, mocking her, his laugh bellowing through the house, acting like a lash on the strung nerves of Mary.”
Joss Merlyn’s influence on the establishment makes it even more foreboding and threatening. “The very walls of Jamaica Inn smelt of guilt and deceit, and to speak aloud in earshot of the building courted disaster.”
Readers quickly adopt Mary’s “fatal fascination” with the events which transpire at Jamaica Inn, behind closed doors and (nearly) out of sight and earshot.
In the past, I’ve been frustrated by some of du Maurier’s characterization of female characters (those in her collection The Birds really rankled, seeming more types than characters). But I’ve always enjoyed her devotion to setting and mood (The Flight of the Falcon was very entertaining too).