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The Scapegoat

By Du Maurier, Daphne



Daphne DuMaurier's The Scapegoat tells the tale of two men, one French and the other English, who meet by chance and realize they sound and look just alike. Bemused, they spend an evening together and the British man, John, wakes up to find himself now having to live as his French doppleganger.

  • feeney (Black Mountain): Daphne du Maurier's eerie thriller of 1957, THE SCAPEGOAT, places an uncommonly heavy burden on any reader willing both to ask "what if" and to accept Ms du Maurier's prima facie implausible answers. *** Thirty-eight year old Englishman John lectures in London on French history. His command of the French language is perfect. He can and does pass for French. He is unmarried, all his family are dead. He has few friends. He is a classic "loner." He has been depressed for years. He wants to become intimately involved with real-life French people but his personality will not let him. As usual John is spending his summer- early autumn holidays writing and researching in France before returning home to another year as a boring lecturer. He is seriously considering spending time at the not far away venerable Cistercian abbey La Grande Trappe in Normandy. There he would explore among God-seeking members of this notably non-speaking order whether God's light is to be found in the darkness of silence. *** One evening he breaks his road travels by car at Le Mans. There he and Jean de Gue, Comte de St. Gilles, Barthe have a chance encounter near the train station. Count Jean and lecturer John are 100% look alikes and sound alikes. The count dopes John, takes his clothes and car and drives off to London to escape family responsibilities. Stupidly, John does not alert the French police but allows a servant to take him to the count's chateau. Will he fool Jean de Gue's widowed mother, wife, daughter, brother, an unmarried sister who despises him, servants, relatives, friends and adoring dog? *** Can and will Englishman Jean undo in a short time the considerable evil wrought by the Comte within his family and to the family's ancient ceramic business? What if for some reason the count tires of his game and returns from London to toss the Englishman out? How will he cope with the well intended but not necessarily profitable changes that John has made within family and in business? *** Always hovering in the background is the less than 50 miles distant Abbey of La Trappe. Is that where the troubled Englishman really belongs? And will the count's willing mistress convince our English hero that he is no better nor worse a man than prima facie despicable Jean de Gue? *** If you make a generous enough leap of faith and wholeheartedly embrace du Maurier's implausible premises, you will find in THE SCAPEGOAT a tale of mixed identities to rival Stevenson's 1886 JEKYLL AND HYDE. The novel is also a brooding religious meditation on ways to find or at least seek effectively the God of both the saints and the sinners. -OOO-

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