The Scapegoat (Du Maurier novel)
|Author||Daphne du Maurier|
|Publisher||Victor Gollancz (UK)|
|Media type||Print (hardback)|
The Scapegoat is a 1957 novel by Daphne du Maurier. In 1959, it was made into a film of the same name, starring Sir Alec Guinness. It was also the basis of a film broadcast in 2012 starring Matthew Rhys and written and directed by Charles Sturridge.
The plot concerns an Englishman who meets his double, a French aristocrat, while visiting France, and is forced into changing places with him. The Englishman is a single, rather lonely academic, and he finds himself caught up in all the intrigues and passions of his double's complex family.
John, an English lecturer in French history, is on holiday in France. In Le Mans, he meets a French Comte, Jean de Gué, who looks and sounds exactly like him. The two men have a drink, and John confesses that he is depressed, feeling as though his outward life is a meaningless façade. They drunkenly retire to a hotel and eventually swap clothes. John passes out and later awakens alone. When a chauffeur mistakes him for Jean, John decides to take on the Comte's identity and gets in the car.
At a chateau in St. Gilles, John meets his doppelgänger's family: Jean's pregnant wife Françoise and young daughter Marie-Noel; his brother Paul and embittered sister Blanche; Paul's wife (and Jean's mistress) Renée; and Jean's elderly, morphine-addicted mother. Believing Jean must have acted wrongly to want to escape this life, John spends the following week trying to make things right.
John sees the verrerie (glass-works) and renegotiates a contract to save the family's glass business. The next day he learns Françoise's dowry is in trust for a male heir—if she dies or reaches the age of 50 without having had a son, Jean will inherit the money instead. John also meets Béla, another of Jean's mistresses, who becomes suspicious of his sudden concern for the verrerie and its workforce.
John learns of Maurice Duval, the former head of the verrerie, who was killed during the German Occupation. Marie-Noel goes missing, and everyone but Françoise searches for her. When she's found in the well at the verrerie, John discovers Jean and his men killed Duval and left him in the well, accusing him of being a Nazi collaborator; Marie-Noel climbed down the well as an act of penitence on behalf of her father. John also realizes Blanche had a relationship with Duval.
After falling from her bedroom window, Françoise and her baby—a boy—both die. Suspecting suicide, John learns from Jean's mother that Françoise knew of Jean's affairs and feared the family all wanted her out of the way; Marie-Noel's disappearance (an apparent sign that she had turned against Françoise) was the last straw. John persuades the mother to resume her position at the head of the family and give up the morphine. He also suggests that Paul take over the glass business and mend his marriage with Renée. Finally, John apologizes to Blanche for Jean's actions, and tells her to run the verrerie in his place.
The next day, John gets a telephone call from the real Jean de Gué, who declares his imminent return. They agree to meet at the house at the verrerie, but determined not to lose his new life, John waits for Jean with a revolver. However, the priest for Françoise's funeral finds him and takes the gun, believing he was planning suicide. When the priest leaves, Jean arrives and mocks John's attempts to help the family, mistakenly thinking he only wants to stay with them for the money and comfort, but John reveals he has grown to love them. Jean then reveals he has sold John's London flat, resigned from his university job, and cleared out his bank account—John's old self is effectively gone forever. The two men exchange clothes again. John tries to tell Jean his family has changed, but he ignores him and rejoins his family.
John goes to see Béla, who has intuited that he is not Jean. She reassures him the de Gué family will be different now, even if Jean tries to undo what John did. Lamenting that his feelings of failure led to a doomed love, John leaves to resume his travels.