The Scapegoat (Du Maurier novel)

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 Scapegoat
First US edition
AuthorDaphne du Maurier
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreCrime fiction
PublisherVictor Gollancz (UK)
Doubleday (US)
Publication date
Media typePrint (hardback)
Pages368 pp.

Plot introduction

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.

Plot summary

John, an English lecturer in French history, is on holiday in France. In Le Mans, he encounters a French Comte, Jean de Gué, who looks and sounds exactly like him. The two lookalikes have a drink, and John confesses that he is depressed, feeling as though his outward life is a meaningless façade. They retire to a hotel where they continue to drink and eventually swap clothes. John passes out; when he awakes, Jean has disappeared, and a chauffeur mistakes him for Jean. Deciding to take on Jean's identity, John gets in the Comte's car.

At a chateau in St. Gilles, John meets his doppelganger's family: Jean's pregnant wife Françoise; Jean's brother Paul and embittered sister Blanche; Paul's wife Renée (whom John later learns has been having an affair with Jean); Jean's elderly, morphine-addicted mother; and Jean and Françoise's young daughter Marie-Noel. 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 learns that Jean was in Paris to try to save the family's glass business by renegotiating a contract with the firm Carvalet, but the deal fell through. John calls Carvalet and agrees to accept their terms.

The next day, John goes to the bank in Villars to investigate Jean's finances. There, he learns that 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 runs into Béla, another of Jean's mistresses, and tells her the truth about the Carvalet contract. She becomes suspicious about 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 it was Jean and his men who 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 questions Jean's mother and learns that Françoise knew of Jean's affairs; she feared that Jean, Renée, Béla, and the mother all wanted her out of the way, and Marie-Noel's disappearance (an apparent sign that she had turned against Françoise as well) was the last straw.

John persuades "his" mother to resume her position at the head of the family and give up the morphine. Paul learns of the Carvalet contract renewal and confronts John, who admits that he/Jean is unfit for business and suggests that Paul take over for him. He also recommends that Paul go travelling with Renée, hoping to mend their marriage. Renée asks John if he contrived the Carvalet contract in the hope that Françoise would die, and is relieved when he denies it. John confronts Blanche and tries to apologize for Jean, but she angrily brings up his mockery of her and Duval's relationship, and his jealousy when their father made Duval head of the verrerie. John tells Blanche 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 John is determined not to lose his new life and family; he retrieves a revolver and waits for Jean. However, the priest for Françoise's funeral discovers him and takes the gun, mistakenly believing he was planning suicide. When the priest leaves, Jean enters with his own gun, knowing that John planned to get rid of him.

Amazed that John managed to keep up the deception for seven days, Jean mocks his attempts to take his mother off morphine and reconcile Renée and Paul's marriage. Regarding Carvalet, Jean admits that having Blanche run the verrerie might be good for business. Jean thinks John wants to stay at the chateau for the money and comfort, but John reveals he has grown to love the family, and that he knows about Duval. Jean then reveals that 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. Jean admits that in a strange way he missed his family, and the two lookalikes exchange clothes again. John tries to tell Jean his family has changed, but he ignores him and rejoins his family.

John drives to Villars to see Béla, who by now has intuited that he is not Jean. She reassures him the 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 and resolves to follow his original path to the Abbey de la Grande Trappe.

See also

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