I'm a great fan of Daphne du Maurier, so when I discovered last year that a collection of short stories, which included a few that had not appeared in any previous collections, was coming out I snapped it up immediately. Typical of my book buying habits, however, I haven't gotten around to reading it until now. Actually I realized when I had the book in hand that quite a few of the stories had been published in a rather scarce 1959 collection titled Early Stories, which I had just gotten through interlibrary loan and had been in the process of reading.
Enough time has passed now that I feel like reading (or in this case rereading) more of Daphne du Maurier's short stories, so I pulled out my copy of The Doll this weekend. I only wish I would have remembered to check out from my library the US edition of the collection in order to compare introductions. The Doll was published by Virago in the UK and William Morrow in the US. Supposedly these are the "lost" stories of du Maurier, so perhaps they've all now been accounted for? I have my own 'bibliography' of sorts that I created a while back.
If I don't already own all her collections, I'm getting close. I've been slowly reading my way through them. If you've read her before you'll know she has a particular knack for writing stories of psychological suspense which often verge on the macabre. Actually now that I think of it maybe most of the stories by her I've read would fit in that category. Certainly those are the ones that stick in mind.
So I've started reading The Doll: Short Stories and am reminded all over again why I like her. Short stories can be really hard to pull off. An author has very limited space (though in the case of du Maurier her stories tend to be anywhere from 15-50 pages) to make their case/tell their story. With Daphne du Maurier I've almost always felt pretty sated and satisfied when I've read her work. There doesn't necessarily need to be a twist (though in stories such as these there often is) but I want to feel like I've been somewhere and experienced something and that so have the characters. My measure is whether I feel like I've inhabited another world for a little while.
"East Wind" opens the collection. A perfect murderous story with just the right amount of atmosphere for a Sunday afternoon during RIP season. Polly Samson in her introduction calls it du Maurier's strongest story, which she wrote when she was only nineteen. The setting is the small, rocky island of St. Hilda's where the local residents have lived peaceably for generations, intermarrying yet leading untroubled existences.
"There was only the island. Beyond it lay the ghostly, the intangible; the truth was in the seared rock, in the touch of the soil, in the sound of the waves breaking against the cliffs. This was the belief of the humble fisherfolk, and they cast their nets during the day, and gossiped over the harbour wall at evening with never a thought of the lands across the sea."
But then the east wind arrives--hot and dry--and with it a ship exotic sailors. They are tall and dark with almond shaped eyes and gleaming white teeth, and a ship laden with bottles of brandy.
"Something of madness seemed to fall upon the people of St. Hilda's. Their nets lay neglected and unmended beside their cottage doors, the fields and flowers remained untended on the hills above their village. There was no interest in their lives but the sailors from the ship."
I think much has already been written about "The Doll", which is indeed a quirky story quite unlike any I've read before. It opens with a foreword explaining the circumstances of the story. Soiled and sodden, pages from a diary are found tucked into a man's pocket book, which was wedged between rocks near a bay. Just what happened to the writer is unknown.
"I want to know if men realise when they are insane. Sometimes I think that my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror--too great a despair. And there is no one; I have never been so unutterably alone. Why should it help me to write this? . . . Vomit forth the poison in my brain."
The writer had been passionately attracted to a young woman named Rebecca who could not return his love for she has a passion of her own. It comes in the form of a mechanical doll with moving parts which she has named Julio and keeps locked in a room with a divan. It's a disturbing story really, and one that you must wonder where the inspiration came from to a young woman of only twenty. And this was in the 1920s, so it must have been shocking to readers at the time when it was published in 1928.
I've always thought Daphne du Maurier was a complex woman, and perhaps not one I might like in real life, but I've always found her intriguing. Enough so that I have wanted to read all of her work (and have been very slowly making my way through her writings). Samson notes that "young du Maurier's preoccupations hand close to the surface in many of the earliest stories", so while not all of the stories in this collection may be her best they do give insight into what themes she will continue to explore.
I'll be reading the rest of the stories in this collection, and perhaps writing more about them later