Bookish: Daphne du Maurier’s The Doll

6 May

The Doll: Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier (paperback), out now, £8.99

Du Maurier fans were thrilled earlier this year when five ‘lost’ stories were discovered in the author’s hometown of Cornwall. Published in a new collection with eight other tales, the surprisingly dark stories look set to shed new light on the writer’s work and the influences behind her masterpiece, Rebecca. But are they any good?

‘The Doll’ is definitely the most shocking of the new collection. Written when du Maurier was 21, it’s the tale of a man’s intoxicating obsession with a beautiful violinist. When he walks in on his lover with someone else, it’s not another man – but a mechanical male doll complete with sinister eyes and crude red lips. Pretty outrageous stuff now, never mind in 1928. Click here to get a fix of the freaky stuff.

Sex is a surprisingly important theme in the stories, with du Maurier treating it either with humour – as seen in the slapstick comedy of ‘Frustration’ – or violence. A woman pregnant out of wedlock commits suicide; an adulterous wife meets a grisly end. Love is described as over-romanticised and ephemeral, exemplified in the evolving tone of one-sided correspondence in ‘And His Letters Grew Colder’.

But if the stories are cynical, they don’t feel moral; they are instead brilliantly astute little pieces of fiesty fiction, complete stories and fleshed-out characters succinctly rounded off in ten pages or so, perfectly showcasing du Maurier’s startling talent for creating suspense and intrigue.

 All the stories were written before du Maurier turned 24, and fans of Rebecca will love spotting the fledgling themes. The violinist in ‘The Doll’ is named Rebecca, surely the first draft of the character that would go on to haunt du Maurier’s most famous novel, and there’s also the first mention of ‘The Happy Valley’.

But new readers will be just as enthralled – du Maurier’s haunting world of malnourished prostitutes, narcissistic vicars, red-lipped mannequins and adulterous wives is the most riveting short story collection I’ve read in a long time.

Here’s a quick synopsis of each of the 5 new stories:

The Doll – ”Is it possible to love someone so much, that it gives one a pleasure, an unaccountable pleasure to hurt them?’ Boy meets girl, girl loves sex doll. Basically your classic anti-love story there.

East Wind – Island inhabitants living a happy but mundane existence until the east wind brings the arrival of sailors who will change everything. Evocative, sexy, violent stuff.

The Limpet – Story of a scarily manipulative young girl who grows into an even scarier and even more manipulative adult. More of a social critique, this one.

And His Letters Grew Colder – A series of letters from a man to his married lover chart the excitement of seduction and the disappointment of love gone cold.

The Happy Valley – A sneak peek into one of the first glimpses of Rebecca’s ironically titled ‘Happy Valley’. Superbly creepy.


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