There’s a thread of dissatisfaction running through the 13 short stories in The Doll, the book of early short stories by Daphne du Maurier. The stories are populated by characters in a variety of statuses and stages, few of which are happy to be where they are in life. Perhaps it’s indicative of how the young author felt at the time, working her way through the early stages of a career that would eventually lead to much acclaim.
If she was, in fact, happy with the way things were going, du Maurier expressed little interest in allowing that contentment to seep into her work. The characters all seem to be reaching for something or someone different, like the couple in “A Difference in Temperament,” two people who can no more stand to be together than they can stand to be apart. It’s the unhealthiest of relationships, an endless loop of love and loathing in which satisfaction is an unattainable goal.
The couple in “Frustration” at least starts out with a chance at happiness. Married after seven chaste years, the relationship begins to unravel in almost comical fashion from the moment they leave the wedding chapel. In “Tame Cat,” the tone is far more serious as a girl comes to some unwelcome realizations about her mother’s companion, a man with desires and attentions for the daughter that cross all respectable bounds.
The real kicker is the young girl in “The Limpet.” A limpet, it turns out, is something that clings tenaciously to someone or something (thank you Merriam-Webster), and it’s an apt description of this young lady, a girl determined to shape her surroundings, circumstances and companions to her liking. It’s never quite clear whether the girl is aware of how manipulative she is – it’s possible that she is delusional, acting without ulterior motive while leaving damaged lives strewn in her wake. Conscious of it or not, she’s rarely happy with her place in the scheme of things and works tirelessly to improve it.
du Maurier is the muse behind a couple of Alfred Hitchcock’s darker films, The Birds (based on her short story of the same name) and Rebecca (based on her gothic novel). It’s clear by these stories that the path of looking at the dark sides of her characters was charted early in her career. There are few happy endings to be found here, although the rescue of these works, long out of print before being brought out for this collection, could easily be considered one in and of itself. Cemetery Dance has their hardcover edition coming out any day now, and it’s certainly worth a look for and fans of classic gothic storytelling.