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The Pathology of Desire in Daphne du Maurier's Short Stories by Setara Pracha – A Review


In her preface for the book, The Best Short Stories of Phyllis Bottome, Daphne du Maurier had this to say:

A novel, to the uninitiated, sometimes wins respect for its length alone.  So many thousand words on paper suggest hard work if nothing else, whereas a short story, consisting of a few pages only, is assumed to have been none off without thought or great concentration, a money spinner for a magazine (Introduction, page 2).

In fact, of course, the process of writing a short story, while entirely different to that of writing a novel, is no easy option.  In those few short pages, there is a need to condense the plot until only the most significant details remain, something that Daphne du Maurier did with enormous, although almost entirely overlooked, skill.

The Pathology of Desire in Daphne du Maurier's Short Stories is the first full-length book to discuss Daphne du Maurier's short fiction.  It was written by Setara Pracha following her doctorial research of the subject.  Published in December 2022, this book is an academic text.  However, it is so readable and packed with facts, information and insights into Daphne du Maurier's works of short fiction; it is a book that anyone with more than a passing interest in the work of Daphne du Maurier should read.

One of the first points that Setara makes is regarding the myth that Daphne du Maurier just wrote short stories as a teenager and young woman as a way of learning her craft.  While it is true that,  when young, Daphne did begin her writing career working on poetry and short stories as she learned her craft, developed her writing style and began to produce a body of work, that is by no means the whole picture.  She continued to write short stories throughout her life, sometimes during periods of extreme stress or tension.  In a period covering over forty years, sixty-eight of Daphne's short stories were published in a number of collections.  Additionally, there are at least fourteen further unpublished short stories, plans, notes and ideas among her papers in the Special Collections Archive at the University of Exeter, and it is entirely possible that there are more, as yet, undiscovered short stories.  A number have come to light in the last twenty years, so it is very probable there will be more.

Throughout her book, Setara casts a light on the influence that Katherine Mansfield's short fiction had on the entire canon of Daphne du Maurier's short story writing.  She also shows Daphne's influence on postmodernist writers such as Angela Carter and Jeanette Winterson.  

One of the things I particularly like about Setara's book is the way it is laid out with such clarity.  An example of this is the fact that each chapter ends with its notes and references, so checking references is always really easy.   

Following a short page of acknowledgements, the book is divided into three sections.  


Section 1: The Corpus

Corporality: The Conceptual Skeleton

This chapter introduces us to The Pathology of Desire and describes the book's principal premise, the theme of corporality.

The characters in du Maurier's short fiction are lost, maimed, mute, bereft, diseased, haunted and trapped.  Their bodies are disabled, denied, rejected, dislocated, and destroyed.  […] Du Maurier uses the body as a lens to focus on social and societal behaviours.  This enables her to convey abstracts in a material world, which in turn manifest the psychological condition of character, or even of the culture of the whole (Introduction, page 3).

'The critics will never forgive you for writing Rebecca' – Repositioning Daphne du Maurier and an Anatomy of the Short Story Collections.

This chapter describes the reasons why, to date, there has been such a lack of documentation relating to Daphne du Maurier's short fiction.  This is followed by an excellent and comprehensive overview of Daphne's published short stories and the six collections that they were published in originally, namely: The Apple Tree, Early Stories, The Breaking Point and Other Stories, Not After Midnight, The Rendezvous and Other Stories and The Doll: Short Stories.


Section 2: The Dismembered Self

This section comprises eight chapters, each describing a close reading of one of Daphne's short stories, in which Setara provides evidence for her hypothesis of corporality, unifying the stories.  The short stories discussed in these chapters are Split Second, The Blue Lenses, The Lordly Ones, Monte Verità, The Apple Tree, The Alibi, The Little Photographer and The Doll.


Section 3: A Pathology of Desire

Reconstructive Surgery

This short chapter brings Setara's hypothesis to a conclusion.  In it, she reminds us how much:

the popularity of Daphne du Maurer's novels have distracted attention from the short stories and undermined her reputation as a serious writer, engaging with the issues of her day (page 219).  

At long last, this book goes a long way to redress that balance.

Appendix: The Bare Bones

This invaluable chapter provides a unique synopsis of each of Daphne du Maurier's sixty-eight published short stories and lists them by the collection in which they first appeared.  In addition, Setara indicates whether each story incorporates the theme of corporeality.  In this section, there is also a list of the unpublished work held at the University of Exeter.  This is followed by a list of the publishing history of the stories, showing, for example, the magazines in which they first appeared.  While this section is helpful to scholars, it is also useful for the du Maurier enthusiast as it shows the thematic range and breadth of the shorter naratives.

Bibliography

This comprehensive bibliography provides a wealth of information and opportunities for further reading.

The Pathology of Desire in Daphne du Maurier's Short Stories is, without a doubt, the book I have been waiting for, for many years.  Finally, a truly comprehensive and fascinating read about Daphne du Maurier's short fiction is here.  My only sadness is the cost.  Because this book is priced in line with other academic books and retails at £81.00, this could be a stumbling block for some people.  However, hopefully, the book will be available through academic and other libraries enabling many people to read it and give this book the recognition it deserves.


© Ann Willmore January 2023.


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