Echoes from the Macabre

by Daphne du Maurier
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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 375

Although Daphne du Maurier wrote fantasy, she was not exclusively a writer of fantasy. Most of her novels fall loosely under the label of gothic romance, with the noticeable exception of The House on the Strand (1969), the story of a drug-induced supernatural experience. It is in her short stories that she dabbled most freely in the realm of fantasy. Du Maurier used fantasy not as a gimmick but as a means of bringing the central situation of the story into sharper focus: grief-stricken parents susceptible to suggestions that their child is not really dead, a henpecked husband convinced that an ugly old apple tree is the spirit of his dead wife, a docile wife whose intuition is made visible when she looks through new lenses and sees people with the heads of animals that fit their personalities, an inhibited schoolmaster who feels himself yielding to the spell of ancient superstitions, and a farmer fighting a losing battle against savage birds.

There are echoes in du Maurier’s stories of Edgar Allan Poe, of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and of Sheridan Le Fanu. The modern writer with whom she has the most in common is Ruth Rendell, whose novels of delusion and abnormal psychology explore the dark side of human nature, constantly reminding readers that things are not what they seem. In her technique of placing the macabre and the fantastic in ordinary settings, she has much in common with Stephen King, particularly in his novel The Shining (1977).

Although du Maurier wrote stories throughout her writing career, in her later years she came to favor this form. Her best stories are really novellas, in which she is free to pursue an idea or effect rather than concern herself with character development or romantic intrigue. In this collection, she deals with romance only once, in “Kiss Me Again, Stranger”; it is a sordid tale of perversion, revenge, and murder.

Critics have not always been as kind to du Maurier as her readers have, perhaps because she was so popular. There has, however, been grudging admiration for Rebecca (1938), now considered a classic of its kind, and for many of the stories in this collection. She has come to be recognized as an important influence in the field of fantasy fiction.

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