Short Story Review: East Wind

From The Doll: The Lost Short Stories by Daphne du Maurier

The Doll: The Lost Short Stories is a collection of thirteen recently rediscovered stories that Daphne du Maurier wrote between 1926 and 1932. Originally published in periodicals throughout the 1930s, the stories were out of print until this compilation was published in November 2011. Bringing together stories written in her 20s, The Doll gives an interesting insight into du Maurier’s exploration of her writing style before she became known for her best-selling novel Rebecca.

“East Wind”, as the first story, eases the reader into the short story collection. It introduces the reader to the author’s style without much scandal. du Maurier, after all, has been known to write about more sensational themes so a little infidelity with a side of murder is a good place to start.

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On the island of St. Hilda’s, the people are content. They live off the sea, they have their families and their livelihood. Everything they could ever need is on their island. They know nothing of the outside world. Anyone who dares leave never returns and none but their own boats dock at St. Hilda’s.

It is idyllic.

Until one day, a shift in the wind sends a brig to their shores. From the brig comes strange people, foreign practices and new sins. The inhabitants of St. Hilda’s begin to indulge in excesses as if the arrival of the strangers violently woke the passions they kept carefully bottled up. It is when these long dormant passions run amok that violence rattles the once peaceful island community.

Daphne du Maurier is a master at creating atmosphere. Even as a young writer, her ability to convey the precise sense of a place is astounding. The island of St. Hilda’s seems to materialize out of the book, surrounded by grey skies and dark, unfriendly seas.

“The island rises out of the sea a queer, misshapen crag, splendid in its desolation, with its grey face lifted to the four winds. It might have been thrown up from the depths of the Atlantic in a moment of great unrest, and set there, a small defiant piece of land, to withstand forever the anger of the sea.”

The deliberate phrasing of “East Wind” seems to wrap the story in a fog of unreality, bestowing it with a mythic quality. The flow of words lends poetry to the story, gives it rhythm. So precise is the language that it creates the illusion of everything moving in slow motion even while caught up in the furor.

“Still, the East Wind blew, scattering the sand, turning the earth to dust. The sun blazed from a cloudless sky, the big seas swept round the shores, green, foam-flecked, twisting and turning like a live thing.”

Known for her macabre tendencies, du Maurier rarely writes stories with happy endings. She also favors themes and subject matters that some may find gruesome and distasteful. However, if you push past that initial shock, you will discover a masterfully crafted tale written in a style so unique it is bound to be memorable.


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