Week Thirty-One: “The Birds” by Daphne du Maurier

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A Penguin edition including a variety of the author’s stories

It’s early December, and there’s a sudden cold snap.
A wounded war veteran on military pension, Nat Hocken, works part-time for a farm owner when he notices a large number of birds behaving strangely along the peninsula where his family lives.
Here is Dame Daphne du Maurier’s original short story, “The Birds.” It’s a fine example of Cornish Gothic. You won’t find Tippi Hedren or Rod Taylor in this original version, just hardworking Nat and his family, facing terror.

Feel free to take a full, fine autumn week to read this one. It’s a long short story, but worth it.

Read du Maurier’s classic HERE!

Du Maurier’s story is a great read…but if you’d prefer to listen to it, here’s musician and actor Peter Capaldi reading “The Birds.”

What could be more surreal than the Twelfth Doctor reading Cornish Gothic?!

Here’s Part One:

. . .And here’s Part Two:

As Lisa Allardice tells us in her 2012 article for The Guardian,

Du Maurier’s are not supernatural tales (she doesn’t do real ghosts, so to speak); what could be more unnerving than nature behaving unnaturally? Not in the form of apocalyptic diseases, or storms and floods, but wreaking havoc through something as everyday and unthreatening as hedgerow birds. Environment is everything in Du Maurier’s fiction, from the sinister alleyways of Venice in Don’t Look Now, to the wilderness of her beloved Cornwall, where, like nearly all her most famous work, The Birds is set. In transposing the action to the tamer shores of northern California (no wonder Du Maurier was miffed), the film loses some of the elemental potency of the tale.

Questions

Topic1

Discuss the use of World War Two allusions and symbolism in “The Birds.”

Topic 2

What do you think the birds symbolize? What clues does Du Maurier give the reader about the message in their attack? Be sure to include examples from the text to help strengthen your arguments.

Topic 3

Do you think Nat Hocken is a good father and husband? Is he still a soldier? Why or why not? How does Nat treat his family at the opening of the story? How does his treatment change as the attacks persist?

Topic 4

What role do the Triggs play in the story? Why do you think the Triggs are killed while the Hockens survive?∗

Background and themes

Storytelling:

More than anything else, Daphne du Maurier was a storyteller. She wrote page-turners – stories that were hard to put down. Many second-rate storytellers are capable of writing page-turners, but du Maurier’s  stories go deeper, dealing with people’s primitive fears and longings. After her death in 1989,  The Times newspaper described her books as containing ‘some of the abiding fantasies of the human race’.

History and suspense:

Du Maurier’s major novels fall into two categories. The first category consists of historical novels set in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Cornwall.  Jamaica Inn (1936),  Frenchman’s Creek (1941), Hungry Hill (1943) and The King’s General(1946) are fine examples of du Maurier’s historical novels. They are full of smuggling, violence and (of course) romance. The second category consists of modern stories of mystery and suspense. Many of du Maurier’s short stories fall into this category. The Birds and Don’t Look Now are outstanding examples of du Maurier’s talent for suspense. She builds the tension slowly but surely until the reader realizes that there is no way out for the characters.

Cinematic storytelling:

Du Maurier’s novels and short stories contain compelling storylines, powerful characterizations and highly visual scenes. They were seemingly made for the cinematic screen, and in fact, a number of her stories were adapted into successful feature films, including The Birds, Jamaica Inn, Don’t Look Now, Frenchman’s Creek and Hungry Hill (for which she co-wrote the screenplay). Two of the films were directed by Alfred Hitchcock, the famous British film director.

Produced in 1940, Rebecca starred the world-famous British actor, Sir Lawrence Olivier. Like the novel on which it was based, the film is riveting. It eventually earned Hitchcock a highly coveted Academy Award for Best Picture. The Birds, produced in 1963, was a free adaptation of du Maurier’s short story, but Hitchcock was known as the true ‘master of suspense’, and so the film contains some truly terrifying – indeed, genuinely horrifying – moments. Both The Birds and Rebecca are fitting tributes to du Maurier’s vast storytelling powers.¹

The Apple Tree and Other Stories

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Looking for more suspense from du Maurier for a fine, dark afternoon?

The Birds and Other Stories is a collection of short stories by Daphne du Maurier, originally published in 1952 as The Apple Tree by Gollancz in the United Kingdom. It includes “The Birds,” which was made into a film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock in 1963. The anthology was published in the United States as Kiss Me Again, Stranger by Doubleday and then has been republished under the current name, The Birds and Other Stories

The title story, “The Apple Tree” is a darkly comic gem about a weary, nasty husband and the wife who is eternally committed to his . . .well-being . . .

The Doll: The Lost Short Stories

The Doll

Lost for more than 70 years, this dark story of a man’s obsessive passion for Rebecca, a mysterious violinist, hasn’t been published since it appeared in a small collection in 1937.³  Read it, HERE.

Learn more about the lively and often-misunderstood author in this short interview from her home in Cornwall in 1977!

For Further Reading:

Mistress of Menace by Patrick McGrath (The Guardian) – Daphne du Maurier has often been dismissed as a writer of popular romances, yet her work is infused with hidden violence. To mark the centenary of her birth this month, Patrick McGrath relishes the dark side of her short stories

. . .a bit about Daphne du Maurier . . .

Dame Daphne du Maurier, Lady Browning, DBE, (May 1907 – 19 April 1989) was an English author and playwright.

Daphne-du-maurier

Her bestselling works were not at first taken seriously by critics, but have since earned an enduring reputation for storytelling craft. Many have been successfully adapted into films, including the novels Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, and Jamaica Inn and the short stories “The Birds” and “Don’t Look Now/Not After Midnight”.

Du Maurier spent much of her life in Cornwall where most of her works are set.

Bibliography

Daphne du Maurier

Sources:

  1. Wikipedia,  “The Birds” and
  2. “The Apple Tree and Other Stories”
  3. Wikipedia

BookRags

Scary Stories for Halloween , Lisa Allardice, October 2012, The Guardian

The Birds by Daphne du Maurier, Penguin Readers, Pearson Education Limited 2008

The Official Daphne du Maurier Website

 

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Week Five: “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner and “Between Solitude and Loneliness” by Donald Hall

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Illustration from an article in The Atlantic by Joe Fassler.

“A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner

“A Rose For Emily” is a classic short story by William Faulkner, anthologized in so many required reading collections that one loses count:
William Faulkner (born William Cuthbert Falkner), (September 25, 1897–July 6, 1962) was an American author. One of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, he was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. His reputation is based on his novels, novellas, and short stories. However, he was also a published poet and also was a screenwriter of such movies as The Big Sleep.

“A Rose For Emily” is a deceptive story, short and yet within its few pages lays a mystery. And each reading of the story will reveal nuances and details perhaps missed the last time.
The story begins with the funeral of Miss Emily Grierson, an eccentric lady of the town whose life was caught up in her home. For your consideration, here is  “A Rose for Emily.”

Can you tell what happened?

“A Rose For Emily” originally appeared in These Thirteen, a 1931 collection of short stories. The collection was dedicated to his first daughter, Alabama, who had died nine days after her birth on January 11, 1931, and to his wife Estelle.

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The First Edition of These Thirteen

Faulkner’s first release of short stories, it contained the following pieces:

Additionally,  modern and comprehensive collection of Faulkner’s stories can be found in  William Faulkner Collected Stories from Vintage (Amazon, here)

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From the Vintage promotional materials:

Forty-two stories make up this magisterial collection by the writer who stands at the pinnacle of modern American fiction. Compressing an epic expanse of vision into hard and wounding narratives, Faulkner’s stories evoke the intimate textures of place, the deep strata of history and legend, and all the fear, brutality, and tenderness of the human condition. These tales are set not only in Yoknapatawpha County, but in Beverly Hills and in France during World War I. They are populated by such characters as the Faulknerian archetypes Flem Snopes and Quentin Compson, as well as by ordinary men and women who emerge so sharply and indelibly in these pages that they dwarf the protagonists of most novels.

“No man ever put more of his heart and soul into the written word than did William Faulkner. If you want to know all you can about that heart and soul, the fiction where he put it is still right there.” —Eudora Welty

“For all his concern with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man. Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for greatness of our classics.” —Ralph Ellison

After reading “A Rose For Emily” it may be of use to regard a poem by Faulkner entitled  “After Fifty Years” (find it here): a meditation on mortality.

It’s an interesting poem in several ways. It may be useful to discuss why Faulkner chose the form of the sonnet for this piece.

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Faulkner at UVA

Additionally, true scholars and fans of Faulkner must certainly peruse an incredible resource: the website archive, Faulkner at Virginia.

In 1957/58 William Faulkner was Balch Writer in Residence at The University of Virginia. While he was there, he gave many class lectures and answered many student questions.

Frederick Gwynn and Joseph Blotner, members of UVA’s English department, had the idea to record these sessions on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and create transcripts of those lectures.

This website featuress those clips, which you can explore by title, where the author answers the students’ questions in class asked about “A Rose For Emily” and all of his other works. My recommendation is to explore this website on a full screen if possible, and start with the tab “Contexts”. Then, click on “Clips” to see the recordings organized by novel and story title. It’s a treasure trove.

Faulkner on audio, articles, photographs, transcripts, magazine clippings – I strongly encourage any student studying William Faulkner to explore this website, if only to hear him teach you how to pronounce ” Yoknapatawpha.”

 

“Between Solitude and Loneliness” by Donald Hall

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Illustration from The New Yorker

The second selection for Week Five is an essay by the poet Donald Hall, entitled “Between Loneliness and Solitude” (The New Yorker.)

From his biography:

“Donald Hall is considered one of the major American poets of his generation. His poetry explores the longing for a more bucolic past and reflects the poet’s abiding reverence for nature.”
In December 1993 he and Jane Kenyon were the subject of an Emmy Award-winning Bill Moyers documentary ,  A Life Together. In the June 2006, Hall was appointed the Library of Congress’s fourteenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. He lives in Danbury, New Hampshire.”

Here, Hall examines his long partnership with his wife, the poet Jane Kenyon. What are your thoughts on Hall’s essay?

Hall’s essay can be found here.

The language is sparse, reflective and declarative.

From the website of The Academy of American Poets:

“Hall has published numerous books of poetry, including The Selected Poems of Donald Hall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015), The Painted Bed (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2002) and Without: Poems (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998), which was published on the third anniversary of his wife and fellow poet Jane Kenyon‘s death from leukemia. Other notable collections include The One Day (Mariner Books, 1988), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and a Pulitzer Prize nomination; The Happy Man (Secker & Warburg, 1986), which won the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; and Exiles and Marriages (Viking Press, 1955), which was the Academy’s Lamont Poetry Selection for 1956.

In a review of White Apples and the Taste of Stone: Selected Poems 1946–2006 (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006), Billy Collins wrote: “Hall has long been placed in the Frostian tradition of the plainspoken rural poet. His reliance on simple, concrete diction and the no-nonsense sequence of the declarative sentence gives his poems steadiness and imbues them with a tone of sincere authority. It is a kind of simplicity that succeeds in engaging the reader in the first few lines.”

It’s worthwhile to take a few moments to read Hall’s poem, “The Painted Bed.”

It provides an interesting tangent to the study of his essay as well as  Faulkner’s story and poem.

Additionally, check out “My Son, My Executioner” –another poem which was added to the Wonderlings discussion by member Rick Williams, in which the narrator laments;

We twenty two and twenty five,
who seemed to live forever,
observe enduring life in you
and start to die together.

(from “My Son, My Executioner”)

In an interesting synchronicity, here is Hall reciting the poem (first in the lineup)  as part of a program at, of all places, The University of Virginia, where Faulkner was writer in residence. And so we come full circle. Enjoy.