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.
Discuss the use of World War Two allusions and symbolism in “The Birds.”
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.
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?
What role do the Triggs play in the story? Why do you think the Triggs are killed while the Hockens survive?∗
Background and themes
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.
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
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.²
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
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.
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.
Daphne du Maurier
- Omnibus Editions
- Short Stories
- Biography and Autobiography
- Related Books
- Works on Film, Television and Audio
- Wikipedia, “The Birds” and
- “The Apple Tree and Other Stories”
Scary Stories for Halloween , Lisa Allardice, October 2012, The Guardian