Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Kiss Me Again, Stranger by Daphne du Maurier #DDMreadingweek

Title: Kiss Me Again, Stranger
Author: Daphne du Maurier
Publication:  Pocket, paperback, 1970 (originally published 1953)
Genre: Short Story Collection
My Impressions: I picked up this lurid-looking book quickly at a library book sale right before the Lockdown, in anticipation of Daphne du Maurier Reading Weeka celebration of the life and work of Daphne du Maurier, organized by Heaven-Ali.   I thought it must be a lesser-known title like her dystopian novel, Rule Britannia, which I always forget.   Imagine my surprise when I examined it last night and saw it was “a Collection of Eight Stories, Long and Short,” including the short story that spawned a million nightmares, The Birds.  I now realize her short stories been published under different titles.  As most of my reading takes place late at night, I wasn’t sure reading The Birds was really in my best interest so I started by reading around it and enjoyed the other stories.  

When I used to walk my nieces to school in New York, we sometimes made slow progress up the hill.  I dislike squirrels, one niece dislikes dogs, and the other dislikes birds.  We all hate rats we couldn’t even say the word and called them “blanks.”  Admittedly, we were wimps.   Sometimes we would cross the street several times to avoid these foes.  I often thought about The Birds, without having read it.   So today was the day!

Apparently, there is a tradition I (happily) did not know about of bird-attack narratives and The Birds is one of the better-known versions.   As happens with many movies, Alfred Hitchcock had the original plot revamped and made it very different from Daphne’s story – and she wasn’t the type to simply take the money and not mind.   Her birds are the ordinary species that quiet Nat Hocken sees every day from his home on the bay.  His wife has no name (been there before, right?) which must have significance as du Maurier named all the other characters. 

Popular culture has amplified the message of The Birds and prepared this reader for fear.  When Nat starts noticing the birds are gathering and they start attacking him after dark, no one believes him.   “Listen to him!  They tried to peck his eyes!”  I begged jovial Farmer Trigg.   Nat shrugs and goes home.  He is competent so starts boarding up the windows to keep the birds out.  Hunkered down, the Hockens learn from the radio that there is a National Emergency because birds are attacking buildings all over the country.  They pass a nerve-racking night.   When the time for the next newscast comes there is only silence on the radio.  Nat realizes they are alone.

The chilling effect of The Birds results not only from what takes place and how the story ends but also because we are used to reading about friendly birds and animals.  Du Maurier does not say what caused the birds to turn on the humans, but she was interested in the supernatural and doubtless realized the unexplained often has added terror.  I recognize that there would be a visceral fear from the visual effects of the movie but Daphne's story is frightening in its own way and clearly more subtle.  There was a funny story I read somewhere that the movie wound up being based on someone else's story instead (because Hitchcock found her characters dull) and Daphne received an indignant letter from that author.   At first dismissive, she read his book and thought it was pretty good!  Her dissatisfaction with the movie probably reflects that there is nothing in it resembling her story except the title.
A promotional photo for Hitchcock’s The Birds in 1963,
shows him posing with a seagull and a raven (Getty Images)
About the Book:  "This collection of short stories by Daphne du Maurier was first published as The Apple Tree in 1952. It was a new departure for Du Maurier, in which she experimented with neo-Gothic motifs. These stories reveal, as Du Maurier herself suggested, her own psychological and emotional obsessions. The original title story, 'The Apple Tree', relates the story of a man who becomes obsessed. He is convinced that an apple tree represents his recently deceased wife and seeks to destroy it. In the end, having cut down the tree, he trips over the roots and becomes trapped in the snow. 'The Little Photographer' tells the story of a rich and married woman who, in order to preserve her ideal of a loveless, merely sexual affair with a photographer, commits murder. 'The Birds' recounts the deadly invasion of a small seaside town by lethal hordes of birds. The apocalyptic tale ends with one of the characters contemplating 'how many million years of memory were stored in those little brains . . . , now giving them this instinct to destroy mankind with all the deft precision of machines'. Daphne du Maurier disapproved of Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film version, The Birds."

Pohl, N. B. (1999). The Birds and Other Stories (1963). In L. Sage, G. Greer, & E. Showalter (Eds.), The Cambridge Guide to Women's Writing in English. Cambridge University Press.

Source: Personal copy

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