Polly Samson’s Introduction to The Doll

Photo by Jens Schott Knudsen


We would like to extend our sincere thanks Virago Press for allowing us to

re-publish Polly Samson’s introduction to

the Daphne du Maurier short story collection The Doll.


The Doll

by Daphne du Maurier


by Polly Samson

You reach the end of ‘The Doll’. You’re standing aghast at the door of a darkened room where ravenhaired Rebecca (and yes, her name will have misled you for a while if, like me, you were looking for clues) is in a state of wild arousal. She is on a divan, her companion, a life-size doll named Julio, leers at you with twisted wet crimson lips. You feel discomforted, disturbed, baffled. A doll with mechanical parts? Is that what the author meant? Did they even have such things in the 1920s? It is bizarre, macabre. Or perhaps you misread the story? And then you read it again and find yourself wondering about the mind of the young – very young – writer and how she came to dream up such a thing.

Daphne du Maurier was twenty when she wrote ‘The Doll. It was the first thing she wrote in Fowey, having fled the distractions of a family life steeped in tittle-tattle and the Theatre. It’s a story of obsession, and the submerged anxieties of the young writer’s mind run through the pages like wine through water.

I was mystified by the image of Julio’s red wet lips until, while considering these stories, I read in Daphne du Maurier’s memoir Myself When Young that her first kisses, stolen ones with her cousin Geoffrey (twice-married and twenty-two years her senior), reminded her of kissing Gerald, her father. ‘The strange thing is it’s so like kissing D[addy],’ she notes, and then I thought about the name of the doll: ‘Julio’ just a syllable short of ‘Julius’, the eponymous father with an incestuous and murderous desire for his daughter in her most infamous novel, published five years later, in 1933.


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Polly Samson’s Introduction

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Polly Samson will be appearing at the Small Wonder Short Story Festival on Saturday 24th September.


At 4:00, she will discuss her own story collection Perfect Lives, and at 6:00, she will speak on the themes of obsession, sexual desire and failures of communication between the sexes in a panel discussion on Daphne du Maurier’s story collection The Doll.

For tickets and full programme details for the Small Wonder Festival,

click HERE.



Polly Samson published her first collection of short stories, Lying in Bed, in 1999 and her first novel, Out of the Picture, the following year.  Her work has appeared in anthologies including Gas and Air, Girls’ Night In, Great Escapes, A Day in the Life and The Just When Stories.  In 2007, she was a judge for the Costa Book of the Year and in 2010 she was a judge of the Asham Short Story award.  Her short stories have been published by numerous magazines and have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Scotland. Her latest collection, Perfect Lives, is published by Virago.
Photo by Charlie Hopkinson

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One thought on “Polly Samson’s Introduction to The Doll

  1. Great article. “Rebecca” was one of the first book I read when I first came to the U.S.and it captivated me right from the first sentence. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. I didn’t know she also had a short story collection. I will have to get myself a copy. Thank you Thresholds for giving us this exclusive peek.

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