Susan Hill Susan Hill

The villain as hero

Juvenilia is an unfortunate word, with its connotations of the derogatory ‘juvenile’.

Juvenilia is an unfortunate word, with its connotations of the derogatory ‘juvenile’.

Juvenilia is an unfortunate word, with its connotations of the derogatory ‘juvenile’. When they reach adult estate, most writers prefer their early work to be forgotten. But publishers have long ferreted about to unearth the juvenilia of anyone with half a name.Though the reading public has never been so easily conned, such works are appreciated mainly by scholars of an author’s entire ouevre, wanting to trace early influences.

So, if you could buy only one book this week, would it be The Doll, which contains a dozen very early short stories by Daphne du Maurier, and one rather later one (published in 1959)? Unless you are a serious student of her work, the book will have to fight for your money and attention among dozens of shiny new novels and fine older ones, on equal terms. How many people really want to read the first tentative attempts of an aspiring young writer?

Du Maurier became prolific, professional, famous, successful, wealthy and popular. She also became a far better writer than many literary snobs have given her credit for. She was a mistress of good prose, with a sense of place and an understanding of character better than many, and a command of the narrative art greater than most. Yet still she is categorised as ‘light’ and ‘romance’.

None of these early stories is without flaws, and several should never have seen the light of a new day. But the best do two important things. They show portents, albeit sometimes only in flashes that illuminate the dimness, of the greatness that was to come.And they reveal someone whose ability to shape and form a story, a way of writing it, a style, a point of view, were more impressive than those of most of her fellows who were prominent between the Thirties and Seventies.

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