Short story collections are always really hard to write about. Do you give a little bit away about each tale, follow some of the themes of the collection, or describe the feelings that they give as a whole. Well, I am going to try and do a mixture of the three though without giving any of the stories endings away as the main joy that I found in `The Doll' was the fact that nearly every single story, apart from maybe two, had a really clever twist at the very end or one that slowly dawned on you as you read on (clearly planned by Daphne herself when writing) and to give any of these away would be a crime really.
The themes behind all the thirteen tales in `The Doll' seem to be either about sex, the darker sides of human beings, the pitfalls of love or a mixture of the three. Yet no matter how similar the theme, they are all told from different angles. For example there are two tales of prostitution and yet `Piccadilly' and `Mazie' are both very, very different tales of two women in very different situations only supplying the same service. Does Daphne have sympathy for these characters? Well you would have to read the books to be sure but I did feel in each tale a different sex was attacked in one tale women might be the victim, in another they might be the villain and men get a rough ride too with Daphne pondering `I want to know if men realise when they are insane.'
I admit when Daphne looked at some of the more relationship based tales such as `A Difference in Temperament', a tale of a man and wife unsure of the others affections after years, or `Week-End' and `Nothing Hurts for Long' I was left a little more non plussed, they didn't really speak out to me so much. However you would then get a tale like `East Wind', the devastating opening tale of a seaside village which hosts some foreign sailors when the weather turns and that twisted in a way, or two ways, that I would never have expected and actually shocked me. My mouth was actually agog at the end. There is also the beautifully written `And His Letters Grew Colder' which says all you need to know in the title.
Daphne also shows a comical element in some of the tales, for example in the (slightly too long) `And Now To God The Father' which is a tale of a far too good to be true vicar, which also has a very sad twist and rather perturbing ending, has a certain pompousness about it and pokes fun at the rich. In `Frustration', which shows just how far men will go to have sex with a woman and becomes on of the first farcical tales of Daphne's I have read and had me chuckling along as I read especially as the farce gets more and more ridiculous yet strangely believeable.
It is really when Daphne merges all of these together that you get the best tales. The title story `The Doll', which I would agree is a tale ahead of its time and one that twists a love story with something utterly bizarre but which works well, `Tame Cat' is a chilling mother and daughter tale, `The Limpet' every single persons nightmare, the aforementioned `East Wind' and `The Happy Valley' a ghost tale with shades of early `Rebecca' are all utterly brilliant.
`The Doll' is a collection with an underlying menace and cynicism at its heart, which I think makes for a compelling, occasionally shocking and indeed chilling collection. This may be some of Daphne's earliest work and so in parts is a little unpolished yet to write so well and with such a wryness from the start of her career, with shades of what's to come from her later work, only shows what a wonderful writer she was and the potential that was to come. I could happily now sit and re-read this collection again and again, I feel like that was part of Daphne's intention with her short stories, if you blink you might miss something. The other intention was to draw you in slowly and then get you with a twist and in every tale of this collection, in differing ways, she does just that.