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The Age of Outrage
Aesthetics of Outrage

The Outrageousness of Outrage: Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Monte Verità’

Outrage et indignation dans ‘Monte Verità’ de Daphne du Maurier
Christine Reynier


Cet article part de la constatation que la nouvelle « Monte Verità » de Daphne du Maurier n’a guère suscité d’intérêt chez les critiques. En se fondant sur la biographie de Margaret Forster et un article de Zižek, cette analyse confronte les conceptions contradictoires et ambivalentes de l’outrage et de l’indignation (que l’anglais désigne d’un seul et même terme, outrage) telles qu’elles apparaissent dans le récit et propose de lire la nouvelle comme une réflexion sur la nature de l’outrage et de l’indignation et comme soulevant des questions éthiques, ce qui est désigné ici, en référence aux travaux de Stuart Hall, par le terme d’« éthique de l’outrage ou de l’indignation ». Enfin, une fois replacées dans le contexte narratif et historique, lié à l’esthétique moderniste, ces réflexions générales sur l’outrage et l’indignation prennent un tout autre sens.

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1Regarded as a popular writer, Daphne du Maurier is not exactly a favourite of literary criticism. If her life has been written, if her novel Rebecca has been a bestseller and a much studied work, if ‘The Birds’ became famous together with Hitchcock’s film, her other short stories are not often studied by academics. Few critics especially seem to have written on Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Monte Verità’. Initially published in 1952 by Victor Gollancz in The Apple Tree, ‘Monte Verità’ is a 73-page long short story or novella which now belongs to The Birds and Other Stories. In that collection, ‘The Birds’ seems to be the critics’ favourite and is often analysed together with Hitchcock’s cinematographic adaptation, as is the case in the introduction to the 2004 Virago edition where the film critic David Thomson mainly focuses on the title story.

  • 1 Margaret Forster connects ‘Monte Verità’ with du Maurier’s bi-sexuality and her constant sense of b (...)

2Does it mean it is outrageous to write on ‘Monte Verità’? This is what Margaret Forster, du Maurier’s biographer, suggests when she points out that it is in du Maurier’s short stories rather than in her novels that we can locate ‘the spontaneous, the slightly cruel, the outrageous’ (Forster 256) and she goes on offering a biographical reading of ‘Monte Verità’ as dealing with Daphne Du Maurier’s bi-sexuality.1 And Slavoj Zižek seems to provide an answer to the question in one of the few articles devoted to this short story in which he wonders whether one should read du Maurier today:

A year or so ago, while waiting in line to pay at a London Waterstone bookstore, I overheard a young man asking one of the staff: ‘I just finished Mrs de Winter. Is it true that this is the sequel to another book?’ This was for me a depressing encounter with the illiteracy of the younger generation—how can anyone not know about Rebecca?
Or is this oblivion perhaps deserved? (Zižek)

  • 2 Zižek remarks that in each story, ‘the intrusion of an unexpected dimension disturbs the “normal” r (...)

3According to Zižek, du Maurier’s writing is compelling. If her prose is marked by melodramatic excess, it exercises a ‘tremendous power of fascination’ which is, according to him, due to the fact that it deals with feminine masochism. Referring to Gilles Deleuze’s essay on Sacher-Masoch, Zižek argues that ‘paradoxically, the staging of what appears to be a masochist scenario is the first act of liberation’. According to him, du Maurier ‘is staging elementary fantasmatic narratives’ in her short stories which ‘should be read in the same way that Claude Lévi-Strauss interpreted myths’, that is, ‘through each other’. If we do this, ‘a precise structure’ comes out and we can see they all deal with sexual relationships, the first and the last short stories dealing with a ‘happy’ couple, the other four focusing on the reasons why sexual relationship fails.2 ‘In “Monte Verità”, a beautiful young Anna abandons her husband and potential lover for the “Truth Mountain”, a remote resort in the Swiss Alps, the seat of an initiatic group who leads there a secluded life of eternal ecstatic satisfaction exempted from the traumas of our “world of men and women”—in short, she chooses what Lacan called the Other Jouissance over ordinary phallic jouissance’ (Zižek).

  • 3 See footnote 10 of Zižek’s paper: ‘This paper was originally written as an introduction to the Vira (...)
  • 4 The Birds and Other Stories displays numerous relations with war (especially in ‘The Birds’ and ‘Ki (...)

4While we may agree that there is a connecting link between the six short stories, Zižek’s Lacanian analysis of ‘Monte Verità’ as a story of ‘a woman enjoying her own ruin’ is certainly interesting but does not fully account for the whole text. In any case, his reading is outrageous enough for his paper to have been rejected, when it was initially meant to be the introduction to the 2004 Virago edition.3 My own point is that some form of outrage—not necessarily sexual—is the connecting link between the short stories of the collection4 and I will dwell on ‘Monte Verità’, the least commented upon and the most cryptic, to prove the notion is central.

  • 5 The Larousse dictionary gives the following definition of outrage : ‘Offense extrêmement grave, con (...)

5According to the OED, the word ‘outrage’, which has an Anglo-Norman and Old French etymology (ultrageoltrage, outrage), contains the prefix ultreoutre, ‘beyond’, which suggests some form of transgression (in word or deed). The word can refer both to an ‘act of violence committed against a person or against society’ and to ‘fierce and overwhelming indignation, anger, etc., experienced in response to some injustice or affront’. The English word thus covers both what the modern French words outrage and indignation5 each convey.

6In du Maurier’s short story, outrage appears in its double meaning of transgressive act and response to such an act. The first meaning of outrage is illustrated when the narrative focuses on ‘an action or situation which provokes indignation, shock, anger, etc.’: Anna, a beautiful young woman, happily married to Victor, vanishes in the summer of 1913 during a climbing expedition on Monte Verità; it will appear that she has been ‘called’ by a ‘sect’ which lives on the top of the mountain. The couple’s life is thus outrageously broken and Victor, as a consequence, suffers a severe nervous breakdown.

7That could be the fictionalised account of the sort of outrageous doings sects are regularly reported to be guilty of in the media. However, du Maurier’s narrative is particularly original and compelling since it is not a blunt denunciation of the so-called sect but a kaleidoscopic account in which Anna’s disappearance—the outrageous event—calls for a whole sample of responses ranging from outrage to trauma and wilful acceptance—a challenge for the reader who has to reconstruct these various reactions disseminated in the text.

8The villagers, who live at the foot of the mountain, have already given several of their daughters to what is to them the sect’s sacerdotessa and react to Anna’s disappearance in a way which illustrates perfectly the second meaning of outrage as ‘fierce and overwhelming indignation, anger, etc., experienced in response to some injustice or affront’. Aware of what is lying in store for her, they display fear and anger when Anna stops in their village. For them, what happens to this woman is shocking, outrageous because it is perceived as a form of subjection, a sort of death in life which is utterly unbearable. Years later, when too many girls have disappeared, their frustration and fury leads them to break into the forbidden walls and destroy the place.

  • 6 His acquiescence to the total break-up of his life astounded me’, the narrator writes (76).
  • 7 ‘“I’ve tried to study it,” he said, “this religion, belief. . . . ”/ “you talk, Victor, as if you b (...)

9Victor, Anna’s husband, first prefers to think that Anna has fallen into a crevasse but he soon has to acknowledge that she has joined the Monte Verità group when she speaks to him from the fortress and pleads with him to forget her. This is experienced as a traumatic event by Victor who will only emerge from this nervous breakdown after a kind of talking cure in which he explains everything to his best friend. He then begins to accept the outrage,6 going as far as to believe the community’s own beliefs,7 and spends his whole life waiting for Anna, going back to Monte Verità every year on a kind of pilgrimage.

  • 8 It seemed to me monstrous that an unknown sect, on a mountain side, could, in the space of a few d (...)

10Victor’s best friend is also the narrator of the story and is very much affected when he hears about the tragedy, all the more so since he is in love with Anna. Outraged by what is for him ‘monstrous’ (76),8 he suggests acting, going to ‘our embassy to approach the government of that country, to have a nationwide inquiry, to get the Press on to it, the backing of our own government’ (76). However, his reaction is short-lived; with the coming of the First World War, he forgets about Anna, and Victor and he grows apart. Twenty years later, the plane of this successful businessman accidentally lands near Monte Verità and the narrator starts looking for Anna, manages to enter the walls of the so-called monastery and meets her. He is at first enthralled by what he witnesses, then utterly repelled and leaves the place.

11Finally, the point of view of the women living on Monte Verità is given, through Anna’s own words, first to Victor, then to the narrator, and a direct account of Monte Verità is offered by the narrator once he has been allowed within its precincts. Anna, who is seen by Victor as having ‘a radiance about her’ (74), tells her husband that she will remain beautiful for ever (‘I shall go on looking like this, always’ [74]). When the narrator goes into Monte Verità, he witnesses these ageless, sexless beautiful beings (102) worshipping the moon and singing in the night a sublime song (‘the chanting rang in my ears, unearthly, terrifying, yet beautiful in a way impossible to bear’ [97]); he hears their laughter, witnesses the ‘austere beauty’ and ‘devilish grace’ of their bodies clad in white tunics, their ‘bare arms, bare legs and hair cropped close to the head’ (100). Peace, silence, power and strength, fulfilment are the words he uses to describe them: ‘Here Life was fulfilled, clamouring, intense, and the great heat of the sun seeped into the veins, becoming part of the blood stream, part of the living flesh; and the frozen air, merging with the direct rays of the sun, cleansed the body and the lungs, bringing power and strength’ (104). ‘Passion and joy and laughter, the heat of the sun, the tug of the moon, love without emotion, sleep with no waking dream’ (105) synthesises what he discovers. And Anna adds: ‘it isn’t Paradise”. . . . “There are no illusions and no dreams on Monte Verità”’ (110). Throughout the narrative, we see how some characters construe the event—Anna’s disappearance—as outrageous and react accordingly or fluctuate in their reactions while Anna herself makes it clear that she is not a victim but joined the community of her own free will.

  • 9 Three possible endings are imagined by the narrator: either the women become immortal (41), commit (...)

12I will argue that confronting the various understandings of the event and the various responses to it is a way for the author to explore the nature of outrage and raise ethical questions connected with it. The villagers’ reaction to the community’s outrageous doings breeds violence, destruction and probably drives the members of the community to commit suicide (although this is not sure since the ending is open and three options are offered9). This situation raises questions about the legitimacy and possible outrageousness of outrage. Isn’t the peasants’ fury excessive and outrageous? Who is responsible for outrage in that case? Who are the most outrageous in their behaviour, the community or the villagers? Without exactly defending the Monte Verità group, the author points out that they are far from being the only ones guilty of outrage. Du Maurier further asks if what is defined as outrageous is really so. Indeed, for the people in the valley and the mountain the main outrage is the very existence of the so-called sect. They tend to define the community’s unusual behaviour as outrageous, cannot tolerate it and commit outrageous acts in return. If the community’s outrage breeds fury, the villagers’ intolerance breeds outrage too.

  • 10 He tells his friend who would like to do away with it: ‘We don’t go about destroying monasteries or (...)

13On the other hand, for love of Anna and without knowing exactly what is going on in Monte Verità, Victor blindly accepts what happens to her: he comes to idealise the place where one supposedly remains immortal and beautiful for ever; living in a dream, he sacrifices his own life for it. Not acknowledging the community’s possible outrageous doings amounts to passivity, blind acceptance, and entails his death. Although a free man, Victor in a way comes to embody exactly what a member of a sect is supposed to be in the villagers’ eyes, i.e., an object of subjection. Concomitantly, Victor indirectly questions the very definition of a sect. He sees Anna as a sort of saint who has been transfigured (74) and considers the community as not very different from a monastic or conventual community.10 In that case, can its existence be regarded as outrageous?

14As for the narrator, what he discovers when he enters Monte Verità is that it is ‘no closed order’ (101) but a place where human beings can be fulfilled. In other words, what is presented as a dangerous sect by outsiders, especially, the ignorant uncouth villagers and the narrator himself, appears to be simply a community where a different way of life and different values have been adopted freely and willingly, as in Anna’s case. From then on, the destruction carried out by the villagers is no more justified. Connected with ignorance, their behaviour appears as even more outrageous than the Monte Verità dwellers’.

  • 11 See footnote 13.

15The story thus turns into a reflection on what we could call the ‘ethics of outrage’11 and the difficulty of accepting difference. Outrage is shown to stem from ignorance, which construes erroneous ideas (the villagers call the community a ‘sect’, concomitantly construing it as a malevolent group), and to breed intolerance. What is outrageous is what is misunderstood. Ignorance can even take the trappings of knowledge and become the doxa as is made clear when Victor reads and learns about the sect’s history and organises his beliefs accordingly:

this religion, belief. It’s very ancient, way back before Christianity. There are old books that hint at it. I’ve picked them up from time to time, and I’ve spoken to people, scholars, who have made a study of mysticism and the old rites of ancient Gaul, and the Druids; . . . In every instance that I have read there is this insistence on the power of the moon and the belief that the followers stay young and beautiful. (89)

16Both the peasants and Victor, although very differently, display forms of intolerance and refusal of the other, the first trying to eradicate difference, the second waiting for the other (Anna) to renounce her difference and come back to him, even if he tries to understand the other’s choice. As for the narrator, he has but a dim memory of the events that occurred more than ten years before he started writing and his account may be warped. In his ups and downs, he is now attracted to Anna, sharing mountain fever with her, now forgetful of her; when he eventually meets her in Monte Verità, he is fascinated by the beauty of what is happening there, the freedom, the emancipation of the body, but repelled by what she unveils: her face eaten up by leprosy (110). The encounter of the narrator with the face of Anna may be understood as an encounter with horror, the other facet of beauty here. In the context the story refers to, i e. the interwar period, leprosy can read as a metaphor of lesbianism, as it does in Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928). The encounter with Anna’s face then reads as a Levinasian encounter with (the other in) Anna’s self, with her hidden sexuality (her veiled face). The narrator who fails to accept Anna’s sexual choice (as well as the community’s ethos), can only leave Monte Verità.

  • 12 Although climbing metaphorises the efforts necessary to ‘come close to whatever Being it is that ru (...)

17On the contrary, Anna and the other members of the community are able to accept beauty and ugliness; they accept the body as such, not necessarily as erotic; they do not consider nakedness as outrageous or ugliness (leprosy or homosexuality) as more shocking than beauty; for them, the moon is not better than the sun, men are not superior to women (they are sexless and all look alike with their cropped hair). In other words, they can go beyond a dualist hierarchical way of thinking; they do not think in terms of exclusion (either/or) but of combination (both/and). This is the form of truth they are looking for: a new way of thinking and a new way of life. It is not really a divine type of truth (‘Here is no creed, no savior, and no deity’ [105]), even if it has messianic overtones,12 but a plural form of truth that they are after and that ‘the Mountain of Truth’ symbolises.

  • 13 This is David Scott’s way of synthesising Stuart Hall’s ethics. Although Hall refers to a context w (...)

18Their way of life, because it is different from the norm, appears outrageous just as their way of thinking does. Paradoxically enough, the secluded life Anna has chosen may be understood as a way to open herself to the other (beautiful Anna opens herself to ugliness; married Anna accepts lesbianism: she becomes able to accept the other within herself and to accept otherness, another ethos). While her beautiful damaged face is unbearable for the narrator who significantly leaves the fortress, thus symbolically refusing openness to the other, Anna accepts it. Should this be read as an instance of feminine masochism, as Zižek suggests? Or is it an example of ‘working on the self’ (Scott 15), an ethical attitude since ‘[w]e stand a chance of flourishing better . . . the more open we can make ourselves to our own vulnerability—our own fragile, exposed, receptivity—to difference’?13

19In Anna’s case, her ethical choice takes on a political dimension since she is the only character who acts and is bold enough to go against the norm by disregarding the law of marriage, joining a community everyone despises or fears, and adopting an unconventional ethos. Because she is the voice of dissent, she is perceived as outrageous while she may only be practicing an ethics of outrage which, here, is no other than an ethics of difference.

  • 14 McGrath writes: ‘Clairvoyance hints at the existence of a supernatural realm, but can only offer gl (...)

20What may have been an autobiographical short story and a reflection on an outrageous form of sexuality to Victor Gollancz (Forster 257) reads today, in the light of ethical theories, as a story with a much wider scope. ‘Monte Verità’ is, in Patrick McGrath’s words in his introduction to the NYRB edition of du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, ‘a complicated allegory’ (McGrath x); but while McGrath chooses to define it as an attempt at going into the territory of the supernatural,14 I would read it as an allegory of outrage in which the ubiquitous notion of outrage appears both to enforce ‘the normalizing pressure to repress and subjugate otherness’ (Scott 15) and to resist this pressure. The very ambiguity and indeterminacy of the text, with its array of conflicting viewpoints which make it difficult to locate the author’s own point of view, is in keeping with the ethics of the protagonist, Anna, who favours difference and openness and appears in the end to be the author’s persona.

21Those allegorical reflections on outrage may well have a universal purport but they are also firmly grounded in a specific space and time. If the mountain is no specific mountain (‘There are many mountain peaks in Europe, and countless numbers may bear the name of Monte Verità. They can be found in Switzerland, in France, in Spain, in Italy, in the Tyrol. I prefer to give no precise locality to mine’, du Maurier writes [43]), it is also Monte Verità. It is both an isolated, steep, unreachable peak and a small hill near Ascona, in Switzerland. The narrator is supposed to write after the Second World War when in his seventies while the story itself begins before World War One (77) and ends in the late 1930s, before the outbreak of World War Two (40).

22Taking into account that geographical and historical context sheds a further light on the narrative and orients our reading towards another possible meaning of the short story, which comes as a complement to Forster’s and Zižek’s analyses. The story, indeed, begins in the 1910s at a time when various communities had settled on Monte Verità and the hill had become attractive to nature-lovers (a vegetarian community had settled there in 1905), anarchists (like the physician Raphael Friedeberg), artists and famous people, like Carl Jung, Otto Gross, Max Weber, Paul Klee, D.H. Lawrence, Isadora Duncan, Mary Wigman or Rudolf Laban.15 In the 1910s, Rudolf Laban especially, was in Monte Verità and had his dancers dance in the open air looking for some sort of mystical ecstasy, a dance based on rhythm that meant to voice pent-up emotions and that combined a quest for health, strength and corporeal beauty. This theorist of expressionist dance meant to reconnect nature and the body and taught his dancers to experience time, space and energy intensely through their senses. Expression and impression were thus closely linked for him.16 In the summer of 1913, when Anna is supposed to join the community in Monte Verità, Mary Wigman joined Laban and danced intensely rhythmical dances, hovering between ecstasy and suffering, joy and despair, freedom, vitality and sacrificial impulses. For her as for Laban, the truth of dancing lay in a confrontation with one’s own ‘daemon’. This is what she implemented in 1914 in Hexentanz (‘The Witch’s Dance’),17 trying to reach what Greek tragedy was looking for, that is a cathartic moment.

23Du Maurier’s fictional community is obviously reminiscent of Laban’s theories and dance as experimented on Monte Verità. The short story thus takes us to the heart of German expressionism, hence, of modernism. The members of the community on Monte Verità dance like Mary Wigman, without music, and experience happiness, laughter, a freedom of the body as well as connection with the sun and the moon. Their sublime experience is described as ‘radiance’, a term Joyce or Woolf use in their epiphanies; the worshipping of the sun and the moon is reminiscent of the rituals Lawrence introduces in his writings and are described in truly Lawrentian terms, du Maurier’s ‘blood stream’, for instance, being close to Lawrence’s ‘blood consciousness’, the naked dancing, the fusion with the cosmos and the glorification of the body being also reminiscent of his novels, especially his unfinished Mr Noon.

  • 18 According to Nietzsche, for art to develop, as it did in the apex of Greek tragedy, there should be (...)
  • 19 Delsarte’s Sytem of Dramatic Expression, his belief in the importance of gestures and attitudes had (...)
  • 20 At the same time, in Dresden, the Swiss musician Jaques-Dalcroze was developing his quest for ‘the (...)

24In the 1910s, ‘human character changed’, according to Woolf’s notorious phrase (Woolf 319). If the date has remained a hallmark in the history of Modernism, it is because at around that time, all the arts underwent a major change. They all looked for some form of ecstasy, an ecstatic state connected either with eroticism or a return to primitivism, nature and a fusion with the cosmos, a form of harmony between the mind and the body which owed a lot to Nietzsche’s Dyonisian philosophy as voiced in The Birth of Tragedy18 as well as to François Delsarte.19 This was in itself an outrageous stance and this outrage can be traced in Derain’s ‘Danse bachique’ (1906) or Matisse’s ‘La Danse’, in Isadora Duncan’s way of dancing with bare feet, ample tunics and without bodice, as well as in Nijinski’s, Mary Wigman’s or Martha Graham’s dancing, and especially, in Rudolph Laban’s expressionist dance, which meant to dance life as it is and not as it is supposed to be, to experience the world in its immediacy, both in its light and its darkness.20

  • 21 On that subject, see Manning who acknowledges what had been silenced until recently and traces the (...)
  • 22 But his opening choreographic piece for the 1936 Olympics was cancelled by Goebbels and Laban subse (...)

25Historically speaking, the Monte Verità community experienced new ways of being which were outrageous at the time because they went against the current conventions and the prevailing dichotomous way of thinking. They favoured a way of thinking and being which, instead of pitting the one against the other (the body against the mind, joy against suffering, etc.) welcomed the other. In her own fictional Monte Verità, du Maurier examines the ambivalent nature of outrage, implicitly pointing at the promise and the potential dangers of some modernist ideas, especially Laban’s theory. Laban, the visionary father of modern dance who explored the potentials of the body is also the one who exposed the body and made it vulnerable (as Anna’s face is and as the bodies will be in the choreographies of Pina Bausch, one of Laban’s heirs). Du Maurier shows how interesting, welcome and enthralling his ideas may have been in pre-war times, how beautifully welcoming to the other and open to difference they were and, conversely, how vulnerable they were to unscrupulous others, how easily, because of their very ethical bend and openness to the other, they could be recuperated by the Nazis.21 And it is true that in the 1930s, Laban was entrusted with important responsibilities in Hitler’s Ministry of Propaganda and produced choreographies for them.22 As for Mary Wigman, after a period of success and a tour through the United States in the early 1930s, she became involved with the Nazis and conceived Totenklage, ‘Lament of the Dead’, for the 1936 Olympic Games before her aesthetics was rejected by Goebbels.

26Through the very title of her short story and the evocation of the community in Monte Verità, du Maurier turns a would-be autobiographical narrative into a reflection on Modernism, the fascination and vulnerability of some modernist ideas, the way such ideas could lend themselves to and fuel the outrageous Nazi ideology while her use of focalisation, indeterminacy and ambiguity places her writing at the very heart of Modernism. Concomitantly refusing to set Monte Verità in a specific country and keeping all allusion to any specific artist submerged, she gave her short story a wider scope and turned it into an allegory of outrage and the ethics of outrage, a bold move which makes the short story enticing and ensures its resistance to reading.

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Deleuze, Gilles, Présentation de Sacher-Masoch. Le froid et le cruel, Paris: Minuit, 1967.

Du Maurier, Daphne, The Birds and Other Stories, London: Virago, 2004.

Foster, Margaret, Daphne du Maurier (1993), London: Arrow Books, 2007.

Green, Martin, Mountain of Truth: The Counterculture Begins. Ascona: 1900–1920. Hanover, N. H.: UP of New England, 1986.

Hall, Radclyffe, The Well of Loneliness (1928), New York: Doubleday, 1990.

Herf, Jeffrey, Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich, Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986.

Laban, Rudolf von, Modern Educational Dance (1948), London: Macdonald & Evans, 1975.

Macel, Christine & Emma Lavigne, eds., Danser sa vie. Art et danse de 1900 à nos jours. Catalogue de l’exposition (23 novembre 2011-2 avril 2012), Paris : Éditions du Centre Pompidou, 2011.

Mcgrath, Patrick, ‘Introduction’ to Daphne du Maurier’s Don’t Look Now, New York: New York Review Books, 2008, vii–xiii.

Manning, Susan, Ecstasy and the Demon: Feminism and Nationalism in the Dances of Mary Wigman, Berkeley: U of California P, 1993.

Nietzsche, Friedrich, Naissance de la tragédie, trad. Geneviève Bianquis, Paris: Gallimard, 1949.

Scott, David, ‘Stuart Hall’s Ethics’, Small Axe: A Caribbean Journal of Criticism 17 (March 2005): 1–16.

Shawn, Ted, Every Little Movement. A Book about François Delsarte, New York: Dance Horizons, 1963.

Thomson, David, ‘Introduction’ to Daphne du Maurier’s The Birds and Other Stories, London: Virago, 2004, v–x.

Wigman, Mary, The Language of Dance, trans. Walter Sorell, Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan UP, 1966.

Woolf, Virginia, ‘Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown’, Collected Essays. Vol. I, ed. Leonard Woolf, London: Hogarth Press, 1966, 319–337.

Zižek, Slavoj, ‘Are we Allowed to Enjoy Daphnée [sic] du Maurier?’, © 1997/2005, no page numbering,, last accessed on June 3, 2013.

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1 Margaret Forster connects ‘Monte Verità’ with du Maurier’s bi-sexuality and her constant sense of being torn between women, like Ellen Doubleday or Gertrude Lawrence, and men, like her own husband, Frank Price or Carol Reed. She writes how ‘Monte Verità’ ‘completely bewildered Victor Gollancz’ (257), her publisher, who commented: ‘I don’t understand the slight implication that there is something wrong with sex’ (257), and she goes on giving her own reading of the novella: ‘The whole point of the story is that in her “Monte Verità” Anna has found a spiritual happiness she could never find with her husband or any man. Sexual love between a man and a woman no longer means anything to her, and all the young women who became part of her sect are now saved from “the turmoil of a brief romance turning to humdrum married life”. What disturbed Victor most was that in the first version Anna, once she is safe in her Monte Verità, turns into a man. . . . Written by a woman who was in the middle of her first love-affair with another woman for twenty years, it seems strikingly significant’ (257).

2 Zižek remarks that in each story, ‘the intrusion of an unexpected dimension disturbs the “normal” run of things and ruins the prospect of a satisfied, calm life of a couple’. He concludes with the following words: ‘this intrusive Event . . . is then nothing but a fantasized escape from [their everyday] misery’. No page number.

3 See footnote 10 of Zižek’s paper: ‘This paper was originally written as an introduction to the Virago Modern Classics edition of The Birds and Other Stories (London: Virago, 2004), but was rejected “for being too theoretical and disrespectful of du Maurier” (Zižek, private communication)’.

4 The Birds and Other Stories displays numerous relations with war (especially in ‘The Birds’ and ‘Kiss Me again, Stranger’) and other forms of violence or outrage.

5 The Larousse dictionary gives the following definition of outrage : ‘Offense extrêmement grave, constituant une atteinte à l'honneur, à la dignité ; affront, injure. And it defines indignation as ‘Sentiment de colère ou de révolte que provoque quelqu'un ou quelque chose’.

6 His acquiescence to the total break-up of his life astounded me’, the narrator writes (76).

7 ‘“I’ve tried to study it,” he said, “this religion, belief. . . . ”/ “you talk, Victor, as if you believe that too,” I said./ “I do,” he answered’ (89).

8 It seemed to me monstrous that an unknown sect, on a mountain side, could, in the space of a few days, have such power over a woman, a woman of intelligence and personality’ (76).

9 Three possible endings are imagined by the narrator: either the women become immortal (41), commit suicide (42) or come back to the ordinary world (42).

10 He tells his friend who would like to do away with it: ‘We don’t go about destroying monasteries or convents’ (76).

11 See footnote 13.

12 Although climbing metaphorises the efforts necessary to ‘come close to whatever Being it is that rules our destiny’ (41), the world is seen as ‘the blinded world’ (111) and Anna and the community believe in an austere form of life, devoid of possessions.

13 This is David Scott’s way of synthesising Stuart Hall’s ethics. Although Hall refers to a context which is very different from Du Maurier’s, his ethics apply here. Indeed, as Scott brilliantly demonstrates, Hall should not be reduced to a theorist of multiculturalism; he is first and foremost a theorist of the ethics of identity/difference. Scott urges that ‘we read his cultural criticism as the idiom of his ethics’ (15). I have chosen to refer to this theorist rather than any other because his intellectual practice, like that of his friend Edward Said, defends an ‘ethics of outrage’, a phrase I borrow here and adapt to a different context.

14 McGrath writes: ‘Clairvoyance hints at the existence of a supernatural realm, but can only offer glimpses of it. Du Maurier wrote a long story, “Monte Verità”, in which she attempted boldly to go deep into this territory’. However, he adds that it is ‘a complicated allegory about purity and renunciation’, ‘an unusual tale in that its success lies in its very ambiguity. And despite the story’s intense focus on purity and the rejection of the body, it is in a sense charged with sex’ (McGrath x).

15 A. S. Byatt’s The Children’s Book is probably the best introduction to this. After describing the Edwardian artists’ nostalgia for an imagined Golden Age, she turns, in chapter 32, to the Germans of the period and Ascona’s colony of artists and philosophers, among whom she quotes Rudolf Laban, D. H. and Frieda Lawrence, Hermann Hesse, Isadora Duncan, Otto Gross, etc. See also on that topic, Green who shows, for instance, how D. H. Lawrence came under the spell of Monte Verità and how, through the talent of Laban and his pupil, Mary Wigman, dance best embodied the Asconian ideal, the ‘life-body-movement-expression’ (Green 190).

16 On this subject, see Macel & Lavigne 54–57. See also Laban’s book in which he defines modern dance as ‘danse libre’, a way of voicing pent up emotions in modern society.

17 A video is available on:
See also Wigman.

18 According to Nietzsche, for art to develop, as it did in the apex of Greek tragedy, there should be an interaction between the Dyonisian principle (related to music and emotion) and the Appolonian principle, connected with reason and self-control. Ecstasy, self-transcendence are essential for the new man (a dancer and a singer connected with nature) to be born. In that way, Nietzsche may appear as a precursor of twentieth-century arts.

19 Delsarte’s Sytem of Dramatic Expression, his belief in the importance of gestures and attitudes had a major influence on modern dance. See Shawn.

20 At the same time, in Dresden, the Swiss musician Jaques-Dalcroze was developing his quest for ‘the right rhythm’—what he called ‘eurhythmics’—i.e., in order to reach a form of harmony between the mind and the body, rhythm being, for him, a product of instinct. Nijinsky who went there in 1912, found it very inspiring; Laban, in the 1920s, also drew from this, just as Le Corbusier or Mondrian would. See Macel & Lavigne 50.

21 On that subject, see Manning who acknowledges what had been silenced until recently and traces the shift from modernist bodies to fascist bodies in the works of Mary Wigman. See also Herf, on the paradox of Nazi intellectuals who could reconcile Germany’s strength with its romantic soul. In that perspective, Anna’s leprosy reads as a metaphor of what is called the ‘brown plague’.

22 But his opening choreographic piece for the 1936 Olympics was cancelled by Goebbels and Laban subsequently fell from favour.

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Christine Reynier, « The Outrageousness of Outrage: Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Monte Verità’ »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 45 | 2013, mis en ligne le 20 octobre 2013, consulté le 21 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Christine Reynier

University Montpellier 3, EMMA
Christine Reynier est professeur de littérature britannique à l'université Montpellier 3. Spécialiste de littérature moderniste britannique, elle a publié sur Katherine Mansfield, Joseph Conrad, Ford Madox Ford, Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell et essentiellement sur Virginia Woolf (Virginia Woolf's Ethics of the Short Story, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009). Elle dirige la collection Essais sur l'art (Houdiard) et co-dirige, avec J.-M. Ganteau, la collection Horizons anglophones/Present Perfect aux Presses universitaires de la Méditerranée.

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