Thursday Throwback: The Doll’s House

How strange that a little farthing doll should last so long. Tottie was made of wood and it was good wood. She liked to think sometimes of the tree of whose wood she was made, of its strength and of the sap that ran through it and made it bud and put out leaves every spring and summer, that kept it standing through the winter storms and wind. “A little, a very little of that tree is in me,” said Tottie. “I am a little of that tree.” She liked to think of it.

I used to love reading books about dolls, and Rumer Godden had some great ones; I borrowed them first from my friend and then from the library multiple times. The Doll’s House
was all about creating a model house for two little Japanese dolls. I thought it was the coolest book ever, and can still remember it vividly. It was always my dream when I was little to have a doll house, but I had to settle for playing with the one at my grandmother’s.

When I found The Doll’s House at the book sale last week I couldn’t recall if it was one I used to read. The characters seemed very vaguely familiar, but it might have just been similarities to the other doll books. Then, about twenty pages in, Marchpane was mentioned in passing and I felt an inexplicable shiver of hate down my spine. She had not been introduced as a character yet, and I could not explain why I disliked her so, but I knew I did. Funny how strongly she must have affected me when I was a child!

The main character in the book is Tottie, a little wooden farthing doll over a hundred years old. She has been passed down in the family and currently belongs to two little girls named Emily and Charlotte. The sisters have also acquired other various dolls to put together a family. Birdie, the mother, is a celluloid doll from a party popper, who has good intentions but only room for one thought at a time in her head. Mr. Plantagenet is sturdier, but a great worrier. He belonged to a neighbor family and was much abused before being rescued by the girls. Apple is a little boy doll with a knack for getting into simple mischief.

This doll family lives in a shoebox, and dream of one day having a house like the one Tottie used to live in when she belonged to Emily and Charlotte’s great-grandmother. With dolls, wishing hard is their only way of making things happen, and in this case they wish hard enough. When an older relative passes on the house is found again, and delivered to the girls. Unfortunately, the house is in disrepair, and in order to get money to fix it up, the girls lend Tottie to a doll exhibit at the museum. Poor Tottie, however, does not understand that this is only temporary.

Along with the dollhouse, the girls inherit another heirloom, the snobby china doll Marchpane. She and Tottie have a frigid history dating way back to when they both used to live in the dollhouse. Unfortunately, Emily and Charlotte are quite taken with her exquisite looks. Everything is disrupted when they make her mistress of he dollhouse and relegate the other dolls to servant roles. Only when matters come to an extreme point do the girls realize what really makes a doll valuable.

The plot itself of this book is not necessarily my favorite; my distaste for Marchpane is too strong, and the ending is one of those “Little Match Girl” or “Tin Soldier” endings where I’m not really quite sure it’s happy. Nevertheless, Rumer Godden writes about dolls, and by extension, the children who own and love them, in a way that no one else can. She explains things so matter-of-factly that you can’t help but believe that dolls really are alive in a sense. The materials that the dolls are made out of, and their histories, are reflected in their characters. They are fully developed, and at the same time completely at the mercy of their owners. When Charlotte and Emily are in tune with the dolls they know exactly what they need and things go smoothly, but when that intuition fails the situation gets very bad indeed.

I was trying to remember all the other doll books I used to love, the ones I still own as well as the ones I borrowed. I could have sworn that there was a sequel, with a doll from Jamaica who practiced black magic. All of the other Rumer Godden books are stand-alones, though, so the one of thinking of must be different. I know it had a family living in an old doll house, like this, and they had issues with the voodoo doll, and there was a subplot with something valuable hung on the wall in the dollhouse. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I couldn’t find anything online, so if this bother me enough I might need to ask on LibraryThing.


Published in: on August 4, 2011 at 5:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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  1. […] rereading The Doll’s House over the summer I remembered a book with a treasure in a doll house that I couldn’t for the […]

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