Monday, March 7, 2011

A Doll's House with a Moral Tale

I recently bought this little book. It starts off promisingly,
Jenny had the most beautiful doll's house. But she hardly ever played with it. She liked trains, and model cars, and fire-engines because her brother Christopher played with those. And Jenny wished that she was a boy too.

One saturday morning Christopher's friend Tony came to play with him. They got out all the model cars and made a marvellous garage. Then they were the garage-men, and they told Jenny that she could be a customer. But Jenny didn't want to be a customer. She wanted to be a garage-man too.

So what did Jenny do? Did she build her own garage? No,

So she went up to her bedroom and sulked. She laid down on a thick white rug in the corner and rested her head on her hands. And she found herself staring at her doll's house which was in the same corner. Jenny thought how nice it looked, with its garden looking so bright in the morning sunshine.

Perhaps Jenny decided to become a gardener? Perhaps she had a set of Britain's garden pieces, and could plant flowerbeds and trees and vegetable gardens?

She opened the front door and looked into the hall. What nice little pieces of furniture! But they did need a polish.
"Yes, they really do need cleaning," someone said. "And it's such a charming little house, isn't it? Look at its lovely brick chimneys and the porch over the door."

"There are curtains in every room, even in the kitchen. The stairs have carpet on them, which probably needs brus-hing. And I don't think I've ever seen a nice bedroom."

"Such a pity," they said, "that the owner never comes to take care of the house and all the little things in it."

Jenny turned her head to see who it was speaking. It was Teresa, her own walking-doll. She was standing just beside Jenny, looking at the house. She didn't seem to realise that it was strange for her to be speaking.

Jenny doesn't seem to think it's strange either, and instead of running from the room and the doll which walks and talks by itself, she asks,

"What would you do if you were the owner?"

"Well, I'd clean the windows sometimes and polish the furniture. And use all the things inside. And I'd have cars in the garage at the back."
"That's a very good idea," said Jenny. She ran downstairs to the boys and asked for a couple of their cars.

"What for?" asked Christopher.

"To put in the garage of my doll's house."

"That's a good idea," said Christopher. "Why don't you bring it down and put it near our garage? Then you could be a real customer, with your cars in your own garage."

Remember, Jenny didn't want to be a customer, she wanted to be a garage-man too. So,

They did that, and it turned out to be a very good game.
Jenny found she liked being a customer. When the game was over she took the doll's house back to her bedroom and cleaned it from top to bottom. And very nice it looked.
"I'll never leave it all alone like that again, Teresa," she said. "Truly. I'll keep it bright and clean now, and play with it often. Just as you said."

But Teresa didn't want to answer. She had already said all that she wanted to say.

So girls, don't be individuals and explore your own interests. You'll find that you really like being a girl, which means being a customer and cleaning your house. Don't show any gumption - use Gumption to clean your bath!

This book was published in the year I was born, about 10 years after women worked in garages during World War II, and about 10 years before the second wave of the women's movement began. So poor Jenny didn't have much chance. I was luckier, in that I grew up in a messy house where everybody read. My dolls didn't tell me to clean my dolls house, or my own bedroom, though if they had, they might also have said that "they had never seen a nice bedroom," poor things!

I do like this little house - the exterior with its brick chimneys and bright garden, and interior with its 60s pastel blue, pink and yellow bedroom, and kitchen with orange and turquoise highlights. Where is that four-poster bed with red velvet drapes meant to go, though? Are we meant to use that antique bedwarmer in the comfortable bed with its padded bedhead and twin side-tables, while reading by the light of the hanging oil lamp?

Like Jenny, this little house seems somewhat uncertain of what it's meant to be.

Story by Wendy Wilkin, published by Bancroft & Co. 1963.
The illustrator is not named - perhaps Wendy Wilkin illustrated it too?


  1. its a beautiful book... but i can't decide whether to be glad that she will enjoy her house, or sad that she settled for less. sometimes a story is just that... :)

  2. What a charming house! Luckily, things have changed for the better since 1963, and I hope that Jenny grew up to be a garage-woman. Better yet, the CEO of a chain of garages!

  3. I have never seen this book before today, but it is so familiar. I am sure I have read many like it over the years. Making sure a girl knew her place, was a theme in the early 60's. I grew up with three brothers so I never bought the 'boys are better than girls' theory. I knew I could do anything they could do and do it better.

    Love the dollhouse in this book in any case. I'm just a girly girl feminist at heart. LOL


  4. A fitting post for International Women's Day! I guess we've come a long way since then (and still have a long way to go). Thanks for sharing your new book with us, Rebecca. :^)

  5. It is a gorgeous house in the book - just what I want, but wasted on Jenny - she should have been a garage woman and hired one of her brothers to clean for her!

  6. Thanks for all your comments! Yes, I realised after I posted this that it was just before International Women's Day. Dolls houses were often intended to teach girls household skills but not often as heavy-handedly as this one does.

    Some day, when I have more space (!), I think I will set this up with the outside and inside of the house both in 'popped-up' mode, and find a little person to live in it. And I'll put a garage next to it, with a Jenny working in it!