The day I consider myself too grown-up to read a children’s story, is the day I stop reading.

Rumer Godden’s The Dolls’ House (1948)
Illus. Tasha Tudor (1976)

I re-read this slim volume countless times when I was a girl.

Not only did I have a dollhouse, but I was one of those girls who was certain that dolls and other toys had their own inner lives.

That’s something I could easily have lifted verbatim from Rumer Godden’s story.

Tottie, a farthing doll, certainly comes across as an authority figure; I would have believed anything she told me.

“‘…long long ago, I knew a dolls’ house. I lived in it. It belonged to Laura. She was Emily’s and Charlotte’s Great-Great-Aunt. That was a hundred years ago,’ said Tottie.”

The dolls aren’t living in a doll’s house when she first describes it to the other dolls, but you can tell by the title that the house does figure prominently in the story.

Though, really, it’s the dolls that rule the narrative. And, unsurprising, for to hear Tottie talk about it, dolls are definitely superior to humans.

“‘I wouldn’t be a child for anything,’ Tottie often said. ‘First you have to be a baby, then a little child, then a bigger child, then a schoolboy or girl, then a big boy or girl, and then grown up.’

It does sound like quite a hassle, put that way. Put another way, however, it also seems something of a disadvantage.

There is no power of growing in dolls. “It is very important for dolls that children guess their right ages; some thoughtless children make their dolls vary between six and six months.

Certainly the dolls in Godden’s tale are at the mercy of the sisters who keep them. The girls are mainly well intentioned (one even knits a bootie for a doll’s injured foot, after he’s been mistreated and neglected by another human), but the world is not always kind to dolls.

Despite the fact that it does hold them in a certain esteem, as evidenced by the Exhibition of Dolls, which not only includes Tottie, but also Marchpane (the Cruella deVille of dolls), and Queen Victoria’s dolls, and many others besides.

The link between humans and dolls is a central tenet of the story, in fact.

“Did the caretaker’s child think of the wax doll? And the wax doll, in her lonely box, think of the caretaker’s child and of the finger that had touched her satin dress? Did the dolls think of Tottie’s welcome home by Emily, Charlotte, Birdie, Mr. Plantaganet, Apple, and Darner? I think they did.”

This is not a tale of complex philosophical musings, like Lindgren’s, but it is a more thoughtful story than one would expect from the cover and the summary.

“I have been thinking of thinking. And there is no knowing where it leads to, or when it will end, or where.”

I have been re-reading and re-reading, and I don’t know where that will lead to next, but I don’t expect it to end anywhere or anytime soon. The Doll’s House was a pleasure to revisit. (It also happens to be in the 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, for those who obsess about such lists.)