What the butler saw

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Christiane Berridge peeps through the keyhole and spies on the romantics and the rogues in her Victorian dolls’ house

Figures in the dolls' house have one simple function, to tell a story. I've seen many busy dolls' houses where nursemaids put sleepy babies to bed, gentlemen write letters in their studies, ladies ponder over the contents of their wardrobes, while cooks and scullery maids slave over hot puddings and pies in basement kitchens. There is no rest for the wicked it seems… except, a purer lifestyle you are unlikely to find.

The respectable dolls' house

Years ago I visited Helen Zetter's dolls' house museum (the collection has long since been auctioned off), which included a dolls' house with a bawdy scene in one of the bedrooms. The attendant warned me about it in case I felt it inappropriate for my daughter who was with me at the time. The figures included one of Carol Bull's portly older gents on a bed with a lady, a mirrored wall behind them. It had all the shock appeal of a seaside postcard. Bar the occasional naked body in the bath (where else?), the dolls' house remains as respectable as a convent.

I accept that dolls' houses are an escape from real life for many hobbyists, presenting an ideal home for collectors, so perhaps it isn't suprising that our miniature life is so sanitized. We frequently pay more attention to sourcing mundane items for the bedside cabinet (a book, an alarm clock, mug of cocoa) than to think about what goes on in the bed itself. Our rooms are beautiful, but the atmosphere is often more bed and bored. Sarah Whitlam's fantasy dolls' house castle did find its way into the wider press with its gold leaf bathroom and bondage chamber, thus acknowledging a few dark secrets in miniature. Inspired, I decided to bring a little sex and scandal into my own Victorian dolls' house!

Time for bed

To illustrate the story-telling medium of figures I took my dolls out of the closet and imagined them in various scenarios in my dolls' house. The dolls were not originally made for a miniature romp, but you can see what I managed to do with them despite their current dress. There was one exception; a scantily clad lady made from a Sue Harrington kit many years ago. Because of her state of attire she does rather get around a bit for the purpose of this demonstration, rather like many a popular actress, I'm afraid she's been typecast as a bit of a go-er. I like her wistful expression, but her posed arms were a challenge to position.

Luckily the dolls that I have made myself have a pipe cleaner skeleton, which means that they can easily embrace, chastise, or kneel, as required. If you are looking for dolls for a particular scene bear such matters in mind. It may be easier to find what you need in kit form, as not all ready-dressed dolls will bend over backwards to please!

My scenes are no more than a little flirty in content. You can portray as much or as little activity as you wish. Such scenes do not have to be permanent; take a photo, tell a story. I have just used just the dolls and no accessories. But you might want to consider something more provocative; handcuffs, a blindfolds, long boots, or whips (Beate Klotz's project on page 50 will help you with those). Or add feather boas, fans or corsets for a hint of tease (where Janet Harmsworth's doll on page 54 does the honours). Whereas for a touch of romance just add a beautiful bouquet of red roses and an opened love letter. For those who don't like dolls, relying solely on props is crucial and you may need to be more inventive. Just go with whatever you feel comfortable portraying - although no one's looking (except perhaps the butler)!




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