Ahad, 5 Februari 2012

Miniature artistry


WHEN I was in my early teens I read an article about the dolls’ house that had belonged to Queen Mary, consort of Britain’s King George V. The article described, in detail, the rooms in the house and all the furniture and accessories – all tiny and perfectly-made, quite like the things you’d find in a fine English house, only in miniature.

If you look at a picture of one of the rooms in the house (try this one: tinyurl.com/7spus2k), you’d be forgiven for mistaking it for a real room, in a real house – everything in it is so beautifully made to scale and has the look of having been used. Indeed, I believe that all the appliances in the house actually work. The rifles fire, music boxes play, lights go on and off, and there is hot and cold running water (the toilets flush!). Most wonderful of all are the leather-bound books in the library – written by illustrious authors alive at the time the house was being made and its contents commissioned. There are original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, J.M. Barrie and others. M.R. James’ story is called The Haunted Dolls’ House!

You can go to the official website (tinyurl.com/6fepsvf) for a close look at the house.

Until I’d read the article (thank you, Reader’s Digest), I had not even seen a picture of a dolls’ house, only read about them, mainly in Enid Blyton storybooks. As a child I owned some crudely-made, plastic toy furniture, but there was no dolls’ house to put them in.

Of course, Queen Mary’s dolls’ house is not a typical example of a dolls’ house. It was designed and built by the leading British architect of the time, Sir Edwin Lutyens, and its contents were made by the finest British artists and artisans of the early 20th century. Still, I have, since reading about it, longed for a dolls’ house – not those clunky, tacky-looking plastic objects sold at most toyshops but a handsome, wood and plaster replica of a house, filled with neatly made furniture (I will forego the electricity and running water). I have even thought that I should perhaps make one myself, a version of a dolls’ house – a dolls’ apartment. At the moment it remains a dream.

Now, the reason I’m writing about dolls’ houses is because, over the Chinese New Year, I read Miss Happiness And Miss Flower by Rumer Godden and I guess I was reminded of my old dream and also inspired to perhaps make it a reality.

The book is about a pair of Japanese dolls who are sent to live with two little girls. The girls are quiet, gentle Nona, who thinks of India as home, but has come to live with relatives in Britain, and her youngest cousin, the rambunctious Belinda.

Belinda doesn’t think much of the dolls, but Nona, missing India and feeling like a fish out of water in Britain, identifies with their strangeness and tries to make them belong and feel at home.

The dolls themselves, also far from their home, yearn to be loved and cherished, and are delighted to be adopted by the kind and thoughtful Nona.

This child not only seems to know something of the dolls’ culture and country, she is eager to learn more so that she can help them feel less homesick.

All through the book, Godden stresses that the dolls painted faces do not reflect their true feelings. It’s Nona’s sensitivity that allows her to guess that they might be feeling lost in Britain. She has the imagination necessary to be a truly sympathetic and empathetic soul.

Nona decides that for Miss Happiness and Miss Flower to regard Britain as a home away from home, they must be surrounded by things beloved and familiar to them. And so, Nona decides that she must build the dolls a Japanese house of their own.

I loved the description of how the house is built and then fitted with furniture, and even a little Japanese garden. Did Godden make such a dolls’ house herself? It sounds like she knew, firsthand, exactly the sort of difficulties Nona would encounter, and the wonderfully creative ideas and solutions that went into making the house and its contents.

Whether or not Godden had experience building a dolls’ house, I think she must have been especially fond of dolls as she has so many lovely books about dolls and dolls’ houses. I am on a mission to own them all – I feel I need the inspiration I’m sure they will offer if I am ever to own my long-wished-for dolls’ house. Do visit my Facebook group for the complete list of Godden’s books about dolls.

Happy reading.

Daphne Lee reads to wonder and wander, be amazed and amused, horrified and heartened and inspired and comforted. She wishes more people will try it too. Send e-mails to star2@thestar.com.my and check out her blog at daphne.blogs.com/books.

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