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Stories Before 1850. 0186: Anon., The New Doll

Author: Anon.
Title: The new doll; or, Grandmamma's gift
Cat. Number: 0186
Date: 1826
1st Edition:
Pub. Place: London
Publisher: R. Ackerman, 101, Strand
Price: Unknown
Pages: 1 vol., 76pp.
Size: 14 x 12.5 cm
Illustrations: Frontispiece plus five further full-page engravings, and an extra, tinted engraving on outside front cover
Note: Inscription on fly-leaf: 'Miss Mashiter'

Images of all pages of this book

Page 001 of item 0186

Introductory essay

The 'Preface' makes two boasts about The New Doll. One, that 'no other [work], written expressly upon dolls, has appeared in the English language', is not quite true (p.vi). After all, the Hockliffe Collection has Mary Mister's The adventures of a doll from 1816 (0180), as well as many other works which feature dolls as a central part of their plots. The second boast, however, is easier to credit, for it concerns 'the very superior style in which the plates [i.e. engravings] are given,' insisting that they are 'such as were never before provided for the embellishment of a work of this nature.' (p.vii) The plates certainly are magnificent, whether forming the frontispiece, interspersed throughout the (first half of the) text, or tinted for use on the front cover. The high quality of these illustrations is typical of the productions of Rudolph Ackermann, the book's publisher. From 1796, when he established his print shop at 101, The Strand, Ackermann specialised in publications lavishly illustrated by engravings and lithographs, the most famous of which was his Repository of Arts, Literature, Fashions, Manufactures, etc. which appeared in monthly parts until 1828. The New Doll, though, was one of the few works Ackermann produced for children.

In fact, The New Doll seems designed in part to teach parenting skills rather than to appeal directly to children. It begins with a discussion of the merits of dolls as children's toys, a debate relevant to assiduous parents and interesting to historians of childhood, but surely not to be relished by the young readers of the book. In point of fact, dolls are strongly recommended in the text. Mr. Danby, the heroine's father, confidently asserts that a doll is 'one of the most interesting [toys] a girl can possess', for it offers companionship and stimulates 'tenderness, industry, and ingenuity.' (pp.2-3) Against this, Mrs. Danby knows, it may be asserted that dolls 'excite a passion for dress, and confine the female mind to objects immediately connected with personal attraction'. Such an argument was put forward by Mary Wollstonecraft, 'author of the "Rights of Women,"', Mr. Danby agrees, but to try to remove dolls from little girls surely made Wollstonecraft 'guilty of one of the "wrongs of children"' (p.2). Wollstonecraft's argument in her Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) had been that women, naturally the equal of men, were during their childhood educated into a subordinate role, and that anything which contributed to this, including dolls, was therefore to blame for women's status as second-class citizens. For Mr. and Mrs. Danby to argue against this, then, was both an endorsement of the innocent pleasure to be derived from dolls, and an attack on the feminism of Wollstonecraft which asserted that men and women ought to share the same thoughts and emotions and perform the same roles, and that a reform of education was the means to accomplish this. 'It is an undeniable fact,' says Mrs. Danby, 'that the great duties of woman in society are immediately connected with her exercise of those faculties and feelings excited by her cares and pleasures for this elegant play-thing' (pp.3f.). Dolls were valuable, in her opinion, precisely because they taught girls to be women, whose faculties, feelings and duties would be - and ought to be - entirely different from those of men. Mrs. Danby, in other words, agrees with Wollstonecraft in that dolls train girls for womanly duties later in life. They simply disagree on whether this is to be welcomed or not.

The doll which is to star in this book has been bought for Ellen Danby by her grandmother. The hope is that the doll will draw Ellen, a 'giddy, and versatile' girl, 'into the habit of thinking, and the resolution necessary for acquiring the rudiments of education which it is now necessary to begin.' (p.1f.) Almost immediately it succeeds, delighting Ellen so much that she concentrates on it for longer than anything else she has ever had, even when her brothers and sisters receive their presents (which include a set of maps, angling materials, a box of 'colours, copies, lithographic studies' from Ackermann's, and 'from Harris's juvenile library, (Once the celebrated Newberry's [sic]), six books of travels': p.9f.). Ellen dresses, sings to sleep, and even 'teaches' the alphabet to her doll, all of which activities are delightfully depicted in the plates. Her attentions to the doll even enable her to overcome her faults. The doll's 'abstemiousness' causes her to renounce her former gluttony, for instance, and her 'love of personal finery was banished' because whatever new clothes she received were always for the doll, not for her (p.21).

The first crisis of the tale comes when Ellen forgets her doll and leaves it to get wet in the garden. Her father punishes her by confiscating the doll until such time as Ellen learns to attend to her commitments. She proves that she has reformed by sewing an entire new wardrobe for the doll.

The second narrative crisis comes when Ellen's brothers return from school. The boisterous Charles smashes Ellen's doll, partly on purpose and partly accidentally, and his father banishes him to solitary confinement for several weeks in the back parlour. His incarceration causes Charles to repent his actions, but it also helps to wean Ellen from her attachment to her doll for she fears to much repining over its fate will only cause fresh grief to her imprisoned brother. In fact, Charles and his other brothers have clubbed together to buy Ellen a new doll, something revealed only when their father inquires as to why their allowances have been spent.

In the final chapter Ellen is sent away from home for five weeks. She takes her doll with her, though she is by then nine years old. When she returns home, she finds that she has a new baby sister. This proves to be a rite of passage for Ellen too, for she finds that she much prefers the infant to her doll ('because she was sent into the world by God Almighty as his creature, and because, though she will die, yet she will rise again': p.74). Indeed, Ellen renounces the doll entirely, putting it away for her sister to play with when she is old enough.

On one level, The New Doll acts as propaganda for dolls. Its final line is unequivocal, Mr. Danby proclaiming that 'I shall think it is my duty to recommend every parent to buy their little girls each "a New Doll."' (p.76) It would come as no surprise to learn that Ackermann sold dolls.