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Dolls' Houses: Life in Miniature

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

In her latest book Life in Miniature: A History of Dolls' Houses Nicola Lisle takes us on a charming journey through the history of what may seem as an irrelevant object: a dolls' house. It's a miniature house with miniature objects in it, sometimes populated by miniature lifeless people-shaped dolls. The dolls may be without heartbeat, but a well-made dolls' house is anything but. The scrupulously made (or collected) objects, along with the functioning of some or all of the displayed utilities pumps life into these bizarre playthings. No one is actually going to live there, no one is ever going to pay rent or council tax for it, unlike a regular building. Yet the value of a doll's house lies in something else, and this book makes us see it.

Windsor Castle, where Queen Mary's Dolls' House can be found
Windsor Castle, where Queen Mary's Dolls' House can be found

The author has done a great amount of research and tracked a great number of these objects in question. We are given the directions as to where to see the houses she's talking about, if they are indeed on display. This book is easy to read, and you're on this journey with her, visiting one dolls' house after another. She makes you truly appreciate them for what they are and the journey they have made as objets d'art in the last few centuries, including the extra branches of this voyage, e.g. the literature the dolls' houses have inspired, other mini models etc.

The history of dolls' houses in this precious volume takes you through its stages: from wealthy people's showcases (reminded me of those expensive pineapples in Stuart times) to actual toys for children. Before this book I had no idea that a dolls' house could be an article of education for young adults, or that they can be used to collect money for charity, or to raise awareness for important social issues. I did, however, recall seeing Queen Mary's Dolls' House when I visited Windsor Castle last year, and I remember how amazed I was at this downsized behemoth being itself an exhibition of Britain's industrial and cultural achievements: a slice of British life at that point in time, flash frozen in miniature for eternity...(or at as long as the house is looked after). This brings me to my unsurprising conclusion that this is what the dolls' houses are: slices of life, with all the layers. Upstairs, downstairs, showcasing the life in it and most importantly, life outside it, as the craft of making dolls' houses and all the items in them gets admired and appreciated.

Reading this book has been a true delight, and I learnt to appreciate something that I never knew had much value. Thoroughly recommend!

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