Thursday, October 27, 2011

Follow up on dress up

The recent post about Paper Doll Dress-Up got some attention on Twitter. The concept of a 2D representation of Mary Wollstonecraft and her wardrobe seems to have sparked controversy: Oxford Classics called it an "absolute gem / atrocity of a find", which about sums it up. Lots of people have retweeted the link; I can't judge the proportion amused or horrified.

Nor do I know which side of the fence I come down on. But I have to remember that the paper dolls were not made for me; I am merely peering over the fence. "Think of the [intended] audience." Presumably, little girls. (And irony-clad hipsters?) So, it comes down to this: is it better that children be exposed to names and images that they otherwise would not experience, even if there's nothing but the bare name, and the images are dubious? We can hope that their curiosity might be tweaked, to find out more. And of course Wikipedia is only clicks away (and the Mary Wollstonecraft cycle is stuffed full of Featured Articles). Or is it essentially misleading, to provide impressionable young minds with a bland doll who doesn't look Mary, with clothes that I doubt she ever wore, and a bizarre context? I mean, a fan,of all possible items to carry? No books or writing implements? No biography, however sanitised? Visual representations of her do exist, after all.

Paper Doll Heaven got in touch and offered to let me use the image. I think that defines graciousness. (Or, you know, "no publicity is bad publicity". I can be so cynical. Sigh.) It is gracious to allow others to use one's work, when they have expressed less than adulation. So: tips to popularisers - with your pared-down info, include a way to find out more. And take some trouble over accuracy. 


  1. Fact is, little girls (and quite a few little boys)* tend to love dolls and dress-ups. Paper dolls have the added charm of novelty. I am quite taken with the idea of historical personage dolls, with the caveat that authenticity in costume is a must. Cheers for Paper Doll Heaven for their imaginative use of a charming old favourite.

    *I mention, as a case in point, my eldest nephew who, as an 8 year old, liked to take his Cabbage Patch Kid to school and play dolls with the girls at lunch time. His mother suggested to him (in a non-coercive way) that some of the kids might laugh at him playing with dolls. He replied insouciantly that they laughed at him anyway. Today he is a confident, totally loveable and devastatingly handsome 30-something gay man (who learned to sew from his dearest darling Auntie Vicki).

  2. Vicki, what a fabulous story! It sounds as if your nephew did very well, even without the help of Gender Splendour Week such as they have nowadays. (I suppose I should pull you up on the implication that it is only boys who grow up to be gay who are interested in dolls. Not so.) Mary's publisher, Joseph Johnston, may have been gay. He was a kind man to all, but really fostered her talent, and never chased her around the table. He had particular friends among the young men who flocked to his dinner table, and, as they used to say, "he never married".

  3. Re. gay boys/lesbian girls and doll play, I meant no implication. And the obverse often holds, too: being a "tomboy" girl doesn't preclude doll play, whether or not the youngster grows up to be lesbian. A propos Mary's publisher, my sleuthing into Mary Jane Vial Clairmont Godwin's antecedents identified Mary Jane's great-uncle Richard Tremlett, an Exeter merchant of cultivated interests whose will demonstrated the most delicate concern for the future welfare of a number of single women of his acquaintance, and who set up a bequest to provide a benefaction to impoverished young women of good character on their marriage. He, too, never married.

  4. How intriguing about Tremlett! I like that "most delicate concern". Wills can be creative, and (even centuries later) telling.

    Re dolls: what else are Action Man toys? Of course you are right that all sorts of children grow up in all sorts of ways. Part of the fun is watching them take the dolls and act out sceanrios that might seem to the unwary somewhat inexplicable. I wonder what little girls (and boys) are making of the Mary cut-out.

  5. You've planted a seed, Roberta. I shall procure a paper dolly or two for the younger of my two grandsons (he of the imaginary friend George/Georgia, whose gender is mutable) and report back...