History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

03 May 2015

Dolls & Storytelling


Recently my daughter Mélanie and I were at the Stanford mall, passing some time before heading to a party nearby. I worked in a café for a while, then we decided to walk around. We passed by the America Girl Doll store which I’ve been resisting visiting, both there and our recent visit to New York, mostly because I was afraid *I* would want to buy everything in the store. But the afternoon was warm, the store was right there, air conditioned and inviting. I asked Mel if she wanted to go in.  She did.

Mélanie has three Götz dolls from Pottery Barn Kids, which are the same size as the American Girl dolls. We had one of them with us that day, Laura. ( Mélanie still lets me name most of her toys. Usually I resort of literary characters, my own or others. Laura is name for Laura Dudley, governess to the Rannoch children in my series and a central character in my forthcoming The Mayfair Affair).  One of the American Girl dolls is from 1812. I couldn’t resist her fabulous collection of Regency clothes. Fortunately, Mélanie was excited when i asked her if she wanted to pick out an outfit for Laura “like the clothes in Mummy’s books.” (I’m not sure what I’d have done if instead she’d asked for an outfit from the 1970s :-). Mélanie selected the pelisse and hat above. Which is perfect, because in The Mayfair Affair Laura Dudley wears a dark blue pelisse trimmed with black braid. Laura Dudley is titian-haired and considerably older (35) than Laura the doll, but above is a glimpse of an ensemble not too far off from what she wears in the book.

We wandered through the rest of the store, drinking in the detailed worlds. In addition to dolls and doll clothes, there were several rooms or other settings to go with different dolls, including a beautifully detailed Regency era parlor. Before we left, I checked the price, so I’d know if it was possibility for a birthday or Christmas. Only to find it was well over half off. Which meant it was affordable and most likely discontinued. 

Needless to say, we left with the parlor. I was going to keep it for the next gift occasion. But when we got home from the party and Mélanie was asleep, I couldn’t resist setting it up. And then I couldn’t deists keeping it up, Mélanie loves it. It’s better than doll house because she can sit down in it herself and play so that ti’s almost like a playhouse. I can envision scenes from my books happening within those pale blue walls. It’s funny, in The Mayfair Affair several of the rooms in different houses are blue; I was actually going to change some, until I decided it was a nice commentary that the color runs through the lives of different characters, in difference social classes. It seems to go with the period.

When I posted about Laura’s pelisse on my own website, I learned that several readers of my books also love dolls. A lively and fascinating discussion ensued. Perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that people who like historical fiction would also like dolls, particularly period dolls. I loved acting out stories with my dolls when I was little. I often think that I do the same thing now, I just write stories down (and now that I’m, a mummy i get to act them out with dolls as well :-).

Are you a doll enthusiast? Readers, do you connect it to your love of period fiction? Writers, have you ever found inspiration from dolls and doll furniture and accessories?

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Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Tracy, what a wonderful thing to share with Mel!

I am a huge doll enthusiast and always have been. My grandmother used to bring me dolls from her international travels, dressed in their native garb (to add to my collection of same, inherited from my mother -- all with handpainted porcelain faces and limbs and dresses handmade from real fabrics -- before nylon and polyester existed. These costume dolls were carefully preserved in a case behind sliding glass doors. I always had baby dolls and would name them, and, convinced they had souls, felt as though one or more of them would feel slighted if I didn't sleep with all of them. Good thing my bed was against a wall, so I lined them up against the wall every night when I went to bed. The fashion dolls are still in that case in my parents apartment and my childhood dolls are in storage because I swear I'd be psychologically traumatized to give them away. In an era where everyone wants something shiny and new and is afraid of germs, no one would appreciate something that has already neen much loved -- not even a social worrker -- so my dolls would be destined for the scrap heap.

As a writer I've certainly gotten inspiration from doll furniture and accessories -- whenever I visit the dollhouse collection at the Museum of the City of New York, and most recently (and so surprised) at the Helena Rubinstein exhibit at the Jewish Museum. Of all things, this duenna of skincare and cosmetics collected dollhouses as a millionairess; they are all period accurate recreations of homes of various centuries.

4:57 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

So great you love dolls as well, Leslie! I still have a lot of my childhood toys and have given some to Mélanie. I think dollhouses are wonderful inspiration. I still remember a gorgeous Victorian one I saw on display at Longleat when I was six. I so wanted to take it home!

7:08 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...


The Helena Rubinstein exhibit sounds fascinating!

7:08 PM  
OpenID lauramichaelabanse said...

I love dolls, but have gotten out of the habit of collecting them. I especially love the various fantasy inspired ball-jointed dolls.

Now I'm going to have to hunt down some depicting my favorite time - the Regency Era.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

There's a Jane Austen action figure, Laura. I bought one before my daughter was born and now my daughter plays with her. The American Girl 1812 doll is being discontinued. We just bought a bunch of her clothes which are really cute and quite authentic looking.

5:21 PM  

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