I was never the girly sort of girl who wanted dolls for Christmas. By the time I was ten I was asking for books, the more the better.
In my latter years, though, I have become fascinated with doll houses–a fascination that began, some years ago, when I was walking through a Hobby Lobby store and ran up on an enormous Victorian-style dollhouse, set atop a shelf, unpainted. Set down on the floor it would have been nearly waist-high. I could immediately visualize it done up in grand Painted Lady colors, and decorated for various seasons, especially Christmas.
Fast forward several years. During Mom’s hospitalization last month, one afternoon, to while away time between visits to the MCC unit, I took up the December issue of Smithsonian magazine, and was immediately engrossed in an article about just such a doll house, donated to the museum in 1950, whose former owner, a onetime employee of the Library of Congress, came from that year on, up nearly until her death at age ninety, to decorate the house at Christmas.
That article, and its decorations, reminded me of a delightful story by the great English writer of macabre tales M. R. James (1862-1936). James carried on the Dickensian tradition of writing ghost stories at Christmas, beginning in the 1890s. He first read his stories to his fellow dons at Cambridge University, then, after he became provost of Eton, to his pupils.
This story, “The Haunted Doll’s House”, was written sometime in the period 1921-1924 on commission from Mary of Teck, the queen consort of England’s King George V, as an addition to the Queen’s own dollhouse’s library. (A number of authors were invited to write stories to be included, in miniature, in that house; records show that only George Bernard Shaw declined the invitation.) The story was finally published for the public in James’s final volume of stories, A Warning to the Curious, in 1925.
James himself noted, at the end of the queen’s commission, that it would be recognized by his loyal readers as “a variation on a former story of mine called “The Mezzotint”, which had been published in his first collection, Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, in 1904. There are indeed similarities in theme, and certainly in the denouement, of the two stories; but, speaking purely from a critical standpoint, the earlier story is far superior in both style and creepiness.
Having said which, I can honestly say that James’s story is the only one about a haunted dollhouse I’ve ever run across. Does anybody out there have a true story of one? (^_^)