Kids' Book Club: The Dolls' House By Rumer Godden

08/09/2013 23:29 | Updated 22 May 2015

What a relief it is, after reading the bland prose of Twilight, to come to the exquisitely sensitive writing of Rumer Godden.

If you have a dim but fond memory from childhood of a book about a doll called Tottie, it really is worth dusting off your old copies of Rumer Godden's books.

Tottie appears in an incredible novel called The Dolls' House, published in 1947 (and filmed in the 1980s as an animation by Oliver Postgate, who also gave us Bagpuss).

The start of Chapter One explains it perfectly: 'This is a novel written about dolls in a dolls' house. The chief person in it is Tottie Plantaganet, a small Dutch doll.' As I reread each page, the descriptions - like 'Tottie was made of wood and it was good wood' - came back to me - somehow as a seven or eight-year-old girl, they resonated with me and have stayed buried in my mind ever since.

There's Birdie, a mother doll made of celluloid, who's not quite right in the head, and sad, serious, anxious Mr Plantaganet; Apple, the little brother, and Darner, the dog.

The dolls are played with by two lovely little girls, Charlotte and Emily. And then there's Marchpane. I remembered from her name alone that there is something scary about this character.

Marchpane is a vain china and kid doll who is very menacing indeed; she turns out to be a terrible threat to the sweet Plantaganet family and the book has a bitter-sweet ending.

What's amazing is the way that Rumer Godden enters into the magical world of dolls. In adulthood, you forget how real that imaginative realm is to a child - Godden understands it perfectly and takes it seriously.

It's so clever - she doesn't imply that the dolls are human in any way. They depend entirely on the whims of their owners, and can only 'wish' for their needs to be heard.


Godden makes us feel the terrible sadness of a doll put away in a cupboard for years, or abused by a child - as well as the strong characters dolls can have and how they might get on with others. If you want your children to look after their toys well, this is the book to give them!


As a child I also adored Rumer Godden's books about Japanese dolls Miss Happiness, Miss Flower and Little Plum and her stories about dolls like Candyfloss and Impunity Jane - today you can read them in one beautiful collection, The Fairy Doll, with a foreword by fan Jacqueline Wilson.

Godden (1907-1998) grew up in colonial India as well as in England, and lived in India for part of her adult life. She was the author of over 60 books - her most famous children's books are probably the ones about dolls, as well as The Diddakoi - about Kizzy, an orphaned gypsy. As for her grown-up books, she was the author of Black Narcissus, The Greengage Summer and The Peacock Spring.

Her writing is beautiful and deserves to be known by generations to come.

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