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To the Dolls' House: Children's Reading and Playing in Victorian and Edwardian England

Chen, WN; (2015) To the Dolls' House: Children's Reading and Playing in Victorian and Edwardian England. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This thesis explores the construction of upper- and middle-class children as readers and consumers in Victorian and Edwardian England, a period which witnessed the Golden Age of children’s literature and major reforms in education. Through the examination of dolls’ house play and representations of dolls’ houses in English children’s literature from the 1860s to the 1920s, as well as autobiographical accounts of childhood reading and playing in adult women’s memoirs, this thesis engages with recent scholarship on children’s literature, material culture and gender to demonstrate the relevance of dolls’ house play to children’s everyday life and their roles as readers, players, and consumers. The first part of the thesis gives an overview of dolls’ houses in history, looking at dolls’ houses in museum collections throughout Europe, from the seventeenth-century Nuremberg houses to Queen Mary’s dolls’ house now on display at Windsor Castle. Part Two examines dolls’ house play as represented in and inspired by children’s books and children’s reading practices. Drawing from children’s magazines, toy-making guides, and picture books featuring dolls’ house making, furnishing, and playing, I argue that playing with dolls’ houses and making their own toys enabled children to balance work and play, labour and leisure. I also show how dolls’ house play was important in the period’s development of pedagogical theories, of a children’s book and toy market, and in the construction of children as consumers. Part Three explores works by Edith Nesbit, Beatrix Potter, and Frances Hodgson Burnett, alongside other non-canonical children’s fiction that makes the dolls’ house a setting for fantasies about miniature worlds. I discuss the dolls’ house as a perfect domestic household in miniature and an enchanting miniaturised spectacle and argue that imagination and play contribute to girls’ learning and negotiating with domestic roles and domestic space.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: To the Dolls' House: Children's Reading and Playing in Victorian and Edwardian England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Language: English
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1462464
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