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Page history last edited by Hannah Froggatt 9 years, 11 months ago

Dolls In the Eighteenth CenturyAn Eighteenth Century Fashion Doll


Oxford English Dictionary: Definitions of "Doll"

  1. An image of a human being (commonly of a child or lady) used as a plaything; a girl's toy-baby.  [Compare Scots Doroty, a doll, a puppet. (Jamieson)]

               1699   B. E. New Dict. Canting Crew,   Doll..also a Child's Baby.

               1747   D. Garrick Miss in her Teens ii. i,   I'll carry you and your doll too.

               1764   K. O'Hara Midas i. v,   An infant's dol.

               1833   H. Martineau Loom & Lugger VI. i. i. 4   As large as my doll's saucers.


     2.   transf. A pretty, but unintelligent or empty person, esp. when dressed up; a pretty, but silly or frivolous woman. Also in more general     sense: a woman; a girl; esp. a very beautiful or attractive woman; also occas., a pleasant or attractive man. a doll's face , one conventionally pretty, but without life or expression. Now slang.

               1778   F. Burney Evelina I. xxiii. 197   As to the women, why they are mere dolls.

               1841   R. W. Emerson Self-reliance in Ess. 1st Ser. 76   A sturdy lad..is worth a hundred of these city dolls.


The Rise of the Doll: An economic and social context

In England, the doll received a surge of popularity at the dawn of the eighteenth century, which also saw the rise of slavery and the expansion of the prostitution industry. This interest in dolls was cultivated in a culture completely normalised to seeing people as objects to be bought and sold, and which was used to continually blurring the boundaries between people and possessions.


The burgeoning British empire was also creating a thriving international market, in which there were more commodities for sale to the general public than ever before, and the wealthy and fashionable classes began to use these commodities to augment and define themselves to others, creating (and perhaps inventing) the culture of consumerism which allowed the doll to flourish. Dolls captured the public interest chiefly through national celebrations of consumerism like the charter fairs. Charter fairs were held on religious holidays, on which people would have the day off from work and be free to engage in revelry and large-scale trading operations. The most popular of these was Bartholomew Fair, famous for its lifelike waxwork displays, phantasmagoria, and other amusements that explored the eighteenth century fascination with the uncanny. Dolls were both popular exhibits, which people would come from miles around to see, and souvenir items that could be bought from stallholders on the fair.


The idea of a doll would mean something very different to a denizen of the eighteenth century than to one of the twenty-first. In the eighteenth century, dolls were usually life-sized replicas of adult women, occasionally men, built for the entertainment and leisure of adults and children alike. The term “doll” was originally coined in the mid-1700s, growing out of the diminutive name for "Dorothy". Dolls were more usually referred to as “babies”, or sometimes “jointed babies” in reference to their moving parts. Baby dolls and dolls as children’s toys were available as souvenirs from the fairs.


There were many different varieties of doll, which varied in size and application. In the public sphere, there was the fashion doll, a life-sized replica of the female form which aristocratic ladies would dress in her own fashions and send to others around the country in order to start a trend. A fashion doll was also known as a were also known as “jointed baby”, “courier de la mode”, “Grande/ Petite Pandore”, “grande poupee”, or “doll a la mode”. Mannequins, the more practical cousin of the fashion doll, were used in milliners and clothing boutiques to model and display the shop wares, and, like the fashion doll, could be sent to a potential customer’s house if she was unable to come to the shop in person. Puppets and waxworks were popular spectacles in eighteenth century towns, and in the countryside, a ceremonial female doll called a Kern-baby was fashioned out of the last handful of harvest corn, dressed as a female, and used in harvest ceremonies as a kind of talisman. The technological advancements of the Enlightenment era also brought forth the automata – clockwork imitations of people which could move without the manipulation of a puppeteer, usually to perform simple tasks or tumbling acts for the amusement of eighteenth century audiences.


The Appeal of the Doll:

Fashion, and the Eighteenth Century Obsession with the Uncanny

Oxford English dictionary defines the uncanny as “Not quite safe to trust to, or have dealings with, as being associated with supernatural arts or powers” or “partaking of a supernatural character; mysterious, weird, uncomfortably strange or unfamiliar”. Consumerist culture and Enlightenment-era advances in technology had created a taste for novelty. Doll-making used up-to-the-minute innovations in technology to create ever-more convincing illusions of the human form, which became increasingly lifelike in their imitations of humanity. But dolls were not the only art form dedicated to invoking a sense of the uncanny by mimicking humanity: such imitations took two distinct forms. The first was the doll, which could mimic the physical form of people. The second was the novel, which could conjure up images and thoughts of characters who didn't really exist. The two were often considered to be analogous and closely linked to each other, and dolls often appear as metaphors and subjects of the literature of the day. The connection between humans and dolls is explored extensively in the literature of the times, as were the similarities between dolls and novels, which were both decried by the watchdogs of the age as being dangerous to young ladies' senses of self, since such beguiling and accurate portrayals of the sympathetic other would render impressionable women unsure whether to be themselves or their favourite heroines.


In literature as in life, "Doll", besides being a popular pleasure, was a term that could be used to insult young women for their vanity or thoughtlessness. Pamela's master in the eponymous novel describes her at various points as “painted gew-gaw” and “fool’s plaything” in an insulting and dehumanising manner. In The Lady of the Manner: A Comic Opera, one character decries another's choice of lover: "Pox, you have done a very silly thing; tied yourself to a waxen baby, a mere moppet, a prating, party-coloured paroquet, which you will play with like a child". It was also a term for a prostitute; women who sold themselves at the charter fairs were derogatorily known as "the Bartholomew Babies". Dolls embodied all that society loved about and expected of ladies, and yet had no respect for the qualities of either the living or the artificial woman. By amalgamating the qualities of womanhood with those of doll-hood as if they were one and the same, society further blurred the distinction between person and object. This objectification of women as dolls reveals itself in the sharp rise in novels with young female protagonists, such as Richardson's  Pamela, Burney's Evelina, both of which are compared to dolls in their respective books.


Fashion Dolls

Dolls, as products of consumerism, were also agents of commerce: a fashionable agent for fashion itself. Aristocratic women and clothing-purveyors for aristocratic women would dress these dolls in their own clothing and then circulate them around their friends to be duly admired, in order to make herself appear more fashionable. Purveyors of clothing used fashion dolls to sell their wares in much the same way (See StockingsGlovesWigs and Spectacles and Eyeglasses.) One eighteenth century advertisement described "Mrs. Hannah Teatt's, dressmaker at the top of Summer Street, Boston, is to be seen a mannequin, in the latest fashion, with articles of dress, night dresses, and everything appertaining to women's attire. It has been brought from London by Captain White. Ladies who choose to see it may come or send for it. It is always ready to serve you. If you come, it will cost you two shillings, but if you send for it, seven shillings."


Fashion dolls were considered manifestations of the feminine vice of idolatry: the over-investment in the beauty of the physical body instead of the more enduring virtues of the mind and soul. A direct connection is drawn between the two concepts is explored in the anonymous poem "Adollizing, or a lively picture of worship", using wordplay on the words 'doll' and 'idol' combining them to create the term 'adoll'. Clodius, protagonist of the poem, loves Clarabella, but his idolatry of both himself and his love means that he is able to find just as much pleasure in a doll-version of Clarabella as the real woman, which extends to sexual pleasure, and he chooses less picky and more disposable "Claradollas" over his reluctant lady: "My CLARADOLLA yields me kind relief/ And puts a period to my future grief:/ What CLARABELLA glories to deny". In order to become worthy of the real Clarabella, he must overcome his adollization and reject dolls and libertinism for fidelity to a real woman. Dolls were an objectification of women, a non-living ideal for women to strive for in order to be socially accepted. Fashion dolls were eventually replaced as a means of communication by the more convenient print magazine, which could transmit the latest fashions just as well.


Dolls as Spectacle 

a) waxworks18th Century Life-Sized Waxwork of Italian Saint, De Vera, NYC

Waxworks were a common and popular spectacle in eighteenth century Britain, and they could be seen in stalls at the common fairs, in public museums, and in royal cabinets. The inherent attraction of waxworks lay in their ability to successfully imitate the living human form and, unlike fashion dolls, they were designed to be as lifelike as possible and posed in deliberately deceptive positions or settings to make it seem, for a moment, that they might be living human beings. Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho contains a scene wherein the heroine discovers a waxwork depicted in such lifelike agony that she faints at the very sight of it. Ned Ward describes a visit to a waxwork booth called "The Temple of Diana" where a country carter mistakes to waxwork figures for living aristocratic ladies and tries to hold a conversation with them, causing the "whole company to burst into laughter". When asked by a female patron how he should like to take one of the figurines to bed, the carter replies "when she comes to pluck off her paint and her patches, and doff her vine clouthes and come to bed, she, perhaps, may look as ugly as you do". The composition of a waxwork was often compared with the application of make-up to a woman's face, both being associated with the act of deception, and decried as immoral. Many considered the creation of waxworks to be merely an evolution of the art of painting one's face.


Many works of eighteenth century literature explored the inter-changeability of human and wax figures. In Sir Henry Bates' three-act comedy, The Woodman, a character exclaims, "My father, he says my waxen-baby is a better plaything than my husband, after all." In the anonymous poem The Waxen Doll, the boundaries between human and doll are explored by a little girl whose mother purchases a baby-doll for her at a charter fair as a reward for her good behaviour. She marvels at its lifelike beauty, its "black eyes and cherry cheeks" but is frustrated when the "hussy not a syllable would say", moving her to beat the doll. This moves her mother to tears as if she were beating a real infant, and she scolds her child for her un-maternal nature.  

The increasing public interest in the waxwork was blamed on the widespread phenomenon of novel-reading, which, it was believed, had taught young women to take pleasure in blasphemous immitations of humanity, along with the natural feminine fascination with subterfuge and fancy. 


b) The Puppet

In the words of George Speaight, historian of English puppet theatre: “Never before or since have the puppets played quite so effective and so well publicized a part in fashionable society; never before or since have puppet theatres so successfully made themselves the talk of the town”.


Puppet theatre, which had been rising in popularity throughout the seventeenth century before reaching its zenith in the eighteenth, arrived in England from mainland Europe through the portable fantoccini, travelling Italian marionette shows featuring the topical misadventures of Giuditta and Pulcinella, known in this country as Punch and Judy. As with waxworks and automata, people were drawn to the ability of the puppet to accurately mimic human appearance and behaviour whilst not being human themselves, with the added intrigue that puppets, unlike dolls and mannequins, could move and speak as people did. But the puppet distinguished itself from either of these other forms, which were, as Orville comments in Burney's Evelina, useless ornaments, in their ability to transmit narratives through imitation of the human form, similarly to living actors. Like the novel, puppets were storytelling devices, usually stories which reflected current events played out by the staple characters of the form, such as Punch, Judy and Mother Shipton.


Although puppet theatre was known to be an imported pastime, devotees of the art form justified its superiority by citing their essential Englishness. In The Touchstone in 1728, James Ralph boasted “the Mechanical Genius of the English is obvious to every body in many Cases, but in none more properly, than in the Contrivance and Conduct of our PUPPET-SHEWS”. The English marionettes were usually carved by native craftsmen, using English wood and other materials, and any puppet with parts that had come from foreign soil was considered to be of an impure pedigree, and its value would decrease.


Ralph went on to say “I confess, I cannot view a well-executed PUPPET-SHEW, without extravagant Emotions of Pleasure: To see our Artists, like so many Prometheus’s: animate a Bit of Wood, and give Life, Speech and Motion, perhaps, to what was the Leg of a Joint-stool, strikes me with a pleasing Surprize, and prepossess me wonderfully in favour of these little wooden Actors, and their Primum-mobile”. But according to Ralph, the puppet “not only stands with its feet on the ground, [but also] evolves out of all its woden brain grotesque ideas, far more wonderful than if it were to begin dancing of its own free will”. Other forms of doll were more accurate and lifelike, puppets unsettled people in a way that waxworks and mannequins did not. Whilst waxworks could look like people and automata move like them, here was a contraption that could appear to think and speak like a human as well, lending them an eerie self-deterministic quality in the eyes of their eighteenth century audience. It was all too easy to imagine them acting independently of their creators, and to mentally imbue them with personalities and thoughts of their own, like one would with the characters of novels.


The eighteenth-century obsession with puppets extended to fashion as well, when puppets came into vogue as sartorial accessories for ladies, to be worn dangling on strings from the hand. These were called pantins.  Just like the fashion dolls, pantins were also vehicles for spreading the fashions of the day - Parisian modistes would make miniature versions of the owner's clothes to fit the pantin, further blurring the lines between doll and woman as the women were now encouraged to literally copy the dolls’ styles in order to retain societal approval. In this way, puppets gradually became a metaphor for social artifice and false societal behaviours. Paper parodies of the pantins began to emerge.  They also came to symbolised empty-headed behaviour and mindless adherence to social cues, as described in the anonymous poem, The Puppet Shew: a poem humbly inscribed to H---- P----, in which the large cast of human characters vainly and transparently attempt to manipulate one another in pursuits of power, whilst clearly being manipulated themselves.


But the craze of puppetry was a short-lived one, as predicted in the1747 edition of L’Encyclopedie by D’Alembert. “Posterity will find difficulty in believing that there were in France people of mature judgement capable of spending time, in a fit of weakmindedness, with this ridiculous toy, and with an ardour that would hardly be pardoned in the tenderest youth”. The French outlawed them in 1756 because “the women, under the lively influence of this continual jumping, were in danger of bringing children into the world with twisted limbs, like the pantins”, and they fell out of vogue in Paris, followed by the rest of Europe. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, puppet theatre, which was reliant on amazing its audience with cutting-edge visual effects, which required ever-increasing levels of one-upmanship in order to outdo each other and retain business, became too expensive to maintain and slowly died out as an entertainment for the aristocratic. However, rather than disappearing altogether, it merely migrated down the social spectrum to where it remained a popular working class entertainment. Puppet theatre had always had a place in working class society: In the fourteenth edition of the Spectator in 1711, Addison reports "the “the opera at the Haymarket, and that under the little Piazza in Covent Garden" to be "at present the two leading diversions of the town”. But here Punch and Judy's adventures were much more likely to be played out in glove-puppet form, rather than with marionettes, placing greater emphasis on the story than on the lifelike nature of the puppets, and removing the intrigue of dolls from the performance.




     c) automata 

The relationships between humanity and automata was more complex than with any other kind of doll. An automaton, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “A moving device having a concealed mechanism, so it appears to operate spontaneously. Freq. (and in earliest use) in figurative and similative contexts. Now chiefly hist”. Automata captured the imagination of the public by their resemblance to human beings in appearance, but also their seeming ability to move of their own volition, powered by clockwork or similar machinery, differentiating them from other types of doll. Authors and social commentators of the day were quick to realise the literary and metaphorical potential of the automaton’s image, and a variety of writers were quick to identify the situation of the automaton with that of the eighteenth century woman, whose movements were self-powered, but restricted and repetitive.


Ned Ward, in his Adam and Eve Script of their Furbelows (1714) believed that comparisons to automata were a compliment to the constancy of the woman in her virtue and devotion. Describing the character of his “devout lady”, he calls her “so precise in her Deportment, and so mathematically regular in all her Actions, that you would think […] her whole Composition was but a Machine of Clockwork”. However, other writers saw comparisons to automata as insulting, drawing on the vacuous nature of the machines to point out the flaws they perceived in female behaviour. The Earl of Halifax in The Lady’s New Year’s Gift: Or, Advice to a daughter (1724), said of his subject: “she cometh into a Room as if her Limbs were set on with ill made screws […] her Discourse is a senseless Chime of empty Words”. Automatism, to this writer, is a misfire of female ambition. The desire to have the flawless face of a doll and to iron out all objectionable human qualities in favour of smooth, machine-like grace, ultimately destroys the human fallibilities that constitute charm and likeability. To imitate the automaton is to limit one’s sense of self rather than expand it, and to fail in the female pursuit of absolute physical perfection. In discussing his character’s motives, he goes on to clarify: “She doth not like herself as God Almighty made her, but will have some of her own workmanship”. Automata constitute both an embodiment of female virtue and an isolated, unattainable standard.The 18th-century automaton that inspired Nagra’s title poem.


Fanny Burney herself was often affectionately (and patronisingly) referred to as a little automaton as she dutifully and speedily turned out her series of highly successful novels. Her novels, particularly Evelina, are full of automated imagery and metaphor. The character of Indiana in Camilla, is described as having the “most exquisite workmanship of nature” but seems “scarce to live but while arraying, or displaying herself”. More interestingly, eponymous Evelina visits an emporium of automata and discusses the spectacle of a jewelled pineapple, which was part of a real exhibit at the Cox’s Museum in 1773. The pineapple, “silver, richly gilt, that bursts open upon the playing of the chimes”, “discovers a nest of six birds” among other things. Evelina damns it with faint praise, calling it incomplete and dismissing the machine as all show and no substance. Orville, of the same novel, insults it as “frivolous, so very remote from all aim at instruction or utility, that the sight of so fine a shew, only leaves a regret on the mind”. But the same criticisms could be made of Evelina’s own life, in its emphasis on exteriority and prim sensibility, and the irony has not been lost on critics of Burney’s work. But Burney goes out of her way to distinguish her characters from automata by having them descend into madness under stress, deviating from the strict, serene patterns of the automata, but into unseemly fits of ugly blubbering, breaking the illusion, yet in some ways becoming more like the automata in that these heroines became as mindless as the machines.



Primary Eighteenth Century Sources:


Secondary Sources



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