** KIDS, THIS IS A BORING GROWN UP ALERT. This post is just going to be a load of writing about grown-up stuff, it will probably bore you to death so if I was you I wouldn’t bother. Also, your grown-ups might not like you reading it, so please ask them first. Thanks! **
As I mentioned in my last reading post, I recently got hold of a copy of a doll collecting magazine called Dollreader, from 1997. To my surprise, I found three things of particular interest in it – this was the second.
This is going to be an unusual post as its about an article I read in this magazine. It was a review of a play based on the real-life story of artist and eccentric Oskar Kokoschka and the unusual way in which he tried to mend his broken heart.
I’d never heard this story before, although I know a few of his paintings. Following a unhappy love affair, apparently Kokoschka commissioned a dressmaker to make a life-size doll which looked like his former mistress, Alma. There are different accounts, some more lurid than others, of how this doll was incorporated into his daily life. Ultimately, though, sources seem to agree that the doll didn’t make him happy. In the end, he held a party for his friends and destroyed the doll, as a way of representing the end of his big Alma obsession.
I’ve been giving some thought to exactly why this story is so creepy and gothic. Of course, horror films and books often draw parallels between dolls and dead people, and this must be part of it – there is also something frightening about his disregard for the difference between his living, breathing lover and the immobile, cold, lifeless doll (if he did actually love her, you would kind of hope that this is what put him off in the end).
Also, there’s the size of the doll, and this is something I’ve been thinking about myself recently. Not long ago, somebody was telling me about their Aunty’s “creepy” china doll collection. When I pointed out that er, actually I collect dolls too, my somebody looked a bit puzzled, then said, as if it were perfectly obvious what difference this made, “yes, but you collect SMALL dolls!” I would like to know what the cut-off point for non-creepiness is – is there any kind of universal scale available which could help collectors avoid their collections being perceived as creepy? I didn’t ask, but I’m thinking it might involve how small a doll has to be before it couldn’t possibly be mistaken for a human being. As Mr Beaver says in “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe”, “Take my advice, when you meet anything that’s going to be human and isn’t yet, or used to be human once and isn’t now, or ought to be human and isn’t, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet …” Well, big dolls, like that other old horror film staple, the statue, seem human then turn out not to be, and I can understand why this unnerves some people (although I’m also sure that there are others who experience and enjoy this eerie feeling). I’ve never really thought about the size of the dolls I collect before, but maybe this is why I’m not particularly attracted to dolls who are child-sized or larger.
Lastly, there’s the issue of control. This is a difficult one for doll collectors, I think – if we choose to spend a lot of time with objects that resemble humans but cannot move or think or speak for themselves, does this mean that we have some sort of issue about controlling others? I think in Kokoschka’s case – god, yes. In my case, er, no, not really – but I do believe that its a big part of the stereotype of collectors I was talking about a little while ago. The thing is, most people who have a hobby that is in any way creative or imaginative are controlling their own little world and I don’t think doll collecting is any more of an extreme example of this than painting, for instance, or writing stories.
It ended pretty well for old Oskar, anyway – after the destruction of his pretend girlfriend, he went on to meet somebody real, breathing etc and married her. The real Alma was by all accounts a bit of a femme fatale, and the doll incident didn’t seem to put her off her stride at all. Brave woman!