Reading Part Five (b) – Alma and Oskar

15 Jun

** 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!


8 Responses to “Reading Part Five (b) – Alma and Oskar”

  1. Emma Freed June 15, 2012 at 11:25 pm #

    this is really interesting! its true, its weird how the line between creepy and cute is kind of blurry….freud said something along those lines as well…when things are TOO humanoid they become disturbing….
    i really enjoy your blog πŸ™‚

    • barbielea June 16, 2012 at 7:17 am #

      Awww, thanks very much! You do some great stuff too πŸ™‚

  2. bat6660 June 16, 2012 at 12:16 am #

    I like it when you go off on tangents like this, it makes it very interesting for someone like myself who just lives with a collector of dolls. Your blog is very good and i am not being biased. x

    • barbielea June 16, 2012 at 7:19 am #

      Thanks love. I’d just like to assure everyone that Mr Bat is 100% flesh and blood, by the way!

  3. kewpie83 June 16, 2012 at 4:08 am #

    “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?” Love that line. All in all, great post!

    The only dolls that are a bit ‘too much’ for me are the ultra life like babies people create. If I have to do a double take to see if the baby is real, that’s a bit unnerving. Otherwise, I’ve always liked dolls that are ‘Patty Playplay’ sized.

    • barbielea June 16, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      Hi Kewpie, and thanks! I just had a look at the Patti dolls (never heard of them before) – its hard to tell unless you have physically seen one, but I don’t think these would bother me now. I’m not sure how I would have felt about them when I was a child, though.

      The babies … I think that many people, including collectors of other dolls, do find these quite frightening. I used to wonder why doll designers didn’t set out to make ultra-realistic dolls – why they had to be stylised in some way – but thinking about the babies, I completely get it.

  4. Alrunia June 17, 2012 at 11:37 am #

    Look up a guy named Carl Tanzler. You might find his story interesting, it’s sort of the same in the beginning, but quite a lot creepier towards the end. πŸ˜€
    I think I can kinda see what your friend meant, to me there is a certain size at which I can’t stand dolls- it’s kind of in the middle. Life sized mannequins I’m cool with, Barbies and Tonner dolls and anything in between or smaller is fine, but Super Dollfie sized dolls (60 cm ish) give me the creeps. Possibly because the childlike appearance combined with the general corpseyness a BJD sends my brain screaming “infant corpse infant corpse INFANT CORPSE”. Haha. πŸ˜€ And oh yes, ultra realistic life sized baby dolls. Same reaction. Argh.

    • barbielea June 17, 2012 at 12:24 pm #

      Hi Alrunia. Thanks for that, just looked up Karl Tanzler, I didn’t recognise the name but I’ve read gothic stories with the same theme … maybe a doll isn’t a bad solution, if this is the alternative. I think Kokoschka was aware of the doll/ corpse parallel, because he did a lot of going on about Eurydice being recovered from the underworld and all that. Can’t say I think that makes it any better, though.

      I sympathise with your “infant corpse” moments of panic, in the next post on I talk about Sindys with degrading head plastic and I have the same kind of reaction to them … Little cute plump babyish face, horrible sickly green tinge. Repulsive.

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