Saturday, October 20, 2012

James-A-Day: The Haunted Dolls' House

The house under construction
 "The Haunted Dolls' House" was written for a very particular occasion: the gift of an enormous, elaborate, amazing dolls' house to Queen Mary in 1924.  The Queen loved miniatures.  It was Princess Marie Louise's idea, and a good many of the most famous names of the day helped in the design and building.  Lutyens built it, composers contributed musical scores, authors gave specially written stories in tiny books (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a Sherlock Holmes story just for the house), and on and on.  It's so detailed and thorough that it's actually a nice source of historical information about domestic life in the 1920s.  You can explore the dolls' house here. 

MRJ, naturally, wrote a special ghost story for the  house's library, concerning a dolls' house that is remarkably similar to Queen Mary's, though it's a replica of a fabulous manor house "in Strawberry Hill Gothic" instead of a royal palace.  You should thus imagine it as having fewer stories than this one, but built along much the same lines and on the same scale.

The dolls' house is purchased for a suspiciously low price by an avid antiques collector, but he gets a nasty surprise.  In the middle of the night the house lights up and puts on a show; a re-enactment of a murder and subsequent haunting with deadly results.

James noted at the end of the story that this is pretty much "The Mezzotint" carried out in a different artistic medium, but hoped that there was "enough of variation in the setting to make the repetition of the motif tolerable."

The dolls' house library

The plot of this story was lifted wholesale for the children's book The Dollhouse Murders, by Betty Ren Wright, in 1983.  It was republished fairly recently, so if you want to read it, you shouldn't have any trouble finding it at the library.


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