Dolls on The Landing: Helen Clare

After writing a piece recently on Tara’s Palace for the Irish News Review I thought I would squeeze in a dolls’ house related post to further indulge my memories of childhood fantasies. Was I the only child who wished that some magic spell would turn me small enough to be able enter toy houses and shops? I doubt it very much. The dolls’ house stories by Helen Clare were entirely responsible for my particular fantasy. I so much wanted to be small enough to visit the doll’s bungalow that my dad had made for my birthday. Alas, it wasn’t to be!

In Five Dolls in a House, (first published 1953) Elizabeth however, does exactly that. Magically she finds herself walking up the path to the front door and knocking. As she does so, she hears the voices of the dolls within:

And without thinking twice about it, Elizabeth walked into the house. She said nothing (she was too surprised) but followed the red-cheeked person into the house. 

Five Dolls in a House

Puffin edition, 1964, reprinted 1978.

If you have never met the dolls in Elizabeth’s dolls’ house then let me briefly introduce you:

Vanessa (she of the red cheeks) is rather bossily in charge of the household and is the daughter of a Duke (allegedly);

Jacqueline is the French paying guest who possesses lovely lace underwear;

Jane is a very sweet-tempered doll who always wears a long green nightdress:

Lupin by contrast is always clad solely in a blue woollen vest with a lot of dropped stitches;

Amanda is the lively, mischievous one who quarrels with Vanessa;

And last, but by no means least, is the monkey living on the roof who has been known to dress up as a duchess on occasion.

They all have lots of adventures with Elizabeth (in the guise of Mrs Small the landlady) including getting measles, acquiring two white mice to pull a trap and spring cleaning in their own inimitable style. I’m sure that Vanessa would have loved Tara’s Palace. She would have thought it ‘most genteel’, coming as she did from a castle (Cranberry Castle in fact).

I think all of the stories are now out of print, but they are well worth tracking down. My mum found the copy we have in Oxfam in Birmingham and we were lucky enough to spot even more adventures at last year’s Trinity College Book Sale.  All of the stories are complemented by Cecil Leslie’s delightful line drawings.

Do you have a favourite dolls’ house story? Let me know…


2 comments on “Dolls on The Landing: Helen Clare

  1. Susan says:

    Chris, thanks for reminding of this book. Wonderful stories.


    • Chris Mills says:

      Yes, I loved the dolls’ adventures when I was young, so I was really pleased that mum turned up a second hand copy for V a few years ago. I think the painting the bath episode was my favourite – or maybe the measles… And wouldn’t it be great if you could pay your rent in cough drops!


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