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“A Story, Exemplified in a Series of Figures“

Paper Doll versus Moral Tale in the Nineteenth Century

Hannah Field

Early in the nineteenth century the London publishers and printsellers, S. and J. Fuller, packaged paper dolls and storybooks together in their Temple of Fancy paper doll books. This article examines the tension between the narratives of these works—typically moral tales for children in which a love of clothing is punished—and the accompanying paper dolls, which celebrate costume and dressing up. The textual morals against love of clothing are gendered in problematic ways, with female characters mortified for this flaw more readily than male characters. However, the variety of potential reading experiences offered by the form of the paper doll book, in which picture and word are separate, is viewed as a challenge to the gendered moral content of the stories. Ultimately this article argues that the form of the paper doll book sheds new light on D. F. McKenzie's (1986) ideas about how readers make meaning from texts.